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Skiles Brings Wright Bros. Banquet in for a Smooth and Dry Landing

Wright Bros. Banquet
Jeff Skiles tells the story of Flight 1549 during his keynote speech at EAA’s 7th Annual Wright Brothers Memorial Dinner December 18.
Photos by Bonnie Kratz

Wright Bros. Banquet
Attendees viewed a magnificent re-creation of Flight 1549 by EAA member Kas Osterbuhr.

Wright Bros. Banquet
Phil and Becky Haupt, right, lead a toast to the memory of the Wright brothers along with Jeff Skiles, left, and EAA’s Adam Smith. Phil piloted the flight carrying the 1.5 millionth Young Eagle.

December 21, 2009 —“Let me put you in the jump seat of our Airbus A320 on that fateful day in January,” said U.S. Air Flight 1549 co-pilot Jeff Skiles, the featured speaker at the 7th annual Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet on December 18. With those words, Skiles began to captivate the attention of the approximately 370 attendees, holding them spellbound while at the same time causing them to laugh uproariously during his in-depth description of what the world now refers to as “The Miracle on the Hudson.”

Skiles honored the memory of Orville and Wilbur Wright, reminding the audience of their successful first 12-second flight on December 17, 1903 then added, “But I became famous for not flying successfully.” Skiles also noted that Orville Wright was the first pilot to hit a bird in flight…in September 1905.

Following a showing of EAA member Kas Osterbuhr’s computerized re-creation of Flight 1549, Skiles gave a blow-by-blow account of the five-and-a-half-minute flight that ended in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009. “It was the last flight of our four-day trip schedule, and it was my leg to fly. As we were climbing through about 400 feet, Captain Chesley ‘Sully’ Sullenberger remarked, ‘What a view of the Hudson today.’ Afterwards, I couldn’t help but think about how ironic that was.

“As we were heading for 3,000 feet I started pitching the nose over to maintain our assigned altitude and caught the sight of birds in my peripheral vision and then I heard and felt the impact and could literally feel the airplane decelerate as the engines lost power.”

Skiles then recounted their failed attempt to restart the engines, the decision-making process about where to put the airplane, and hailed the efforts of air traffic controller Patrick Hardin, who Skiles called the real hero of the day.  Mostly, he said, “I kept hoping I’d wake up from this bad dream.”
Skiles jokingly added, “That adage ‘Any landing you can walk away from is a good landing’ didn’t quite apply to us. We couldn’t just walk away; we needed boats.”

Skiles, who along with Sullenberger, serves as honorary co-chairman of EAA’s Young Eagles program then told the audience the experience of Flight 1549 and its aftermath definitely changed his life. “Good or bad, my life’s changed. In one way, it’s been incredibly positive because it brought me to Oshkosh this summer for AirVenture, which helped me rediscover my love for flying.” That led to his purchase of a Waco YOC, in which he hopes to give many Young Eagles rides.

Skiles closed the evening by seeking the audience’s continued support for the Young Eagles program through financial assistance as well as giving airplane rides to kids.

Two other special guests, Phil and Becky Haupt, of Roseville, California, helped raise a toast to the memory of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Phil was the pilot of the flight marking the 1.5 millionth Young Eagle on October 3, 2009.

See Kas Osterbuhr’s computerized recreation of Flight 1549

EAA RadioEAA Radio:
Interview with Young Eagles Co-Chair Jeff Skiles
Interview with Young Eagles Co-Chair Sully Sullenberger
Interview with former Young Eagles Chair Harrison Ford

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