From the Left Seat: A New Captain Shares His First Flight

For many pilots, earning a pilot’s license marks the realization of a lifelong dream. But there is something exceptional about the first time in the Captain’s seat of a 747. 

Josh Ray, who has been flying the 747 as a First Officer with Atlas Air for six years, completed his four-week upgrade training on March 31. Two days later, he piloted his first flight as Captain. InsideAtlas had an opportunity to speak to Josh about the experience and what it meant to him.

While climbing the three flights of stairs up to the cockpit of Atlas Air N496MC before the start of the flight, new 747 Captain Josh Ray couldn’t wipe the smile off his face.

Josh Ray, who has been flying the 747 as a First Officer with Atlas Air for six years, completed his four-week upgrade training on March 31.Josh and his sister grew up in a small island country called Palau as the children of missionary parents. There were plenty of opportunities for traveling by airplane and Josh and his sister were enthralled by the pilots in the cockpit. 

“Every chance I could, I dragged my Mom to the cockpit for a quick peek,” Josh recalled. 

Josh was seven when he announced on the flight deck of a 747-2 from Honolulu (HNL) to Guam (GUM) that he wanted to be a pilot. 

Fast forward 30 years, and not only has a child’s dream come true, but now he is Captain of the majestic Queen of the Skies. “My first flight as Captain was no different than the many before I had flown as First Officer,” recalled Josh. 

“No matter which flight our Company crews operate, we treat each one as if it’s the only one that matters. We focus on our duties and responsibilities to safely move their jet. That’s exactly how I approached this flight, even though I was about to sit in a new seat.”

After introducing himself to First Officers Marcus Thompson and Alan Lozada-Sanchez, who was accompanying him on this milestone flight, the crew began their work of monitoring for Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) compliance and crosschecking everything in detail.

Once preflight duties were completed and the door of the fully-loaded 747 was closed, Josh started the crew briefing with a simple question, ‘What threats do you see?’

“The most significant advantage of being Captain is you set the tone of the flight,” explained Josh. “To do this effectively, you must remain approachable. You don’t want anyone to be afraid to speak up when something doesn’t look right. It’s important to have a positive attitude, which I feel goes a long way in establishing good working relationships and, ultimately, safety.”

“Josh did a great job – he was so professional and made everybody feel very comfortable and safe, right from the start,” said Alan. 

Following the briefing, Marcus called LAX Ground for clearance to push back. Josh took one last glance around the cockpit and began taxiing towards the runway. 

“There was a moment of silence, and I thought, ‘This is pretty cool,’” Josh recalled.

He continued, “Pushing the thrust up for takeoff is always exhilarating, but this time, as we started our takeoff roll, my focus wasn’t on just the thrill of the flight. There is simply too much at stake since the responsibility to continue or reject looms with every takeoff. As we approached the end of the runway at Maximum Gross Takeoff Weight (MGTOW), I rotated at 171 Knots to start our 11:56 minute flight to Incheon International (ICN).”  

Throughout the flight, Josh shared a number of ideas with his fellow crewmembers. 

“One of the things I remember most from the flight was the great CRM (Crew Resource Management) and awesome communication we had with the Captain,” said Alan. “It’s always a good idea to have new Captains who can keep aviation moving forward.” 

“There is a crew operating these flights, but at the end of the day, as Captain, you are the one whose decision is going to direct the outcome of that flight. You feel the weight of the decision in the Captain seat.” 

The outcome of this particular flight was ideal. There was some rain and a little bit of a crosswind on arrival, but nothing that was particularly challenging.

“The landing was completely normal,” said Alan. “Josh delivered a very thorough briefing and covered every item that could have been an issue.”

“I recall feeling a sense of accomplishment as we debriefed the flight before heading to our hotel in Incheon,” said Josh.

Alan added, “The flight with Josh motivated me to keep improving and to continue doing my best so I am in a good position when my opportunity to upgrade comes around. I think Josh will be a very good Captain as well as a great leader and a motivation for the new generations of captains at Atlas Air.”