The Youngest 777 First Officer In the World

Connor Shields, First Officer, Southern Air

Connor Shields in the cockpit of a 777, which he flies around the world for Southern Air. The company provides long-haul cargo service, operating 777 and 737 freighters, for customers like DHL. Shields’ first flight—at age four—was in a Douglas DC‑3. (Courtesy Connor Shields)
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At 22, Connor Shields is the youngest Boeing 777 first officer in the aviation business.

The job: Flying!

Earliest influence: When Shields was 13, his grandfather, who flew a Stearman, bought him an introductory flight in a Piper Cherokee. “I’ll never forget the first time I heard ‘Your flight controls,’ ” says Shields. “It was a rush.” His neighbor, a United Airlines 787 captain, encouraged Shields to consider a career in aviation. His advice? “If this is something you love, go fly. You’ll never regret it, and it will never feel like work.”

The path: After getting his private pilot’s license, instrument rating, and flight instructor license, Shields taught at a flight school for a year, while enrolled at Texas A&M University. He got a job flying a Beech 99 freighter with Ameriflight, then moved to United Express airline, flying Embraer regional jets. A friend told him of an opening at Southern Air; two weeks later, Shields had the job. “I’m on a quest to fly the biggest plane in the world at the youngest age,” says Shields. He’s acquiring his bachelor’s degree in aviation science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University online.

Typical schedule: In any given month, Shields completes two laps around the world, crossing 48 time zones. With flights lasting up to 15 hours, three to four pilots are on board. “Four hours into the flight,” says Shields, “we’ll rest for six hours and then we’ll go relieve the relief pilots and fly the rest of the flight.”

What’s it like to fly the 777? “Easier to fly than a Cessna 172,” says Shields. “You’re putting just small pressure on the yoke and you’re moving the whole wing. It’s a really stable plane because of how much it weighs; wind doesn’t affect it, really. In my opinion—and I may be biased—it’s the best jet in the world.”

Best thing about the job: “Seeing all the cultures around the world,” he says. “I’ve seen probably half a percent of the world, and I hope one day to go see the rest.”

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