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"Got any ideas?" "Actually not."
November 12, 2009 6:57 AM   Subscribe

An incredibly detailed reconstruction of US Airways flight 1549, from takeoff to ditching in the Hudson. The first video is an animation of the flight, with audio from the LGA tower and a transcription of the discussion between Capt. Sullenberger and F/O Skiles. The work also includes reconstructed radar target displays, radar returns of the birds, and various audio transcripts. Based on the NTSB docket, released in June 2009.
posted by Ella Fynoe (51 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Very cool. Why does the audio go in and out in the youtube?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:04 AM on November 12, 2009


Wow. Just wow. It's incredible to me just how calm everyone was in this situation.
posted by milnak at 7:08 AM on November 12, 2009


That is a very cool reconstruction. And of course, I have huge respect for Captain Sullenberger for managing to ditch so elegantly and safely.

It would be fascinating also to see a reconstruction of what it was like inside the cabin while all this was going on. I wonder, in particular, how quickly it was evident to the average passenger that something was horribly wrong, and what the passengers must have thought was likely to happen as they got lower and lower over the Hudson - and maybe, based on this reconstruction, also saw fire through the windows.

I just recently discovered Air Crash Investigation on TV. I think it somehow find it comforting as a relatively frequent traveler to see how others managed to survive accidents, not just physically, but also emotionally.
posted by sueinnyc at 7:16 AM on November 12, 2009


I am stunned how quickly that all happened.
posted by spec80 at 7:18 AM on November 12, 2009


Someone help me out here. From reading this it looks like the CVR transcript and audio has been made available but I can't for the life of me find it.

I've read the ATC/Cockpit transcripts, but I'm really curious about what was discussed inside the cockpit between the Captain and Co-Pilot. Is that available anywhere?

Again, I'm not talking about the chatter between the plane and the ground, I've seen that.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on November 12, 2009


Sueinnyc, I'm finding this (PDF) document fascinating. It has a lot of what you're looking for.
posted by bondcliff at 7:35 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Again, I'm not talking about the chatter between the plane and the ground, I've seen that.
posted by bondcliff at 7:27 AM on November 12 [+] [!]


Watch the video, if you haven't -- the chatter between the Captain and the Flight Officer is written (but not spoken) as it occurs on the bottom.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 7:37 AM on November 12, 2009


That was fascinating, thanks!
posted by brain_drain at 7:39 AM on November 12, 2009


And this is why I'm not a pilot... My transcript would read, "Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit,Shit, Shit, Shit, Shit,"
posted by jlowen at 7:40 AM on November 12, 2009 [13 favorites]


bondcliff: a text transcript of the CVR is on this page.
posted by zsazsa at 7:48 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Jlowen, that sounds like everyone's favorite scene from the Wire.

(It's better with subtitles, though.)
posted by rokusan at 7:52 AM on November 12, 2009


Thanks, zsazsa. Those things are almost always boring, yet completely fascinating to me.

I wonder if there is a "Shut the hell up" button for those Ground Proximity Warming thingies. I know I get annoyed when I'm ignoring my GPS* and she keeps saying "Recalculating", I can't imagine how annoying it would be if you're trying to land a plane in the water and a computer voice keeps telling you you're about to land a plane in the water.

*Oh Jill, I could never ignore you. You're the only one who really understands me, Jill.
posted by bondcliff at 7:55 AM on November 12, 2009


Je-BUS. That first video is... one heck of a viewing experience. Sorry not to add much value to this discussion other than that, but just... *wow*.

How did the pilots stay so incredibly cool, professional and pull it off? I'm terrified and I'm only watching it on youtube... (I know, I know, training, but still.)
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 7:56 AM on November 12, 2009


Even knowing the outcome, my heart was in my mouth every moment. And if I'd been in the cockpit, all you would have heard from me is "Anybody got a parachute?" in between the screams, of course.
posted by etaoin at 7:59 AM on November 12, 2009


I'm learning to fly right now. Little tiny planes, 4 seaters, nothing as big or complex as a jet. We just did our first demonstration of no power emergency landing. Scared the crap out of me. And that was at 3500 feet, in a little plane that can glide pretty well, knowing we actually did have an engine and would soon go to full power and climb out and we weren't really going to ditch in this little field below us.

