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Sully the movie – one pilot’s perspective

written by Owen Zupp | September 10, 2016

Sully movie 2
A publicity image for the movie Sully.

For those yet to see the movie Sully, I highly recommend it. I came away entertained, and as an Airbus A320 pilot, pleased with the technical accuracy.

Obviously the culling demands of screenwriting call for year-long investigations to be severely paraphrased and certain items were tweaked for dramatic effect, but all in all, it is a great film.

But I walked away with something more.

As a 50-something year old airline pilot, certain phrases particularly resonated with me. Such as, despite having a distinguished 40 year aviation career, Sully felt that he was now to be judged on a mere 208 seconds – the time between striking the birds and touching down on the Hudson River. I felt heavily for Sully at this point and considered my own career in light of his statement.

In aviation we are taught to never leave the door open for arrogance or complacency. It is a career dedicated to ongoing education and frequent self-critiquing, aware that there is no such thing as a perfect flight – we can always do better. It is not a depressing thought, but a challenge that pilots work towards their entire career. And it is that entire career aspect that the Sully movie rammed home to me.


Sully’s drama aboard Flight 1549 came in what one might consider the twilight of his career, but the reality is that there is no room for twilight performances. The fare-paying passengers in the cabin of any airliner deserve the crew’s A-game regardless of the stage one’s career may have reached. There is no room for winding down and easing gently into the night.

Thousands of hours in the air serve to provide experience – a backbone of instinct that can be integrated with procedures and checklists, but can also serve to know when priorities need to change and decisions need to be made. This is nowhere more evident than in the efforts of Sullenberger and his first officer over New York.

Subtle details in the film conveyed significant messages too – Sully requiring his uniform to be dry cleaned as a priority on the night of the event and his commitment to his health, jogging along the foreshore and through the streets of the Big Apple. Despite his senior age, career status and even the ditching on the Hudson, it was evident that he was still committed to maintaining his self-discipline.

His concern for his passengers, his anxiousness awaiting confirmation that all 155 souls on board were accounted for and recognising the efforts of his entire crew while maintaining his humble dignity throughout were all qualities that any aspiring or established pilot should strive for.

The sound of the flightdeck warnings such as the ECAM chimes and the GPWS would grab the attention of any pilot, but the calm manner of the crew should grab the attention of all that see this movie. Personally, this movie reaffirmed my choice of career, but also reminded me that there is no room for tapering off in personal standards until the brakes are parked for the very last time.

These are not necessarily the thoughts that every cinema-goer will sense or appreciate, nor should they. First and foremost, this film is an entertaining drama that proves that fact can be even more incredible than fiction. The portrayal on the big screen of the crew that ditched on the Hudson River reminded me that fate does not discriminate when it comes to call.

Whether it be a pilot’s first flight or a final farewell, we should treat every day with the same respect and humility that this wonderful profession and the travelling public demands.

(Author Owen Zupp’s latest book “Without Precedent“, which details the life of his father, RAAF fighter pilot and World War Two Commando Phillip Zupp, is out now. https://www.owenzupp.com/without-precedent)

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Comments (29)

  • Johnna


    Well done. I would fly with you every trip. Thanks for your critique. I will definitely see the movie when it’s released.

  • Marc


    Thank you Owen for sharing your thoughts.

  • Sean


    Well said , have not seen the movie but if i was an A320 pilot and was going into the water im pretty sure i would hit the “ditch switch” but alas i am not , also as far as the passengers and crew , well the first to grab me by coat tails would be the second person off the plane .

  • Bob Grimstead


    I absolutely agree with you in everything you say Owen.

  • Geoff


    Thanks Owen. You have inspired me to see this movie.

    Your summary is eloquently written. The Hudson River event certainly epitomises the very best of airmanship, encompassing the many virtues you mention.

    Your very readable contributions to this magazine over the years have been, in my opinion, very informative and have endorsed your holistically professional approach to aviation. The flying Public travel safely because of people like “Sully” and you.

    I am sure that many other readers will agree. Thank-you again.

  • Kahla Dowler


    A great article and the Sully movie in unbelievably good! Tom hanks is my all time favourite actor and aviation is my hobby, so putting those two together with a hero like Chesley is an amazing combination that turned out to be the best of all time.
    Sully was truly a hero that day that was doing his job, and he done it damn well along with his first officer Geoff and all the people who continued to help with the rescue.
    Good write up and brilliant movie!

