Gabriel James Fernandez: Long-time pilot was born to fly

Gabriel James Fernandez 
1942 ~ 2020

Edmonds resident Gabriel James Fernandez was the first-born son to Gabriel Jesus Fernandez and Polly Nunes Fernandez on December 7, 1942. This unique and loving soul was born to fly. He set his sights on the prize while working at Valley Fair Market in San Jose, CA during his young years. Every  paycheck  went  to pay for flying lessons starting at 16 yrs old. He graduated from San Jose State, and served in the Air National Guard. His dream was fulfilled October 10, 1966 when he was accepted into the Pilot Training program with Northwest (Orient) Airlines. He loved being an Airline Pilot and was very fortunate to be with the same airline his entire career, and fly with extraordinary people, many of whom became lifelong friends. Captain Fernandez retired from NWA January 31, 2002.

His personal life was full of his larger-than-life passion of flying 6-8 airplanes of his own, even restoring from the frame up a 1928 Travel-Air Bi-Plane. Many of his planes he had for 30-40 years as well as doing his own maintenance on with the help of his friend, Merle. He was a regular fixture around Arlington then Paine Field, known not just as a retired Captain but as a trusted, tried and true Aviator, always a source of flying facts and Aviation History.

Gabriel, Jim or Geem, as he was known to many, spent his last day flying in his RV4 around the Puget Sound, on Veterans Day November 11, 2020, where he experienced a severe hemorrhagic stroke. He had the experience and training deeply engrained in his ability to bring down the RV4 safely and taxi over to his hanger, where the guys were waiting for him, as the control tower had alerted that he could not communicate. He was taken by ambulance to Providence Hospital where he succumbed; our Captain Gabriel James Fernandez Flew West forever on November 19, 2020.

Gabriel played the guitar and even crafted an originally written “birthday song” for his granddaughters on their birthdays. He had a wonderful sense of humor, mastering any accent for a humorous delivery of a joke. He leaves behind his wife, Linda Mae, a family of daughters and sons-in- law that he took and loved as his own, as well as grandchildren who lovingly refer to Gabe as their PaPa Pilot. He also leaves a brother, Rich, his wife, Gloria, and nephew, Drew, as well as an uncountable number great Panamanian cousins.


Learning to Fly

by David Gilmor

Into the distance, a ribbon of black; Stretched to the point of no turning back A flight of fancy on a windswept field; Standing alone my senses reel

A fatal attraction is holding me fast; How can I escape this irresistible grasp?

Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies; Tongue-tied and twisted,

Just an earth bound misfit, I

Ice is forming on the tips of my wings; Unheeded warnings, I thought I thought of everything

No navigator to find my way home; Unladen, empty and turned to stone

A soul in tension that’s learning to fly; Condition grounded but determined to try Can’t keep my eyes from the circling skies; Tongue-tied and twisted,

Just an earth-bound misfit, I

Above the planet on a wing and a prayer;

My grubby halo, a vapor trail in the empty air Across the clouds I see my shadow fly;

Out of the corner of my watering eye

A dream unthreatened by the morning light; Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night

There’s no sensation to compare with this; Suspended animation, a  state  of  bliss Can’t keep my mind from the circling sky; Tongue-tied and twisted,

Just an earth-bound misfit, I.

A Momentary Lapse of Reason

Pink Floyd, 1987

  1. Linda – So beautifully written! So glad this was included in My Edmonds News. I miss that smile!

  2. Gabe will be sorely missed in our aviation community, he will be remembered as a “Legend”. The amazing fact that he brought his plane down safely during a huge stroke says it all about this fine Aviator!
    Our sincere condolences to Linda Mae and family.

    1. My Panamanian friend, there will be a hole left unfilled by your departure. It was you who influenced my oldest son to “apply and fly”, he loved flying with you, and now is a Cadet at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, I know you will be looking down next year as he graduates. Condolences from our family and love sent to Linda Mae.

  3. In 1988, my husband and I were on a flight returning to Spokane from an education conference in Chicago. A very professional looking Captain Fernandez swept through the cabin greeting passengers (assuming the 2nd officer was flying the plane). He stopped to ask how we were and what we did in Chicago. After a short conversation we told him we were educators and worked in a school district of mostly Hispanic students. My husband said how much he would like to have his students meet him. As we departed the plane he handed us his card. My husband called him and invited him to come and speak to both of our classes. Within 3 months we scheduled this and not only did The Captain show up, but he flew his own plane over from Seattle and landed very close to our school. After an inspiring day watching our students faces light up with the Captains stories, we were invited to the airfield to view his personal twin engine plane. This was a commitment Captain Fernandez would keep annually, for over 11 years, usually flying his own plane (a different one each time), weather permitting. Always after his classroom talk he would walk to the airfield and let the students sit in the plane, wear his helmet, and stay and talk for as long as they wanted. A number of these Hispanic students, some of which English was a second language, went on to learn to fly, joined the service, and 4 that I know of, joined the ranks of several airlines. Captain Gabriel James Fernandez was handsome like a movie star (he did many TV ads for Northwest), but most of all he was an inspiring and giving human being who touched many lives, both young and old. He gave our students the greatest gift year after year, he shared his personal passion for Aviation History, and his love and appreciation for this country. He will always be remembered for inspiring words and that “Great Smile”. Our deepest heartfelt appreciation and sadness to Linda for the loss of “our Captain”

