Highest Duty by Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger, III, Jeffrey Zaslow

(New York: Harper Collins, 2009), 354

"We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we'll be judged on." (314)

A Flight You'd Never Forget

  • "It's as if these moments from my life were deposited in a bank until I needed them. As I worked to safely land Flight 1549 in the Hudson, almost subconsciously, I drew on these experiences." (2)
  • He soloed after 16 lessons over 2 months with 7.5 hours of time (I soloed after 8 lessons over 1 month with 11.3 hr). He took his check ride with 70 hours (I had 40.7)
  • He now has 19,700 hours total time (!!)
  • "Mr. Cook's lessons were a part of what guided me on that five-minute flight. He was the consummate stick-and-rudder man, and that day over New York was certainly a stick-and-rudder day." (15)

A Pilot's LIfe

  • "I love that flying is an intellectual challenge, and that there's mental math that needs to be done all along the way." (18)
  • He reads a lot! Hundreds of books on flying he's studied (15), and four books on a four-day trip (22)
  • Poems: "Sea Fever" by John Masefield (27)

Those Who Came Before Me

  • "Long before I found myself in the cockpit of Flight 1549, I had closely studied other airline accidents." (39)
  • "It takes time, hour after hour, to master the science and art of flying a commercial jet." (41)
  • "An airline accident is almost always the end result of a causal chain of events. Every choice we in the airline industry make based solely on cost has ramifications and should be evaluated carefully." (41)
  • Two volunteer pilots landed a B-24 on the James river on September 20, 1944 (43-44)
    • "That report called for landing gear to be retracted rather than extended. It described why an airplane should fly as slowly as possible, and why wing flaps should be down for impact. It also called for the nose to be up in most cases. These procedural guidelines remain in use today, and were in my head on Flight 1549."
    • No mention of We Thought We Heard the Angels Sing: I wonder if he is aware of this ditching?

Measure Twice, Cut Once

  • self-competence: "I grew up in a home where each of us had our own hammer...The goal was to do everything ourselves, to learn what we didn't know and then have at it. My dad taught himself to do the carpentry, the electrical installations, even the roofing—and then he taught us...We were learning how to learn." (50-52)
  • His dad would sketch a house he liked and then find a way to add those elements to their house bit by bit. "You can learn anything you want to learn. You can start with a blank piece of paper and end up with a house." (53, cf A Pattern Language)
  • "My dad thought of being with his family as his priority; work was secondary." (57) "Family came first. Ahead of work and ahead of school." (59)
  • "Using our hands to crate things, we shared a lot of great hours together." (60)
  • Parenting: argue with your spouse in front of your kids so they can learn how to manage conflict (60)
  • "Back then, 'you are doing fine' was what passed for a compliment." (64)

The Gift of Girls

  • Adoption: "Both of us considered the birth parents to be incredibly courageous people. They knew that for whatever reason—their age, circumstances, finances—they couldn't raise their child. And so they had made a very hard yet loving choice. They had turned their wrenching dilemma into a gift." (83)

Fast, Neat, Average

  • USAFA Form 0-96: "Fast, neat, average, friendly, good, good." (101)

Long-term Optimist, Short-term Realist

  • Charles Lindbergh's book We shows the level of preparation (not just "Lucky Lindy") (115)
  • Situational awareness: "create and maintain a very accurate real-time mental model of your reality" (119)
  • "In many areas of life you need to be a long-term optimist but a short-term realist." (119)
  • Red Eagles: America's Secret MiGs (129)

This Is the Captain Speaking

  • Seniority system: avoids favoritism and improves safety by insulating pilots from politics (137)
  • Craftsmanship of flying: "Pilots I have known who make it look the most effortless have something that goes beyond being competent and beyond being someone who can be trusted. Such pilots seem able to find a well-reasoned solution to most every problem. They see flying as an intellectual challenge and embrace every hour in the sky as another learning opportunity. I've tried to be that kind of pilot. I've derived great satisfaction from becoming good at something that's difficult to do well...I like the intellectual challenge of finding smooth air." (138-139)
  • Energy management as he describes his descent into San Francisco: "I was doing it for myself" (148-149)

Showing Up for Life

  • "This sense of both fellowship and self-reliance was necessary in a sparely populated area." (151)
  • "I've come to believe that every encounter with another person is an opportunity for good or for ill." (152-153)
  • Heroes: "I believe many people in those situations actually have made decisions years before. Somewhere along the line, they came to define the sort of person they wanted to be, and then they conducted their lives accordingly." (153)
  • Helping others: "It hardly took any effort on my part. Besides, I don't want to go through life as a bystander." (160)
  • Medal of Honor recipient Henry Erwin, who saved his B-29 crew from a phosphorus flare (165-166)

Anything is Possible

  • "I'm a believer in realistic optimism, which I consider a leader's most effective tool." (170)
  • Lorrie:
    • Exercise in a way you like: find your thing and do it (172)
    • To meet your goals, write them down and take authentic action every day to achieve them (174)

Managing the Situation

  • "Manage the situation, or the situation will manage you." (185)
  • There isn't a checklist for everything: you need to know the system and be able to improvise and modify procedures to fit the situation (188)
  • Automation: "You're ultimately flying the airplane with your ind by developing and maintaining an accurate real-time mental model of your reality. How many different levels of technology do you want to place between your brain and the control surfaces." (189)
    • Dr. Wiener: the "paradox of automation" is that it lowers a pilot's workload when it is already low, and increases the workload when it is high (189)
    • "Technology is no substitute for experience, skill, and judgment." (190)
  • "A captain's highest duty and obligation is always to safety." (192)

The View from Above

Sudden, Complete, Symmetrical

  • "What helped me was that I had spent years flying jet airplanes and had paid close attention to energy management...that helped me more than anything else on Flight 1549" (214)


  • Reversible vs Irreversible decisions: "I knew that if I chose to turn back across this densely populated area, I had to be certain we could make it. Once I turned toward LaGuardia, it would be an irrevocable choice. It would rule out every other option." (224)
  • Goal sacrificing: when it's not longer possible to complete all of your goals, you sacrifice lower-priority goals (230)

One Hundred Fifty-five

  • "I can't talk now, there's a plane down in the Hudson." "I know, I'm the guy." (255-256)

Stories Heard, Lives Touched

  • "Of course, I'm still not comfortable with the "hero" mantle. As Lorrie likes to say, a hero is someone who risks his life running into a burning building. Flight 1549 was different, because it was thrust upon me and my crew. We did our best, we turned to our training, we made good decisions, we didn't give up, we valued every life on that plane and we had a good outcome. I don't know that "heroic" describes that. It's more that we had a philosophy of life, and we applied it to the things we did that day, and the things we did on a lot of days leading up to it. As I see it, rather than an act of heroism, that philosophy is what people are responding to." (261)
  • "I hope your story encourages those many others who toil in obscurity to know that their reward is simple—they will be be ready if the test comes." (265)


  • Parenting: "He knew the best way to learn responsibility was to be given the opportunity to be responsible, and at as young an age as possible." (289)
  • "One of the reasons I think I've placed such a high value on life is that my father took his." (291)

The Question

  • "Integrity means doing the right thing even when it's not convenient." (307)
  • "I am trained to be intolerant of anything less than the highest standards of my profession." (307)
  • "We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best, because we never know which moment in our lives we'll be judged on." (314)

Topic: Flight 1549


  • Dad for my birthday

Created: 2023-12-23-Sat
Updated: 2024-05-11-Sat