  • Russell M


    Thanks for the review Owen, I was in two minds about Hollywood’s attempts at this story – so often you see the aviation side of a movie so butchered and screwed up it’s painful. You know, the outside shot of a 737 and then inside you see it is that very special twin aisle version of the 737 and room in the cockpit for 4 or more crew and a flight engineer and…………..groan.

    Your review has put this on the “must see” list, so thanks for confirming it’s good.

    Travel safe!

  • JMG747


    I enjoyed the movie, though a few technical bugs annoyed me.

    In the sim sequences, CM1 asks for FPV on, the reaction from CM2 is ND range adjustments? eh?

    Then when CM1 flies it into the ground and hits a building, full reverse is selected? Not sure thats going to help.

    What about APU on when they said it wasn’t? Why did they get reverse green on all the successful landings at LaGuardia or TB?

    CM1 and 2 were seated at massively different eye lines. The woman could barely see over the dash!

    Why was there a TCAS clear of conflict call when they flew over the GWB?

    Maybe I need to get out more.

  • Paul Murray


    As a former ATC (retired) 8 in the USAF and having worked in 2 out of the 3 ATC options for 30 years in the FAA, I am looking forward to seeing this movie and have a great respect for the pilots that I have worked and assisted in emergencies throughout my career.

  • Fred


    There is no mention in the movie that Sully has a gliding instructors rating which gave him the knowledge of the best options for a safe landing. Gliding experience might be a good thing for commercial pilots to have in there training

  • PAUL


    Im sure the A320 glided a bit better than the F4’s he flew in USAF, Keen to see the movie hopefully it will cover his Airforce experience somewhat too, as his grounding in Jet Aviation.

  • Patrick Kilby


    For me it was also very good. One scene bugged me was the cabin crew asking a guy to jump into the Hudson without a life jacket on or a raft in place. That was odd given the sensible decisions they made elsewhere to avoid people going into the very cold water.

  • JMG747


    Fred, Sully speaks specifically about that in his book. He says that his gliding experience was irrelevant and didn’t contribute to the outcome, as the aircraft and technique are just so massively different.

  • Stuart Rutherford


    I to was in two minds about seeing the film, due to the way Hollywood tend to go over the top on aviation based movies. I was pleasantly surprised at how good the movie was and enjoyed seeing it. Sully was heavily involved with the filming of the movie, and I think it’s the attention to detail he would have brought to the movie is the reason why it has been made so well. Of course no movie is ever 100% accurate, but I think they go pretty close with this one,

  • Tony


    I have only read the NTSB report, not seen the film nor read the book. The trailer for the film appears to show investigators questioning Sully about the ability to land at an airport after the bird strike. I wonder if this rather aggressive questioning actually happened?
    The NTSB report does conclude that an airport landing was possible but only if instigated immediately after the strike. They conclude it would not be possible after the 35 seconds of evaluation and engine restart attempts and that the Hudson was a reasonable choice.
    The trailer seems at variance with the facts. Anyone read the book and does Sully say he was pushed about landing back at an airport?

  • Ron


    Outstanding performance of real life events unfolding in minute details.
    As Dully stated, We ALL did it, d crew. Passengers, reduce boats and workers on board the water taxis.
    Everyone should see this movie to watch the split second details and the way our FAA may be looking to hard to find “fault” or ” human error” as a cause. Forgetting the human element. Just think of the outcome had he taken the doomed aircraft to Teobor
    Or LGA. Or worse. Over the skyscraped city below. He made the best, and dangerous decision.
    I would need honored to feel safe in ANY aircraft he was in command.

  • Ron


    Best re-creation of harrowing experience.

  • Greg


    INSIGHT – the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding. That is the “God given gift” Captain Sullenberger exercised that fateful day.

  • Ron


    I have been a active pilot since 1970. I have been taught 2 expect the best proven percentage of survival meaning the softest least amount of forward G-Force for the Crew and passengers in the event of Landing a aircraft without power. If there is a loss of power the pilots scan the instruments to resurrect engine power given that I would proceed to land on the water not to pick a road not to go toward buildings and to not endanger the lives of people on the ground., A pilot does not just fly a plane he executes the most safe proven Flight Plan for that aircraft every time he takes off, and for anyone to speak about should of could of would of and was on the ground should not have had any bearing on the landing of this type.To have this aircraft land and Float On The Water without the aluminum of the aircraft frame being remodeled by G forces is absolutely a astonashING and a miracle! My absolute respect for the captain and Co pilot and the cabin crew for there exicution of SAFETY PRACTICES preserving the lives of the passengers,,,and boat captains and their ships to provide for their safe passage to land. God Bless them all.!

