Tom Hanks

“Sully” the movie: a view and a review


Courtesy Warner Bros.

The Sully movie, from Oscar-winning director Clint Eastwood, starring Oscar winner Tom Hanks as Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, of “Miracle on the Hudson” fame,  is out in theaters now.

And while I know it has a happy ending, I’m not sure yet if I can go see it.

But I did ask two smart folks with some insider knowledge to share some thoughts on the film.

Christine Negroni, whose book, The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters,  is about to be published by Penguin, said:

“In the Times, Michael Wilson writes that no one will go to see “Sully” for the airport scenes.

About that, he is wrong. Aviation geeks will love the film for all the luscious shots of planes, airports, takeoffs, flybys. It’s gorgeous. And the pilots aren’t so bad looking either.

They got a lot right. They got some things wrong. And the tension between the pilots and the crash investigators has the feel of Hollywood heroes and cardboard villains, a created tension to serve a dramatic narrative.

It is interesting to me that the filmmakers took a man who has been hailed as a hero since the accident for what he did on the plane and lionized him even more. In “Sully” he is made into the wise one who had to set the NTSB investigators on the right path, as if they couldn’t figure it anything out without him. This is the element of the movie that has the tin-kickers so miffed.

The movie does a stellar job of taking us on a trip to the terrifying, not just in the passenger cabin, but in the evolving comprehension in the cockpit of what is happening and the silent communication between the captain and the first officer.

The scenes between Skiles and Sully are some of the best in the film.

I think much more should have been done to examine the post-traumatic-stress-disorder experienced by the crew, which is greatly underappreciated in aviation. In my book, I interview a dozen pilots who handled similar near disasters. To a person they were unprepared for the emotional complications that followed.”

And Patrick Smith, of Ask the Pilot, offered up these comments – and the answer to a question many people ask:

“It’s funny. Flying has become so safe. We’ve engineered away what used to be the most common causes of air disasters.

We’re left with things like… birds.

Bird strikes are common, and the damage tends to be minor, if there’s any at all. I’ve personally experienced many strikes, and the result was, at worst, a minor dent or crease. I should hardly have to mention, however, that strikes are occasionally dangerous. This is especially true when engines are involved, as we saw in 2009 when US Airways flight 1549 glided into the Hudson River after colliding with a flock of Canada geese. Modern turbofans are resilient, but they don’t take kindly to the ingestion of foreign objects, particularly those slamming into their rotating blades at high speeds.

Birds don’t clog an engine but can bend or fracture the internal blades, causing power loss. The heavier the bird, the greater the potential for harm. Flying at 250 knots—in the United States, that’s the maximum allowable speed below 10,000 feet, where most birds are found—hitting an average-sized goose will subject a plane to an impact force of over 50,000 pounds. Even small birds pose a threat if struck en masse. In 1960, an Eastern Airlines turboprop went down in Boston after an encounter with a flock of starlings.

Your next question, then, is why aren’t engines built with protective screens in front? Well, in addition to partially blocking the inflow of air, the screen would need to be large (presumably cone-shaped) and incredibly strong. Should it fail, now you’ve got a bird and pieces of metal going into the motor. The incidents above notwithstanding, the vast improbability of losing multiple engines to birds renders such a contraption impractical.”