Named after Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the new title salutes the pilot and the entire crew who safely landed U.S. Airways flight 1549 in New York’s Hudson River. On Jan. 15, 2009, the flight had just taken off from New York’s LaGuardia Airport en route to Charlotte, when it struck a flock of birds causing engine failure.
Sullenberger guided the flight to a safe landing moments later.
On that flight, in seat 1D, was Ric Elias, the CEO of Red Ventures, the parent company of Lonely Planet. Elias has personally gifted $1 million toward the museum’s reimagination, with the official renaming coinciding with the fourteenth anniversary of what is still one of the most extraordinary moments in aviation history. Lonely Planet as a company has also gifted $500,000 toward the project.
“Flight 1549 changed the course of my life and gave me the ultimate gift of a second chance,” said Elias. "The Museum is a tribute to the courage of Capt. Sullenberger and the entire flight crew, and my hope is that it will also inspire young innovators to change the world.”
What will be in the new Sullenberger Aviation Museum?
The renaming comes at a moment of rebirth for the 31-year-old museum. Originally founded in 1992 by Floyd Swinton Wilson and his wife Lois, the museum closed its physical location in 2019 in anticipation of its reinvention and move to a new location.
A new 105,000-square-foot facility is projected to reopen at the end of 2023 in a spot adjacent to the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. Inside the renovated airplane hanger, visitors will have the chance to immerse themselves in the history of aviation in the Carolinas through inspiring exhibits as well as exciting experiences like flight simulators, interactive cockpits, historical artifacts and educational programs.
Lonely Planet will also have a presence in the new museum with details to be announced closer to the opening.
“Aviation – one of the most transformative industries in the world – has not historically been accessible to our underserved communities, but it is our hope that as more than a collection of aircraft, the Sullenberger Aviation Museum will serve as a vehicle of opportunity to inspire and elevate the next generation of innovators and future heroes,” said Capt. Sullenberger.
Sullenberger went on to say that he feels “privileged that my name will be associated with such an awe-inspiring institution that is actively working to expand social, cultural and economic mobility in Charlotte and beyond.”
The museum will continue to house an exhibit featuring the plane itself from Flight 1549 and the museum has received support from various connections to the flight. Honeywell, the company that manufactured the 131-9A auxiliary power unit, or APU, that played a critical role in enabling the Airbus aircraft to touch down safely has donated $1.5 million toward the project. Bank of America which had more than a dozen employees on the flight has contributed $1 million.
The passengers of Flight 1549 have also collectively started the Flight 1549 Campaign, a separate funding initiative dedicated to preserving the aircraft and funding the corresponding materials and collection for years to come.
The museum aims to raise $31 million for its relaunch. Including the donation from Elias and Lonely Planet, it has raised $29 million toward that goal so far.