Monday, February 9, 2009

Katie and The Captain

I've never been a fan of Katie Couric's work and last night's 60 Minutes interview with Captain Sullenberger confirmed my non-fan status. Did he pray when he was guiding the Airbus into the Hudson River? That question from Katie was as dumb as the Captain's response was brilliant - "no, I figure I had 150 people in the rear of the aircraft taking care of that for me". As usual, the pampered network star entertainer was going for some cloying emotion - "Captain of Doomed Airliner Prays While The Hand of The Lord Makes a Brilliant Dead-stick Landing"...or something like that.
I understand why Katie did the interview, and why CBS used her instead of someone far more competent in the skill of interviewing. She's their star, and we all know what she did for their network news ratings. She must be propped up at every possible opportunity, and this was a big opportunity. So she asked the dumb, uninformed, chatty questions I expected, eliciting little new information, and completely unable to penetrate the professional cool of the Captain. This guy's no Sara Palin. I can't help but think Ed Bradley would have gotten more out of the interview.
By sheer circumstance, I've had the opportunity to spend some time with some of the greatest pilots that ever lived. I had a completely chance encounter with Chuck Yeager at a 7-11 store in Palmdale, when I lived in southern California in the 80s. We were standing in a short line to check out and he was kind enough to chat with me for a few moments. Having lived and worked in the Fox Valley for years, I spent a week every summer broadcasting live from the Experimental Aircraft Association's annual Fly-In Convention - the world's largest aviation gathering. I had the good fortune to do hours of live interviews each year with aviation legends like Bob Hoover and Dick Rutan. Every one of them exudes the calm confidence of a well-trained, highly experienced professional.
At the EAA Fly-In in 1980, after doing an hour on WOSH-AM with the late Leo Loudenslager (who'd just won the 5th of his 7 US Aerobatic Championships and was at that time a few years from winning the first of his two World Aerobatic Championships) we were making some small-talk after the interview, and he mentioned he had to head downtown to find a bank. I volunteered to be his driver, seizing the chance to spend even more time with him. We walked about a hundred feet to a radio station vehicle at my disposal and got in. As we left the flight line and headed to the gate, he said "your right front tire is down a few pounds...mind swinging into a gas station to pump it up?". I realized in an instant that he had "pre-flighted" the car before he got in. As we chatted in the car, he explained how you never know when you may have to perform an "emergency maneuver" and how you want to make sure you've done everything to put the odds in your favor of surviving. He was killed in 1997 when a guy abruptly crossed the center line and hit Leo's motorcycle.
When I heard the tape of the radio contacts Captain Sullenberger had with the air traffic control folks, I heard that same deliberate, precise, controlled attitude I'd heard from the great pilots I'd interviewed over the years. All business. A job to do against tremendous odds, and completely in control of his emotions and actions. Exactly the kind of guy I want up front when my wife and I head to Spring Training in Arizona in a couple weeks.

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