Sully returns with lessons for cadets
From left to right: Cadet Keane Singleton, Cadet Maria Norman, Ambassador Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Cadet Connor Portlock, and Cadet Garrett Dean. Sullenberger receives a soaring instructor patch from the 94th Flying Training Squadron (FTS) in the Davis Airfield hangar at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo., on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022.
By Rachelle Stoll, Strategic Communications
Photos by Joshua Armstrong.
Ambassador Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger returned to the United States Air Force Academy’s Davis Airfield, Feb. 25, 2022, to connect with four aviation program cadet leaders while answering their questions about his time at the Academy.
A 1973 Academy graduate and former F-4 fighter pilot, Sullenberger is best known for piloting an emergency water landing of an Airbus A320 on the Hudson River on Jan. 15, 2009. After 30 years of flying as a commercial pilot, Sullenberger retired from US Airways on March 3, 2010, and in December 2021, was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador and Representative to the International Civil Aviation Organization.
Sullenberger stands in front of an Air Force Academy glider at the Davis Airfield. He served as a glider and airplane instructor pilot during his time as a cadet at the Academy.
Between 1969 and 1973, Sullenberger attended the Academy and was a member of Cadet Squadron 18 and a glider and airplane instructor pilot. In his senior year, he received the Outstanding Cadet in Airmanship Award, and thus began a long and distinguished career in aviation.
Cadet First Class Maria Norman – Fall Semester 94th FTS Cadet Commander:
“Do you have a favorite lesson or memory from USAFA?”
“We were always looking for ways to break out of the monotony. One of my Academy classmates, Eric Andermann, was on the jump [parachute] team and he had a spare T-10 canopy under his bed. On the nastiest, windiest stormy nights when we knew the OIC [Officer-In-Charge] would never leave the office, we would go out to the west side of the Terrazzo with the base and wheels from a ‘grey elephant’ laundry cart. One of us would sit on it and hold the risers to the parachute canopy. The other would keep the canopy collapsed, and when he got the thumbs up, he would let it go and it [the canopy] would inflate with the wind like a catapult shot. You would take off flying across the Terrazzo! I called it Terrazzo sailing. We never got caught; we were always out there after Taps [bugle call to signal ‘lights out].”
Cadet First Class Connor Portlock — Flying Team Cadet Commander:
“What was the hardest experience you had as a cadet?”
“SERE. Even more than the first summer [basic training], SERE was my first big lesson in resilience, and that’s one of the most important lessons one can learn.”
[Survival, Evasion, Resistance, and Escape (SERE) School is one of the Air Force’s most challenging hands-on programs, providing airmen in qualified positions with the skills to survive in hostile and remote environments. SERE was removed from the Cadet Wing syllabus in 2011 but is expected to be reinstated in the summer of 2022.]
Cadet Second Class Keane Singleton — Wings of Blue Parachute Team:
“Is there anything you wish you would’ve done differently in your career or time at the Academy that you think would’ve better prepared you for the situations you’ve encountered?”
“This is something that my First Officer, Jeff Skiles, on the Hudson flight and I talked about. His answer is the same as mine, but it’s about different things. He said that initially after our flight, with all the sudden attention, he just wanted his old life back. He kept saying that for months.
“Finally, one day, I was so gratified and relieved when he came up to me and he said, ‘You know what, I’ve changed my mind. My only regret is that I didn’t have these opportunities sooner in my life in order to have more time to use them.’
“That’s my feeling, not about this whole episode since 2009, but about my whole life. This 2009 event, and the opportunities it afforded were some that I could have probably done sooner, and I never tried. I never pushed myself to be a more complete version of myself, to be able to get better at some skills.
“One of the things I’d never thought I’d do is public speaking. Since 2009, I learned how to do it, really, really well. But then I applied to it the same diligence and discipline I applied in learning how to fly. I also asked for—and listened to—brutally honest feedback to be able to improve. It became a virtuous cycle; the better I got, the easier it became, and the better I could be. It got to the point where now I love it. I miss it now that I’m not able to do that. I will eventually go back to it, but I wished I’d realized earlier that it’s amazing what you can learn to do.”
Cadet First Class Garrett Dean – Spring Semester 94th FTS Cadet Commander:
“What advice do you have for cadets, as we prepare to lead in a complex and rapidly changing world?”
“Regardless of how much technology you have, it is the people who use it and their motivations that matter. This nation has always been the most successful and the most admired and respected around the world when we are truest to our values. On whatever team you’re on, you have to remind everyone that what’s important and what helps us to succeed together—no matter who we are or what we look like—is that we share common values, common purpose, and a common humanity.”
Sullenberger concluded the Air Force Academy’s 2022 National Character Leadership Symposium (NCLS) by awarding the inaugural Sullenberger Award for Courage to Lt. Col. Alexander Pelbath, USAFA Class of 2001, for his valiant efforts during Operation Allied Refuge.
See Sullenberger’s challenge to cadets and the National Character and Leadership Symposium (NCLS) closing ceremony here.
There’s no better place to learn how to fly than the Air Force Academy. Take a virtual tour of the Davis Airfield, where cadets can take powered flight courses, soar on gliders, or participate in the Wings of Blue Parachute Team.
Sullenberger speaks to members of the 94th FTS in front of the Davis Airfield’s control tower on Friday, Feb. 25, 2022 . President Joe Biden recently appointed him to be the U.S. Ambassador to the International Civil Aviation Organization.