Cover Story: Keeping Flight 1549 aloft

By Jeff Atkinson - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The delayed arrival of Flight 1549.  Two years later, the ill-fated voyage finally lands at its final destination.

From the bottom of the Hudson River to a Charlotte museum.

The US Airways jet that splash-landed in 2009 is coming home.  Flight 1549 is on its final departure to Charlotte.

In fact, parts of the aircraft are already here.

Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger saved lives and kept it from sinking in the "Miracle on the Hudson".  Now college engineering students from right here in Charlotte will keep it afloat in a Charlotte museum.

It's the plane that captured the imagination of the world.

Once it was decided it finally would come home to Charlotte (where it was headed) and the Carolinas Aviation Museum at Charlotte Douglas International Airport would house this unique artifact museum, officials had just one problem.

Flight 1549 landed on the Hudson River in New York City with its landing gear up.

Shawn Dorsch, president of the Carolinas Aviation Museum, says they had to decide how they were going to display it.

"The airplane actually landed on the water with the gear up.  And so the most appropriate way to display the airplane is with the landing gear up because that's the way Capt. Sullenberger put it down in the river," said Dorsch.

With no landing gear to keep the plane off the ground, how would they display the Airbus A320 in a museum?

Enter four college students from UNC Charlotte's Lee College of Engineering.

An Airbus representative (the manufacturer of the plane) who's based in Charlotte came up with the idea to get engineering students to design the stand the plane would sit on.  And they did it as a senior engineering project.

Their work went on display along with other student engineer's inventions at the Senior Design Expo inside Halton Arena on Friday.

Designing a stand would be a piece of cake right?

"It was difficult mainly because of the big-ness of it," said engineering student Shane Edwards.  "Finding weights and balances and going through the calculations was just.. that was the hardest part."

Especially difficult since the plane's still sitting in a warehouse near the Newark Airport in New Jersey.

The team of four students did the engineering and design work.  A local steel manufacturer is building the 6,000 pound frame.

"It's huge. It's got a lot of history to it," said Vince Gifford of Airbus.  "It's going to be great to talk about the engineering and design. You know, how the airplane managed to land."

The project bringing young minds together with one of the world's top aerospace companies fulfills an educational mission of the museum.  And keeps 1549 in historical context.

"I think it's a great perspective.. something people really don't see. It's really the most historically correct thing to do," said museum president Shawn Dorsch.

And something the students will tell their grandchildren.  "Absolutely.. that's the biggest thing," said Shane Edwards.

And they're making history.  This is the first Airbus plane displayed like it anywhere in the U.S.  Some of the artifacts from the plane are already here in Charlotte, but they're not on display yet.

The fuselage itself will be hauled down here in one piece on a specially-built semi-tractor trailer.

It's going to take eight days to transport.  It's expected to arrive next month.

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