  • random


    Sully’s professionalism and dedication to his craft, and to healthy lifestyle both inside and outside the cockpit (like many professional aircrew across countries like Australia and America) makes the “glorified bus driver” comments of some in the late 1980s seem pretty ill-informed.

    Sully’s calmness and matter-of-fact reactions reminds me of CAPT Eric Moody of British Airways and his announcement to passengers that all 4 engines had stopped on the B747 Speedbird 9.



    Excellent comment. I was a military pilot, and many of my friends fly Airbus. One thing I loved about the movie is the fact that no matter how much technology surrounds, PILOT JUDGEMENT will always command.



  • This is so true, working for an airline I realise the dedication of the Pilots, sincerity to the art and science of flying and commitment to the safety and comfort of the passengers is paramount.

    I can proudly say we have Sully’s with us in every flight.

  • Thanks Owen. Like several other correspondents I was between two minds on whether to see the film or not as I thought it could be a Hollywood beat up. But I will now mark it down as a must see based on your recommendation. Owen you should be getting a commission from the film’s producers.

  • Taurean Lea


    So glad everyone survived the Hudson River A320 disaster thanks to the heroic Pilot!!! He deserves to be inducted into the US Aviation Hall of Fame :-D.

  • Roy Fordham


    I am so very pleased to read the comments in regard the ‘Sully’ movie, I personally, found this to be very convincing, and accurate in the re-enactment, and the actors very real, in their portrayal of the crew.
    The choice of Tom Hanks, in the portrayal of ‘Sully’ could not have been bettered, and I noticed that he was directing as well, forget any minor criticisms, I/e cockpit views, re- the 737 look, that truly is nitpicking.
    I would definitely encourage as many people as possible to see this movie, my reasoning being, that it might possibly show, the many nervous pax around the world, that not every incident / accident is a total disaster.

  • Ben


    Very good article Owen. I am not a pilot but an avid aviation enthusiast. Having seen this movie over the weekend I can say without doubt that it is probably one of the best, if not the best, aviation docu-dramas ever made. The acting and dramatic scenes were first class. Of course there had to be elements of Hollywood overkill and poetic license, but I felt this was probably kept to a minimum to preserve the accuracy of what actually happened. Since the miracle on the Hudson happened, I, like everyone else, have been in awe of what was achieved that afternoon. However seeing it dramatised like this and on the big screen, placed everything on another level. I don’t mind admitting I got quite emotional when watching this film. Seeing humanity at it’s best, triumph over adversity and every member of the team, from those on board to the ferry and rescue workers all working in unison. This film was a class act and what made it emotional for me was that this class act was also a true story.

  • Torbjörn (Toby) Kettel


    I have not seen the movie yet, As per logic the RAT should have deployed automatically with a dual engine flame out. I have been involved in designing that particular RAT in my career and I hope it played it’s part in saving lives. That is what we have designed it for.
    Looking forward to watch the movie and thanks Owen for your positive feedback and recommendation.

  • T.G. Dennis


    I loved Sullys comments on his final experienced decision being similar to a lifetime of small bank deposits and one huge withdrawal. How very true. From one who has recovered from several emergency situations during a lifetime of flying..

  • Alex MacPhail


    An accurate write up and very good review of the movie. I thoroughly enjoyed watching it. I am an Airbus pilot and found the details correct and enjoyed that Hollywood got it right. I know Sully was heavily involved in this Clint Eastwood work of art. He continued his meticulous and disciplined approach to aviation while ensuring that it was as accurate as can be. Well done to Clint for listening too!

    I have read his book more than once and I highly recommend it to all pilots. He did all the right things to create a successful outcome. The right things were striving for perfection in his USAF training. Working towards improving his knowledge as a safety officer and later accident investigator. He has a Masters degree which further highlights what sort of individual he is. Hard working and disciplined. Getting the small details right, everyday, to polish the craft of professional aviator.

    He also ensured that the credit for this success is a team event. It’s true he has made a bigger name for himself the Jeff, that’s just they way things work out sometimes. He credits his crew this success.

    This movie has the human qualities that made it a real event for the movie goer. I watched with wonder and had to keep myself in check during some of the scenes. It is a scary thought that it could just as easily happen to me. Life is fragile and aviation is a high risk activity.

    Well done Clint, Tom and Sully.

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