An afternoon with the legendary Bob Parks

As a World War II veteran, an incredibly talented artist, an esteemed aviator and a genuinely good person, Bob Parks is a legend.

Born in 1926, Parks enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces at age 17 after graduating high school. He served as a crewmember in a number of different aircraft, from trainers to transports and bombers. After being discharged from the military in 1945, he attended Duke University and also received his pilot’s license. He then joined The Boeing Company where he worked in a number of positions over the course of nearly 50 years, including as a production illustrator on the XB-52.

Throughout his remarkable military and aviation career, Parks was constantly sketching or painting. His artwork garnered much attention throughout his life and today is on display in a number of different corporate offices and museums across the country, including the prestigious Smithsonian.

Additionally, Parks was commissioned to do illustrations for Ernest Gann in Flying Magazine and perhaps most notably for the author’s famous book, Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I had the pleasure of meeting Parks and his lovely wife Judy in their Seattle-area home last week, where a handful of current and former Boeing employees had the chance to look through dozens of Parks’ drawings and paintings, including landscapes, portraits and — of course — airplanes.

I also got to sit down with him and hear stories about the inspiration behind many of his paintings. The amount of thought and detail that went into each one of them is unreal… from the color of the sweeping sands in the Sahara Desert to the chamois cloth used to filter out whatever junk was in the aviation fuel — every detail needed to be just right.

I purchased two stunning prints: one of the famous Boeing 367-80 or “Dash 80” and one of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser — the latter appears in Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I can’t say enough good things about Bob Parks. I am eternally grateful to have met him and to now be able to call him a friend. Parks is, of course, part of the “Greatest Generation,” and after spending an afternoon with him… I certainly know why.

TW-YAY: A nostalgic night at JFK

As an aviation historian and a die-hard Av Geek, a visit to the newish TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport was imminent. The mid-century modern hotel had its long-awaited “soft opening” on May 15, 2019 (my husband Scott’s 30th birthday — talk about a missed opportunity!), and I’ve been itching to get out there ever since.

Originally, Scott and I planned to make a two-week trip to Korea with our good friend Jiho this fall, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on that right quick, so Scott and I decided to head to the Big Apple for a week instead. My dad has a timeshare in Midtown Manhattan that we were fortunate to secure for a few nights, but this time — in addition to our time in the concrete jungle — we decided to tack on an extra night on the front end to check out the 1960s-era hotel.

Designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, the TWA Flight Center opened in 1962 and served as a bustling terminal until the airline ceased operations in 2001 following its acquisition by American Airlines. The iconic winged structure or “head house” remained intact and was declared a New York City Landmark in 2004 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year.

As part of a Terminal 5 expansion, a new JetBlue terminal opened just east of the head house in October 2008. The hotel project was announced in 2015 and a groundbreaking ceremony took place the following year. The two hotel buildings, aptly named the Saarinen and Hughes wings, flank the head house and sit just between it and the JetBlue terminal. The Saarinen Wing is of course named for the famous architect, and the Hughes Wing for Hollywood icon and aviation legend Howard Hughes.

In the late 1930s, at the advice of TWA President Jack Frye, Hughes began purchasing stock in the airline and would eventually own more than three-quarters of the company. In fact, he’s often credited with turning TWA into a “world-class” airline. Hughes and Frye went to Lockheed in 1939 to request a new 40-passenger airplane with a range of 3,500 miles, eventually leading to the L-049 Constellation. Hughes actually used his own money to purchase 40 of the new planes for TWA.

TWA and the “Connie” truly go hand-in-hand. In addition to its 40 L-049s, the airline went on to operate 12 L-749 and 28 of the L-749A variants, 40 L-1049 Super Constellations in multiple variants, and 30 of the L-1649A Starliners — the last in the Constellation series. For that reason, it’s only fitting that the TWA Hotel’s main attraction is N8083H — a 1958 L-1649A. The beautifully restored airplane now serves as a cocktail bar just behind Saarinen’s iconic head house. You can read her story here.