A big part of pilot training is going over procedures like this over and over again, so that when the emergency happens you're not thinking so much as executing a known plan. Still, every situation is different. He made one good decision early, which was to line up on the river. But I think the big decision moment here happened at 800 feet, when he realized there was no way he was actually going to make Tererboro. At that point theonly option is the river, not so much to save your plane-full of people as to prevent a firey apocalypse in the city below you. The fact he was able to splash it down gently is sort of gravy.
posted by Nelson at 8:01 AM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also I wonder, how did he know he wouldn't hit a bridge?
posted by Nelson at 8:02 AM on November 12, 2009


Wow. I give all teammembers credit. How many times can one say that in this incident other pilots, etc could have pulled it off with zero casualties? I've listened to many CVR recordings of crashes on AirDisaster.com and I'm amazed and in awe that many of them are so calm. The San Diego crash though from the 70s, it was heartbreaking to hear the pilot say goodbye to his mom on the CVR.

God I hate flying. And now I hate birds even more.
posted by stormpooper at 8:05 AM on November 12, 2009


Also I wonder, how did he know he wouldn't hit a bridge?

pithy answer: he didn't. but at least it probably would have been better for people on the ground.

'course, he could have seen the way was pretty clear, but even if there were a bridge looming it might still have been a better option.
posted by lodurr at 8:13 AM on November 12, 2009


Things I hadn't realized until watching this:

  • They were trying to restart the engines until the very last seconds before impact

  • They had halfway decent airspeed (190kts) until they lowered the flaps

  • They only lowered the flaps to 2 degrees

  • They splashed down at 130 knots


  • I am especially interested to see if they release the CVR audio (which they haven't yet done).

    That would be an interesting element to add-- the overlap was striking between the cockpit conversation, centered around the engine restart procedures, and the ATC communication centered around landing site options.
    posted by joshwa at 8:53 AM on November 12, 2009


    Also I wonder, how did he know he wouldn't hit a bridge?

    Looking at the altimeter in the video, when he was passing over the bridge he still had 1500 feet of altitude. The GWB is only 604 feet above the water-- a difference of 1000 feet was probably pretty obvious.

    As for other bridges, having flown this route many times before, he'd have known that there are no bridges over the Hudson south of the GWB.
    posted by joshwa at 8:56 AM on November 12, 2009


    Thanks, bondcliff. I just spent about an hour reading (some of) the report. So interesting.
    posted by sueinnyc at 8:58 AM on November 12, 2009


    Sullenberger had a good bit of altitude control as he traded speed for altitude; the bridges aren't that hard to see or miss. That last flare before splashdown is a thing of great beauty - from 6:30 on the video see him climb from 200 to 400 ft while shedding speed from 200 kts to 130 kts and then just floating down into the river.
    posted by nicwolff at 9:01 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


    Man, you tend to forget how quickly these things actually happen. The Tower is still talking about appropriate runways for landing when they hit the water. Crazy, amazing flying.
    posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:35 AM on November 12, 2009


    Previously on MeFi
    (The Me link also has an interesting reconstruction, complete with spooky geese)
    posted by MtDewd at 10:19 AM on November 12, 2009


    This was all worthwhile for two reasons:

    a) realizing that (as joshwa pointed out) that aluminum tube hit the water at around 120 knots and somehow held together. That's a testament to its engineering, which really never gets the credit it deserves in this whole story.

    b) reading the final, glorious, script-worthy exchange between Sullenburger and his first officer as they hovered a couple of hundred feet over the Hudson with no power and no airspeed:

    "Got any ideas?"
    "Actually not."

    Splash.
    posted by bicyclefish at 11:33 AM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


    You know what the funny thing is? I just favourited a comment in the Mary Tyler Moore thread where the poster self-flagellated after cracking wise before reading the thread title. I was just paying it forward.
    posted by bicyclefish at 11:36 AM on November 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


    Birds are indeed a liquid.

    Holy crap.
    posted by fourcheesemac at 11:58 AM on November 12, 2009


    For some reason the incredible terseness of the cabin dialogue both impresses me and amuses me. They hit the birds and in addition to "uh oh" all they say is this:

    Captain: "My plane"
    F-E "Your plane"

    Your plane indeed.
    posted by GuyZero at 11:59 AM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Putting one on the Hudson Slang; Phrase

    1. When in the face of great adversity someone succeeds due to outstanding action or deed. ex. "With only five minutes left before the meeting I deleted our Power Point slide show, but John put one on the Hudson and performed a shadow puppet version of our presentation."

    2. Succeding because you're just that goddamn cool. ex. "Got any ideas?" "Actually no" Splash
    posted by doctoryes at 12:01 PM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


    GuyZero: That tickled me too. I'm assuming it's because the First Officer was the Pilot Flying at takeoff?
    posted by bicyclefish at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2009


    "Got any ideas?" "Actually no" Splash

    We'll never know the First Officer's comedic timing until the flight crew recordings are released. Because there's a huge difference between "Actually, no", "Actually... no" and "ACTUALLY! ... ... no".

