On a Wing and a Prayer

Ariel Valiente

Here are some remarkable instances of pilot leadership that exemplify exceptional conduct and decision-making in critical situations, ultimately saving lives:

Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger
On January 15, 2009, Captain Sullenberger was piloting US Airways Flight 1549 when a flock of birds struck the aircraft shortly after takeoff from New York’s LaGuardia Airport. With both engines damaged and losing power, Captain Sullenberger made a swift judgment to land the plane in the Hudson River. Through his outstanding piloting skills and composed demeanor, he successfully evacuated all 155 passengers and crew, earning widespread acclaim as a hero.

Eric Moody
In 1982, Captain Eric Moody was in command of a British Airways flight, a Boeing 747, when it encountered a volcanic ash cloud from the eruption of Mount Galunggung in Indonesia. The volcanic ash led to the failure of all four engines, leaving the aircraft powerless. Captain Moody skillfully maneuvered the plane, descending to a lower altitude, which allowed the engines to reignite. He then safely landed the aircraft, saving all 263 passengers and crew on board.

Denny Fitch
On July 19, 1989, United Airlines Flight 232 suffered a catastrophic engine failure that resulted in the loss of all hydraulic control systems. Captain Alfred Haynes, the pilot in command, and First Officer William Records collaborated with Captain Denny Fitch, an off-duty United Airlines DC-10 instructor pilot who happened to be a passenger on the flight. Captain Fitch joined the cockpit crew and provided crucial assistance by utilizing differential engine thrust to control the aircraft. Despite the immense challenges, they managed to crash-land the plane in Sioux City, Iowa, with 185 of the 296 people on board surviving.

Jerry Rawlings
Jerry Rawlings, a Ghanaian Air Force pilot, displayed extraordinary leadership during a military coup in 1981. He piloted a small former training aircraft and attacked the Presidential Palace in Accra, Ghana. Rawlings’ act of courage sparked a popular uprising, leading to his ascent as the leader of Ghana. He played a pivotal role in stabilizing the country and implementing economic and political reforms.

Doug White
On Easter Sunday 2009, Doug White, a 56-year-old pharmacist, was flying back to Archibald, Louisiana, with his wife and two daughters after attending his brother’s funeral. Unfortunately, less than 10 minutes after their King Air 200 took off from Marco Island, Florida, the pilot suffered a heart attack and died. White, who had taken a minimum number of flying lessons in the past, landed the plane safely.

Taylor Hash
In April this year, the 21-year-old trainee pilot, during her third solo flight realized that the landing gear had fallen off her 2006 Diamond, a DA20-C1 single-engine two-seater. Guided via radio by another pilot and the air traffic controller, Hash landed the plane safely the Oakland County International Airport in Michigan.

Ariel Valiente
In mid June, Ecuadorian squadron leader Ariel Valiente calmly navigated his plane to safety after a large bird smashed thought the windscreen of his plane. Even with blood splattered over his eyes and face, this pilot was not ruffled. The giant bird is believed to be an Andean condor, which has a wingspan of up to 10 ft. It is thought to be one of the largest birds able to fly.

These examples illustrate the exceptional skills, decision-making, and composure exhibited by pilots in critical situations. They highlight how the behavior and conduct of pilots in the cockpit can save lives and have a significant impact.

It’s also worth acknowledging the heroic efforts of the Dam Busters of World War Two.

In May 1943, 24-year-old Wing Commander Guy Gibson, a veteran of more than 170 bombing and night-fighter missions, led the Royal Air Force’s 617 Squadron on a daring bombing mission to destroy three dams in Germany’s Ruhr valley, a vital industrial region.

The operation, codenamed Operation “Chastise” faced formidable defenses, including torpedo nets and anti-aircraft guns. However, the squadron had a secret weapon: the “bouncing bomb.” After years of development, the bomb, codenamed “Upkeep” was designed to be dropped at a specific height and speed, bouncing across the water before striking the dam.

Gibson and his multinational aircrew – from Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the USA – successfully executed the mission. From 9.28pm on 16 May, 133 aircrew in 19 Avro Lancasters took off in three waves to bomb the dams.

Of the 133 aircrew that took part, 53 men were killed and three became prisoners of war, but the raid gave a significant morale boost to the people of Britain.

The surviving aircrew were lauded as heroes, and Gibson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions during the raid.

Unfortunately, Gibson died when his aircraft crashed during another mission on September 19, 1944.

If you think you’ll enjoy the thrills of taking to the skies, you can do so at Wings Academy, without having to put your life in danger.

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