  4. I am so saddened to hear of the loss of such a wonderful man, pilot and airline friend. My husband and I were both agents in Seattle and always enjoyed talking and joking around with Jim. I have a photo from 1992 of Jim and our then four year old daughter wearing his captain’s hat. Jim had been our captain on the flight from HNL. It is such a precious photo and a wonderful memory of a great guy! I’m sure he and Dick (my hubby) are in heaven now picking up their conversation where they left off. ; )
    My prayers go out to you during this difficult time.
    God bless.

  5. A wonderful tribute to such an admired man & aviator….it is heartwarming to read about the influence that Gabe has had on many lives throughout his time short time on earth. He was all of these things described in this tribute and the comments and More! He was part of a brotherhood of aviators, who are the finest men & women who have reached out to our family with such heartfelt stories & history about Gabe. To me, Gabe was a joy to be around (and even more fun to cook for)…..and that mega watt smile!!! To our girls, he will always be papa pilot. He was such a loving, caretaking, and dedicated man- who was passionate until the end for his two great loves, aviation and Linda Mae❤️. You are missed greatly, Papa Pilot- by all of your girls.

  6. Oh Linda….what a beautiful testimony to your high-flying husband. How amazing that he was able to land that plane even when he was under such physical duress. I have thought about you so much & want you to know that I am sending heartfelt sympathy, big hugs, much love, as well as prayers. May God fill your broken heart with wonderful memories.

  7. Wow Linda…what a wonderful celebration of words to express Gabe’s life!!
    Thank you for sharing…

    Lane & Laura❤️

  8. A beautiful eulogy for an extraordinary man. Bob and I felt fortunate to have known him even briefly.

    Thank you Linda for publishing this in the Edmonds News.

  9. G. James Fernandez was the most down-to-earth Captain I ever flew with. We shared many many international and domestic flights over 20 years. When I saw that Fernandez would be our Captain there was always a collective sigh of relief, as we knew it would be a safe flight and a fun flight. He always treated Flight Attendants with much respect and usually joined us for meals while on trips, he also always made sure we got back to our hotels safe too. This was a very unique Captain who always thought of his flight crew as well as his passengers with professionalism and care; he will be missed by so many former NWA crew. His attitude was pure class and optimism on every flight I was ever on, none of the “Sky-God”, attitude. Yes, the smile, sparking eyes, and contagious sense of humor, Captain Gabriel James Fernandez was one-of-a-kind. My sincere condolences to his wife and family.

  10. To know Jim was to love him.
    His infectious laugh was recognizable from across the room and you knew instantly it was Jim.
    I’m grateful he lived life to the fullest.

  11. God broke the mold after He made Jim Fernandez. Jim was loved by all, not only for his joyful spirit, his warm personality, his quick wit, or his passion for aviation, but also for his kindness, compassion and deep concern for his fellow human beings. If you were fortunate enough to be a friend of Jim’s, you were his friend forever. This world would be a far better place if there were more like Jim. We have lost a true and treasured friend, who will be forever missed, but never forgotten.

    My love and prayers go out to you, Linda.

  12. Gabe was a man of high standards and even higher ethics. He was a passionate man who was crazy about his wife, Linda Mae. And his country. He loved his country, and always stood ready to defend America.

    He could regale you with stories, and his knowledge was immense so he had many, but his stories were always told without ego. He had no time for big egos that produced small accomplishments.

    But what seemed to define him most was aviation. He was an airplane technician, craftsman, pilot, restorer, historian, and custodian. Airplanes were like a physical extension of his being, and he was always thorough and prepared.

    In his last flight Gabe was heroic.

    Who but he could have located from the air the required airstrip, expertly landed that plane, and taxied to one specific hangar — out of many — all while suffering a life ending, brain destroying event? I submit no one, other than Gabriel James Fernandez.

    God speed, old friend.

  13. Captain Fernandez was my second officer when I flew two of my last flights before retiring at the mandatory age of 60. They were cross-country flights ferrying Vice President Gerald Ford in a 707-32OB referred to by call name, Air Force 2. Jim was hand picked and had only recently enjoyed the “right seat”. I could not have finished my career with a better co-pilot. He was honored to do this and was proud to do be part of these historic flights. He went on to fly the Press Corp plane several times that year that accompanies Air Force One with President Gerald Ford to Japan and Mexico.
    G. (Jim) Fernandez was the epitome of what a pilot/captain should be. He represented us all well. His family also represented what can be accomplished in this great country. It was all “good”, when you closed the cockpit door when Jim was at your side.
    I send my condolences to his family. Capt Buck

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