    Hey T-REX, got any ideas about how to land this plane? ACTUALLY NO
    posted by GuyZero at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2009


    The PDF copies of the transcripts -- from the FAA -- are all lowercase. WTF? Is this SOP or is their transcriptionist part-timing it while livejournaling?
    posted by Ogre Lawless at 12:29 PM on November 12, 2009


    "Got any ideas?"

    "Sure! I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl"
    posted by bondcliff at 12:46 PM on November 12, 2009


    Captain: "My plane"
    F-E "Your plane"


    Presumably the F/O was flying up to that point, and the Captain decided to take control. It's standard phraseology, but it does sound rather stark under the circumstances.
    posted by Ella Fynoe at 12:49 PM on November 12, 2009


    WOW. Incredible. From the first days of Flight simulator on the Apple II+ to this, holy fucking moly.
    posted by vito90 at 12:49 PM on November 12, 2009


    Wow is right. This is frigging incredible. Some took a LOT of time to do this. I had to watch it a few times to look at all the different views.

    I am amazed at how CALM they are. I wish I could hear their voices to each other though. Jesus, like someone "

    I wish I could hire that captian as my personal pilot every time I fly. I would sleep better, thats for sure. Thats amazing and chilling.

    "Birds," "Birds."
    posted by aacheson at 2:20 PM on November 12, 2009


    "Got any ideas?"
    "Actually not."

    Goddamn. God-damn.
    posted by Optimus Chyme at 2:39 PM on November 12, 2009


    This is amazing. Thanks.
    posted by six-or-six-thirty at 2:44 PM on November 12, 2009


    It's standard phraseology, but it does sound rather stark under the circumstances.

    yeah, I think the amusement comes from the places where my mind fills in the gaps of tone of voice, facial expressions, etc. I picture it like this: Sullenberger is stone cold and after the bird strike, grabs the controls. "My plane." The first officer drops the controls like they're on fire, raises his hands to shoulder level and with a look like someone just shat on his lap says "Your plane."

    Presumably their training keeps them calm and from dropping Samuel L Jackson-esque lines like "You're motherfucking right it's your motherfucking plane."
    posted by GuyZero at 3:03 PM on November 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


    Real life heroes -- the most dazzling and awesome kind.
    posted by bearwife at 3:23 PM on November 12, 2009


    Captain: My aircraft
    F.O.: Your aircraft
    Check out excerpts from a new book Fly by Wire. In it is this quote,"In private, some of the test pilots and engineers from the Airbus company had been seething for months over Sullenberger's silence on the subject. His refusal to mention the unique qualities of the airplane was understood as a partisan stand in the context of a long and painful history, in which the A320, the world's first semi-robotic airliner, had been vehemently opposed by the unions, because it is designed around the idea that computers fly better than any human can—and indeed, in some emergencies, should override the pilots entirely, and firmly assume command. This is a complex and emotional subject, since it goes to the heart of a profession already in decline. No one had dared to bring it up directly—or to call attention to the airplane's contributions—lest this be seen as an attack on Sullenberger and an attempt to diminish his accomplishment. In that, there would be no advantage to anyone. Not to the NTSB, US Airways, or Airbus itself—and certainly not to the union. Nonetheless, for many in that hearing room, it was a subject very much in mind.".......They knew that the airplane's flight-control computers had performed remarkably well, seamlessly integrating themselves into Sullenberger's solutions and intervening assertively at the very end to guarantee a survivable touchdown."
    posted by JohnR at 4:37 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


    The "my aircraft" struck me too. I know it's standard unambiguous phrasing but it's such a stark distinction between "such a nice view of the hudson today" routine checklist chatter and code-brown all-business mode. I'm glad I'm not the only one to find this kind of crisis response impossibly fascinating.

    On the off chance you haven't seen it, there was another bird strike video a few years ago.
    posted by Skorgu at 6:38 PM on November 12, 2009


    But I think the big decision moment here happened at 800 feet, when he realized there was no way he was actually going to make Tererboro.

    At 3:15-3:22 of the second video, you hear this exchange between what I assume are two Teterboro controllers:

    A: "An Airbus?"
    B: "He wants to land here."
    A: "You can't land an Airbus here."

