In the great tradition of US magazine journalism, Vanity Fair's William Langewiesche
, a GA pilot himself, has come up with just shy of 11,000 words (count 'em) on the Hudson River Airbus A320 ditching. The majority of the piece is actually 'about' other incidents, philosophy and science of flight, history of Airbus etc - but nevertheless the author's managed to annoy the heck out of some pilots and other people. Quite a few have left comments on this Wall Street Journal blog
about the Vanity Fair piece. I encourage you to read the article - it's good stuff.
The passage that's generated all the heat is the one below, (which mentions in passing Robert Piché who landed the powerless A330 in the Azores, and Airbus test pilot Bernard Ziegler).
Unlike Piché's A330, which lost automation and flew much like a Boeing
during its glide, Sullenberger's A320 went all the way to the water
under fly-by-wire control. That means it handled the constant
adjustments and repetitive chores of flight by itself, and responded to
Sullenberger's larger inputs according to a regime that is known as
Normal Law--though it is "normal" only as Ziegler wished normal to be. A
full description of its arcane logic is beyond the scope of an article.
Suffice it to say that if Sullenberger had done nothing after the loss
of thrust the airplane would have smoothly slowed until reaching a
certain angle with the airflow, at which point it would have lowered
its nose to keep the wings from stalling, and would have done this even
if for some reason Sullenberger had resisted. Of course, Sullenberger
did no such thing. While in the initial left turn he lowered the nose
well in advance of the need for any such "protection," and went to the
best gliding speed--a value which the airplane calculated all by itself,
and presented to him as a green dot on the speed scale of his primary
flight display. During the pitch changes to achieve that speed, a
yellow "trend" arrow appeared on the scale, pointing up or down from
the current speed with predictions of speed 10 seconds into the
future--an enormous aid in settling onto the green dot with the minimum
of oscillation. Suffice it also to say that during the glide
Sullenberger received no tactile feedback from his side-stick; that
whenever he left the side-stick alone in the neutral position the
airplane held its nose steadily at whatever pitch he had last selected;
that the airplane's pitch trim was automatic, and perfect at all times;
that all yaw was damped out; that the rudder was automatically
coordinated with the rolls; that having banked to any angle up to 33
degrees, if Sullenberger left the side-stick alone, the airplane stayed
precisely at the chosen angle; and that, likewise, having returned to a
straight-ahead wings-level position, the airplane stayed there too,
without the slightest drift or wobble. Thank you, Betsy.
There's a lot of discussion about whether Sully was in fact in normal law, but Langewiesche has spoken to him and perhaps knows.
think Langewiesche brings much of the criticism on his own head, not
because of what he wrote above, but because he underplays what I think
was Sully's real contribution - making the decision to ditch. That was
the bit that took outstanding judgement and mental courage and, more
significantly, a decision that many other pilots would not have taken.
(Of course, they might have been right - we'll never know for sure.)
comparable to the British Airways Boeing 777 undershoot at Heathrow
last year - Capt Peter Burkill's key contribution was knowing his aircraft
sufficiently well and having the judgement to reduce the flap setting
in the seconds available to him to stretch the glide. Plenty - I
daresay most - other pilots could have ditched the A320 and landed the
777. But not if they didn't make the right decision in the first place.
you're really looking for controversy, I think it comes in the
interview with Langewiesche that accompanies the Vanity Fair article,
and in which there is this nicely incendiary exchange:
If Mr. Sullenberger had been in a comparable Boeing jet, like a 737, would he have been able to make that landing as safely?
I can't speculate on that. I mean, who knows? I know that the
challenge of flight control in a 737 would be significantly greater
than in an A320, and that the workload would be correspondingly
greater. But whether this would have affected Mr. Sullenberger's
performance, as measured by the Flight Data Recorder, or the actual
movements of the airplane, I have no idea. Nobody knows the answer to
that. But we do know that the challenge would have been greater in a
737 than in an A320.
The A320 is the magic carpet. It's the marvelous flying machine.
It's the lead design in a revolution in civil aviation that occurred in
the 1980s--the first truly robotic, or "fly by wire," civil airplane in
history. It is radically different from airplanes that preceded it, and
radically different from Boeing's designs, which are conventional in
their flight characteristics and interfaces with the pilots in the
cockpits. I had never flown an A320 before I flew that simulator, and I
was just astonished by the machine. In years of flying, and well over
10,000 flight hours, I have never seen anything like it. It was
absolutely a delight. I had a grin from ear to ear. I kept thinking,
"God, it's a magic carpet."