Two of the most surreal moments of Capt. Lori Cline’s career revolved around the now-legendary US Airways Flight 1549, which ditched successfully in the Hudson River after taking off from New York for Charlotte in 2009.
The first was when Cline, a US Airways training pilot and check airman who checks other pilots’ skills, watched the stricken jet settle into the river on TV. Cline, who was the airline’s director of flight safety, was at her Greensboro house when the phone rang. US Airways wanted her on a jet to New York, immediately, to represent the company in the ensuing investigation.
The plane, piloted by Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, had run into a flock of geese, lost power in both engines and then landed on the river, all with no loss of life. These incredible circumstances made Flight 1549 “the most unique accident in aviation history,” Cline said.
The second surreal moment happened more recently, in a flight simulator at American Airlines’ Charlotte Douglas International Airport training facility. Clint Eastwood was directing Cline and another pilot in an Airbus A320 flight simulator, recreating the accident flight and simulating the landing for “Sully,” the movie starring Tom Hanks that opened Friday.
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“I think it looks very realistic,” said Cline, who joined the airline more than three decades ago, back when it was Piedmont Airlines.
Cline’s simulator scenes in “Sully” took about seven hours to film, she said, and were whittled down to about a minute or so of screen time. She plays a pilot helping the National Transportation Safety Board simulate the accident, which she did in real life. Eastwood didn’t learn that until during the shoot, Cline said.
“He was like, ‘Stop,’” said Cline. “He leaned in and said, ‘Are we doing everything exactly right, like you did?’”
They ran the simulation dozens of times, as they had in real life, to see if the crippled plane could have made it to a runway. Cline has a couple of lines that made the final cut, and said seeing herself on screen, in IMAX, at the New York premiere earlier this week was “an out-of-body experience.”
One of the best parts of playing a pilot in the movie was the chance to make sure filmmakers got the scenes right. Cline said other airplane-focused movies drive her and her husband, a retired air traffic controller, nuts, with scenes that cut between different cockpits or pilots making incorrect radio calls. Think “Flight” and “Pushing Tin.”
“Oh my God, that’s not even the right plane!” Cline said they often exclaim when watching aviation movies.
As for what it’s like working on a movie set, Cline said the crew of about 100 was like a “well-oiled symphony,” despite tight quarters in the simulator that had some crew members lying on the ground around the pilots to hold lights. And she did get a personal trailer, though it was not nearly as fancy as you might presume.
“I had a star (on the door),” said Cline. “It said ‘Pilot 3.’”