    So I wonder what would have happened if he'd made it to Teterboro.
    posted by stargell at 6:49 PM on November 12, 2009


    some of the test pilots and engineers from the Airbus company had been seething for months over Sullenberger's silence on the subject. His refusal to mention the unique qualities of the airplane

    excuse me but what are they talking about? I thought the differences between the 737 and 320 were that the 737 would let you feel the forces on the yoke while the 320 provided the same forces to the sidestick no matter the flight conditions and that the 320 would not permit you to perform certain maneuvers outside of the flight envelope while the 737 would put the pilot in command over what it thought would work best. (look to this bruce dickinson in the 320 video for more on that) airbus and boeing have different philosophies there but what else am I missing? what would there have been to praise? this aircraft didn't stall at 128 knots, it didn't break up, it didn't flip over. that's great but I have no reason to expect anything different from a 737.

    there was talk about them going through a waterlanding checklist but not making it. I don't hear that in the audio and cannot spot it in the cvr transcript posted within the video. anyone know if they left any voice communication between pic and f/o or did the f/o just try to reignite all the way?
    posted by krautland at 7:10 PM on November 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


    "...it is designed around the idea that computers fly better than any human can—and indeed, in some emergencies, should override the pilots entirely, and firmly assume command."

    "...the 320 would not permit you to perform certain maneuvers outside of the flight envelope while the 737 would put the pilot in command over what it thought would work best."

    I don't think those A320 engineers are really in much of a place to claim victory.

    Whether or not he was "directly" controlling the flight surfaces was not the difficult part of the whole affair (It was still under his control inputs, and was performing according to his intent). The differentiating factor was the professionalism with which he handled the event (clearly evident in the CVR transcript and ATC exchanges). The not-freaking-out part was what enabled him to successfully steer the thing into the Hudson and not into the Palisades.
    posted by joshwa at 7:33 PM on November 12, 2009


    So I wonder what would have happened if he'd made it to Teterboro

    Per this source [pdf] an A320 at 100% maximum landing weight (as a fully-fueled jet would be) needs just under 5000 feet to land, and both runways at TEB are over 6000 feet. There may be other "heavies" that would be rash to choose TEB except in dire emergency, but this was actually a viable option if they could have gotten there.

    The first officer drops the controls like they're on fire, raises his hands to shoulder level and with a look like someone just shat on his lap says "Your plane."

    Except (recognizing that you're dramatizing) that it isn't so much an ownership issue as it is switching jobs to be the support. Notice how Skiles keeps better track of the ATC chatter, and is presumably grabbing checklists and monitoring blinkenlights like crazy. Doing all the stuff that Sullenberger can't because he's using all his concentration to fly the plane.

    or did the f/o just try to reignite all the way?

    He's clearly running a checklist -- for instance he says at 4:20, "if fuel remaining engine mode selector, ignition + ignition" [sic], then "thrust levers confirm idle" (Sully says "idle") then ominously "airspeed optimum relight 300 kts, we don't have that" (Sully says "we don't"). There's something about emergency power, then "ATC notify squawk 7700" and , which is pointless because they've been in constant communication, so next it's "distress message. transmit. we did". etc.
    posted by dhartung at 10:18 PM on November 12, 2009


    BTW, Squawk 7700 means: set you r IFF to send 7700 instead of the aircraft number (1549 in this case), 7700 is the code for an emergency.

    Other codes:
    7500 hijacking
    7600 radios out
    posted by Confess, Fletch at 10:30 PM on November 12, 2009


    JohnR & krautland, fascinating insights. I often wonder how much the advanced control systems in these new aircraft help, and the answers seem to be "they can help keep you from stalling, but you've still got to figure out the rest on your own."

    So Sully & Stiles are still cool cats in my book.
    posted by lodurr at 4:16 AM on November 13, 2009


    Hey Confess, Fletch, it's not IFF -- that's a military technology. Civilian transponders commonly transmit "Mode C" which includes your pressure altitude and a four digit octal code that the pilot selects. Since the four transponder digits are in the range 0 - 7, the 9 in 1549 isn't possible. It's 1200 if you're flying ordinary VFR, and an arbitrary other code (not 7700, 7600, 7500, etc.) that ATC assigns to you if you're flying IFR. That code is assigned by ATC when you receive your instrument clearance (which is permission to fly from somewhere to somewhere else via a particular routing and altitude).

    What ATC sees on the scope is a few pieces of info from your "strip" which is a little pile of data (flight number, a/c type, altitude, speed, cleared route, destination, etc.) which are matched to your radar/transponder return by the ATC computer.