Other notable, nostalgic features include the spacious sunken lounge with an authentic split flap departures board by Solari di Udine, a rooftop infinity pool, museum exhibits, an outdoor roller skating rink and more than 500 guest rooms, many of which have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the airfield.

So, there you have it! For aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike, I can’t speak highly enough of the incredible, immersive experience offered by the TWA Hotel. It isn’t cheap (runway view rooms can run you roughly $300 per night) but remember it’s more than just a hotel… it’s a time machine.


Up close and personal with the legendary Spruce Goose

Last weekend, I had the chance to sit where a genius sat almost 75 years ago.

The seat? The captain’s seat on the H-4 Hercules.

The genius? Howard Robard Hughes.

The Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, first opened in 1991 with a small collection of aircraft in a hangar. Two years later, the legendary Hughes H-4 Hercules arrived after the museum won a bid to build a brand new facility to display the huge flying boat.

Fondly known as the “Spruce Goose” — though it was made almost entirely of birch — the airplane underwent eight years of restoration and was mostly complete when the new museum opened June 6, 2011. Control surfaces were put on over the course of the next several months, with the last piece put into place December 7 that year.

I’m partial to Hughes because so much of Howard, his companies and his products are embedded in Boeing today. McDonnell Douglas acquired Hughes Helicopters in 1984 (Boeing and McDonnell Douglas merged in 1997) and Boeing acquired Hughes Space & Communications in 2000.

Hughes took the Spruce Goose on its one and only flight Nov. 2, 1947. It flew for less than a minute and traveled less than a mile. Even though the H-4 was limited to the one prototype and flew just once, it went down in the record books as one of the largest airplanes ever built. In fact, it held the record of largest wingspan until 2019 when the Stratolaunch first flew. It’s pretty remarkable that this World War 2 era behemoth is still among the five largest airplanes ever built.

Overlay comparison of five largest airplanes ever built, courtesy of Clem Tillier.

So, if you’re ever in the Portland area, I highly recommend making the 45-minute drive south to McMinnville to see the Spruce Goose and the 50-plus additional aircraft and spacecraft at the Evergreen Museum. Also, if you haven’t seen “The Aviator,” give it a watch. Howard Hughes was such a fascinating person. He was a Hollywood legend, a skilled businessman, an engineer and a record-setting pilot — and that’s just scratching the surface.

From SEA to shining seaplane


Having arrived in the Emerald City nearly two months ago, I’ve been having the time of my life exploring my new hometown. I’ve of course spent countless hours taking photos at the local airports – SeaTac, Boeing Field and Paine Field – where I’ve seen plenty of new planes and old planes, fast planes and slow planes… this is truly an AvGeek’s paradise.

I recently celebrated my 34th birthday, and my husband came through with an incredibly special gift: a flight on a Kenmore Air seaplane. I had never been on a seaplane before, and the airline is currently running a special to commemorate its 75th anniversary: 30-minute scenic flights for $75 a person! 

We lucked out and got to fly on “Maggie” – the special King 5 Evening DHC-3 Turbo Otter. The experience of taking off and landing on the water, and flying low and slow around the city was so exciting. We really lucked out with the weather, too, as it was about 80 degrees with abundant sunshine. And yes, the mountain (or as I call it, “Rainy”) was out!

For those who live in the Seattle area, or for anyone visiting this year, I highly recommend checking out the Kenmore Air 75th Anniversary Scenic Flight deal. I know we’ll certainly do it again in the near future, and hopefully at some point we’ll take advantage of one of the other packages (the Mt. Rainier & St. Helens Volcano Tour is very high on my list!).

Here’s a short video I put together, documenting our adventure!

Although we’ve only been here a short time, we’ve managed to pack in a lot of fun activities, from hikes to bikes, both the Museum of Flight and MOHAI, ferry and water taxi rides, kayaking and now flying in a seaplane! Have a suggestion for something I should check out in the area? Let me know in the comments!

To blue skies and tailwinds…