Kevin Ardaugh spent his youth playing and working on his family’s farm in north central Illinois and, for a while, had his sights set on a career as a crop duster. Family members and friends encouraged him to also explore other paths in aviation, and today, at age 30 with 1,500 hours of flight time, he is about to begin initial training as a regional airline first officer with Envoy Air.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be a pilot or a farmer,” says Ardaugh, who majored in agriculture at Illinois State University. “My first job out of college, I was selling tractor parts, and my boss could see that my heart wasn’t really into it. He gave me the best advice, to find something I love to do and pursue it with everything I have.”
Ardaugh visited a flight school in Florida that specializes in training crop-duster pilots and got to ride in a Grumman AgCat. “After five minutes in that plane I knew I wanted to be a pilot,” he says. He returned home to Illinois and started taking flight lessons at a local airport while continuing to drive tractors and work on the farm. In the summer of 2015, he got a job with an aerial spraying company, working ground crew for the season. “I was fueling, mixing chemicals, loading and washing airplanes. It seemed like a natural fit for me,” he says. “I was mechanically inclined to work on equipment, and these airplanes were like flying tractors.”
His boss at that company gave him some more good advice. “He encouraged me to open up all the doors,” Ardaugh says. “He didn’t want me to pigeon hole myself into one aspect of aviation.”
That fall, after the spraying season ended, Ardaugh went back to work on the farm and earned his private pilot certificate. In early 2016, he enrolled with ATP and began his professional pilot training at its Phoenix location, then transferred to ATP’s Denver location to be near his brother, who lives there. He started instructing for ATP in the fall of 2016 at its Louisville, Kentucky, facility, but after two months was able to transfer to Chicago, to be near his family.
“My mother helped me substantially in my journey to get here. She’s one of my biggest fans,” Ardaugh says. “My dad instilled a sense of adventure and always encouraged me to try better and be more. My brother is always super-interested in what I’m doing, and I try to be a better man for him.”
As he prepares for this next phase in his flying career, Ardaugh looks back on his experience as an instructor with ATP. “The best part about being an instructor is watching students have those aha moments,” he says. “I never really saw myself being a teacher, but such is the game. Systems are probably my forte. My ability to explain how power is made and transferred really helped me help students that were not as mechanically inclined.”
While there are some aspects of farming life he says he will miss, Ardaugh is looking forward to the views from the right seat. He knows he’s received lots of good advice to get him this far, and offers this to someone who might be considering a career in aviation today. “I would tell that person to get in a plane and go for a ride, and don’t think about it, just go do it, the sooner the better,” he says. “If you end up loving it, what’s the point of spending another day doing something you don’t absolutely love?”