    When you switch to 7700, all the ATC facilities around you can see the emergency, whereas if you only verbally declare an emergency to the controller you're talking to (the departure controller,) currently other nearby controllers (the tower controlers at Teterboro) can't see that emergency. There is a proposal to allow ATC to share that information automatically with other relevant ATC facilities, but it's far from implemented.

    I'll also weigh in here on the Boeing side of the pilot-as-ultimate-authority over flight controls vs. the Airbus computer-as-ultimate authority idea. You can make autopilots arbitrarily smart and capable, and Airbus is getting very good at this. But I would still prefer to be able to switch the damn thing off if it or the plane is damaged or encounters a situation that the designers didn't anticipate (such as, say, three iced over pitot tubes over the Azores). My opinion has been strengthened by having to shut off the twenty-year-old autopilot in my light plane as it's tried to kill me once or twice. It's not as big a deal as it sounds like -- my training is to assume it (and the weather and ATC) IS trying to kill me all the time, and prevent that.

    Finally, does everyone know that US Airways cut Sullenberger's pay by 40% over the past several years, and pretty much stolen his pension? I get how the free market works to drive down prices and costs, but I think there are situations where the invisible hand can be pretty stupid. And I think he's better off than most pilots.
    posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 11:49 PM on November 13, 2009


    joshwa: I don't think those A320 engineers are really in much of a place to claim victory.
    I know the video and purposely didn't mention it lest we forget the 737 had even worse problems in its earlier days. the crash of that AF 320-100 is hardly representative of later production models like the one involved (a 320-214).

    dhartung: I know he's running through the emergency engine restart checklist but that wasn't my question. what I wanted to know was why the supposed going through the waterlanding checklist, someone elsewhere mentioned they tried to make the plane watertight but didn't get fully done, isn't to be found in the cvr transcripts in the video. different point entirely. btw, if you like goign through checklists allow me to recommend smartcockpit. they have plenty.

    Hello Dad: I'll also weigh in here on the Boeing side of the pilot-as-ultimate-authority over flight controls vs. the Airbus computer-as-ultimate authority idea.
    I didn't know airbus gave the computer ultimate control? I don't think that's correct.

    does everyone know that US Airways cut Sullenberger's pay by 40% over the past several years, and pretty much stolen his pension?
    everyone who watches charlie rose knew that before hufpo picked it up but stolen is inflammatory and incorrect. at least he got a lot more job security now.
    posted by krautland at 5:19 AM on November 14, 2009


    "the crash of that AF 320-100 is hardly representative of later production models like the one involved (a 320-214)."

    I disagree, because Airbus still designs and builds their planes with the "computer knows best" philosophy. (By contrast, Boeing redesigned the rudder control valve that malfunctioned on the early 737s.)

    "I didn't know airbus gave the computer ultimate control? I don't think that's correct."

    Yes, the Airbus philosophy is that the computer knows more than you do and gets to modify your inputs unless the computer is failing. As an example, unless you talk to the computer, you don't get to bank the plane, even in the most manual possible mode ("Mechanical Backup" which you don't get to select -- it's what happens when all three flight computers have failed). Check out the half-dozen "airbus flight laws." When something is going wrong, I don't want to have to know whether I'm in "Normal Law" or "Alternate Law" or "Abnormal Alternate Law" or whatever. I would like to move the controls proportionally to my inputs, and to be able to feel the control forces pushing back.

    A reasonable scenario for the Air France Airbus breakup off Brazil is that the three pitot tubes iced up, which the computer interpreted as slowing to the point of stalling. The Airbus provides "stall protection" and doesn't let you stall the plane in "Normal Law" (although that's not true in "Alternate Law"), so the computer, uncommanded, increased power and/or decreased pitch until the plane exceeded Vne (or even Va in turbulence) and broke up in flight. Overspeed could also happen in a Boeing, but troubleshooting what is going wrong and taking appropriate action (moderate power setting, level pitch) would be much simpler in the second case.

    Now that I wrote all that, here's a clearer explanation: Unlike Airbus, Boeing lets aviator override fly-by-wire technology

    Another thing to keep in mind is that the safety records for both Boeing and Airbus planes introduced in the last 15 years is really great. They're all incredibly safe. But it does seem like there has been a rash of recent Airbus accidents that one could at least partially attribute to this design philosophy.

    "Stolen pension" OK, fine, "reduced in value by ~90% for the (mostly prior) benefit of US Airways management." Low pilot pay is still a problem that I'd like people to be aware of, because it means we'll have much less experienced flight crews.
    posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 2:16 AM on November 15, 2009


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