The morning started a little earlier on this particular day. We were scheduled to meet with the Embraer team in the lobby of our hotel at around 7:30 in order to catch a bus to Embraer’s São José dos Campos facility.
From there, we were to depart for Embraer Unidade Gavião Peixoto Airport (GPX), Embraer’s factory and test site only an hour and a half flight from where we were.
We arrived around 8:00 and the bus dropped us off near the hangar where our aircraft was being readied for flight.
We stood outside, awaiting the signal to begin boarding a brand-new Alaska Airlines E175 E1. The aircraft bore the livery of the airline’s subsidiary, Horizon Air, and looked rather majestic in front of the white fog that sat behind it on the runway.
The fog slowly began to roll out, and not after long we were allowed to board. I was fortunate to be one of the first writers to get on, and I quickly claimed a seat in the last row of business class.
However, upon studying the cabin further, I was surprised to see that the economy class seats were rather spacious, something I was not familiar with flying Embraers on American Eagle. I settled in and sat watching the distant mist from my window.
I was happy to simply have a seat on the flight, eagerly anticipating the amazing sights of Brazil from above when I was approached by a member of the Embraer global communications team. He offered to let me ride in the jump seat for takeoff.
At first, I sat there puzzled, not entirely sure I heard him correctly. Then the offer’s reality began to sink in, and I enthusiastically accepted.
I made my way up the aisle and walked into the cockpit to greet the two pilots. I was amazed at how roomy the flight deck was and was strapped in by a helpful flight attendant. I sat in shock for a minute or two. Being my first time sitting in a cockpit during flight, I wanted to take in the experience.
I then observed all the cockpit’s features, studying the switches, baffled by the electronic complexity of the avionics before me. We then proceeded down the runway and began to pull up into the air, without a doubt the most amazing part.
As we began to climb, visible through either side of the window were lusciously green mountains that resembled the ripples of waves, or sand on the sea floor. Resting on the mountains were large clouds that perfectly formed to the terrain’s rises and drops, like a white blanket.
After some time in the cockpit, I finally returned to my seat, still in shock from the once in a lifetime experience I had just received. Our flight attendants came around with Guarana and Brazilian candies, which we enjoyed as we descended into GPX.
The runway was breathtaking from above. Its entire extension could not be seen from the windows, requiring a bit of moving around to get an idea of its enormity. The runway is the longest in the Southern Hemisphere and the fourth longest in the world.
Built as a training and testing facility for Embraer, the site was also a diversion course for the Space Shuttle.
After disembarking at the airport, we stepped out onto the tarmac, ready for a day of exciting unveilings and Brazilian hospitality.