Check-ride Captain Rick Gauthier finally said the words new Envoy First Officer Will Fagundes had been waiting to hear: “…your aircraft.”  The Envoy E175, adorned with the American Eagle livery, had 72 passengers aboard.  It was Will’s to fly.

Born in Brazil and coming to America as a young boy, Will Fagundes had always been obsessed with aviation.  From planespotting to being an important part of fundraising efforts for the Airpower Foundation’s annual Skyball fundraiser, Will had plenty of exposure to the aviation world.  He had never been satisfied just being a passenger though, he had always wanted a bit more.

And this is where Will’s story begins, 30 months ago on the wind-swept plains of Oklahoma.

Career crossroads

It was late 2016.  Will Fagundes had a successful marketing and product development career in the gaming industry, along with being a volunteer firefighter and part-time law enforcement officer.  In between his frequent flying schedule (Will was a longtime Executive Platinum with American Airlines) and his side jobs, he loved spending time with his family.  His family was an aviation family, as his wife is a flight attendant with American Airlines.  By almost any account he was living the American dream.  But something was missing for Will.  He was having a hard time finding a sense of purpose in his career.  He had dreamt of one thing his entire life: being a pilot.

He sat down with his family to talk about it.  They talked about what it would mean for them financially, as flight school is incredibly expensive, along with juggling his wife’s career as a flight attendant.  The more they discussed it, the more they realized it could work.  Not without some sacrifice, but it could work.

You see, most airline pilots began training either as teenagers or young adults.  Aspiring airline pilots have one number to shoot for: 1500.  You need 1500 hours in the air in order to begin flying for an airline.  This takes years for most people.

Will wanted to start his flight training at 35 years old.  He would have to face family and logistical issues most younger students wouldn’t understand.

It would be hard.  Probably beyond hard.  It would take everything Will had and more, but, as Will told me, “The secret to achieving anything in life is surrounding yourself with the right people.  They’re not there to do it for you, but to keep pushing you, to believe in you even in those moments when you’re not sure you believe in yourself.”  Will had those people, led by his wife and family’s unending belief in him.

The decision was made: they packed up and moved to Dallas.  Will began flight training and his journey to 1500 hours in January 2017 at Thrust Flight at Addison Airport (KADS).  7 days a week, Will was there, either in ground school or in the air.  The milestones began to roll in: Private Pilot License, Instrument Rating, Multi-Engine, and, faster than Will ever imagined, he was training students how to fly as a Certified Flight Instructor, and would even go on to teach people how to teach people to fly as a CFI Instructor.  In addition to family and logistical issues, Will faced the same primary challenge any non-military student faced: paying for it.  Flight training is immensely expensive.  Thanks to Will’s previous career, he was able to self-fund a significant portion of his training, but it still required an adjustment for his family.  He and his family had to change the way they viewed things financially.

As the hours flew by (pun intended, ha), Will finally realized that his hard work was close to paying off.  December 2018 marked 1000 hours.  Finally, his work paid off: he was accepted into Envoy’s Flight Academy!  As he began to tick the final boxes to wrap up his private pilot career and begin his professional one, his family and friends (and this travel blogger) were over the moon for him, even more so when he was assigned to an Embraer 175 flying out of DFW.  As he sent pictures on Instagram of him in the flight simulators during his Envoy training, we all started asking the same question: when is your first flight?

Monday, July 15, 2019: First Officer Fagundes at the controls

Captain Gauthier coolly said, “your aircraft”.  The E175 was lined up for takeoff at DFW International Airport.  First Officer Fagundes, after months of intense training at Envoy headquarters, checked his instruments and gently nudged the throttles forward.  The auto-throttle engaged to ensure smooth acceleration for the passengers and the engines roared to life.  As they began their takeoff roll down the runway, First Officer Fagundes didn’t have time to be nervous.  Captain Gauthier called out “80” and First Officer Fagundes replied “check” to confirm their instruments were agreeing.  Before he knew it, Captain Gauthier called out “V1…rotate”, and my good buddy, First Officer Will Fagundes, pulled back the yoke and eased the jet into the sky.

It was a quick and easy three hours over to Key West, with a few deviations to avoid some storms.  Captain Gauthier landed the jet at Key West and, after a quick turn, took off again for the return flight to DFW.

First Officer Fagundes had told me his flight schedule and asked if I might grab a picture of his jet coming in for landing.  I decided to do one better: I reached out to some planespotting buddies and officially put them on assignment for Andy’s Travel Blog and told them to get the shot.  I reached out to my valuable partners at DFW Airport, who went above and beyond and coordinated with American Airlines to get me access to the ramp to cover the event (I may have forgotten to tell Will this part).

As Will’s flight got closer, I confirmed my planespotters were in position as I waited with my escort to head out to the ramp.  I followed Will’s jet on FlightRadar24.  He entered an approach pattern to DFW and we made our way on the ramp.  We received the great news: Will had landed the jet safely!  My spotter buddy sent over a picture of Will coming in for landing.

Image courtesy Richard FS

I took my position with a lively and wonderful group of Envoy ground crew who were excited to have some media there covering their gate.

The sun was beginning to set behind the jetbridge as we waited for the E175 to make its way from the east side to the west side of the airport.

I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the Envoy ground crew and the joy they took in preparing for the flight to arrive.

Finally we saw the E175 turn into the pad towards gate B15.

(note: as a photographer I was ecstatic with the light, there’s nothing quite like evening light!)

It was at this point, while Will was checking left and right to make sure the E175 wouldn’t hit anything, Captain Gauthier said “You better smile Will, looks like the media is here for you.”  Will laughed and then did a double-take when he saw me on the ramp taking pictures!

The jet came to a stop and the ground crew got to work while Will finished up things in the cockpit.

Finally it was time to congratulate my buddy.  First Officer Fagundes made his way down for his post-flight walkaround.

After a quick handshake and admiration of his mustache, he completed his post-flight walkaround.

I had told the ground crew about Will and they wanted to get a picture with him to congratulate him on his first landing.

What it’s like flying a jet

Will’s training at Envoy took 55 days in and out of flight simulators and going over all manner of procedures and operations.  In addition to procedures, the immense amount of knowledge about the mechanics of the jet were tested and retested, “you really have to know every little thing about the aircraft and how it flies,” according to Will.  At the end of the day, even though flying a jet with paying passengers aboard felt very different from his days in a Cessna 172 building hours over north Texas, his training and the steady guidance of Captain Gauthier helped him improve quickly.  After four days of flying with Captain Gauthier, Will felt like he had improved immensely as an aviator and that his landings were much smoother.

The toughest part for most flight students is understanding the radio, but thanks to learning to fly at KADS, which is smack in the middle of the Class B airspace of DFW International Airport and Love Field, Will was comfortable with the craziness that is airspace in north Texas.  It’s just a little faster and a little more powerful in a jet than it was in his “bug smasher”.

So what now?

So, after 30 months of working 7 days a week, how is First Officer Will Fagundes celebrating his first week on the flight line?  By finally taking some time off!  He’s off to Mexico with his wife for a quick getaway that’s well deserved.

So, next time you’re flying in an American Eagle E175 operated by Envoy, keep an ear out for First Officer Will Fagundes, and tell him I said hello when you see him!

More than that, Will wanted me to tell all of you that your dreams are worth fighting for, and never to let someone else take your dreams away from you.  Figure out what is important to you and your family and stop at nothing to make it happen.  If someone like him could go from corporate America to the flight line at age 35, anyone can do chase their dream!

Congratulations to First Officer Will Fagundes, a great pilot and an even better friend!

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