“You are not alone.”

“Calling out to the astronaut,
I need some of what you’ve got,
I need to be high.”

This song — one that brings me back to my pink haired, lip ring wearing, skateboarding adolescence — has been stuck on repeat in my head for weeks now.

Why?

Because I’m sad. Aren’t you sad? If you’re not… shame on you. We may be on the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, but that doesn’t change the fact that nearly a quarter of a million human beings across the globe have succumbed to this beast. And it doesn’t change the fact that more U.S. jobs were lost in the last month than were gained in the last decade. It sucks. It really, really sucks.

“Crawling out of the world she brought,
calling out to the astronaut,
I need to be high.”

So… how do we crawl out of the world this virus sucked us into?

I haven’t a clue. Though if I had to wager a bet, we’ll crawl out scared and slowly. Uncertainty will be the name of the game, and we’ll all have to be cautious to a fault in order to avoid a second, more devastating wave of this disease.

The novel coronavirus has had a profound impact on the global economy, but it’s been particularly brutal for the aviation and travel industries, and it will take years — perhaps decades — for things to normalize.

“And you are not alone.”

The world feels lifeless these days… but one thing that has brought me comfort is simply knowing I’m not alone. We are all affected by this pandemic, and we’ll all continue to feel its ripple effects for years to come. My hope is that when it’s over, everyone will have learned at least one valuable lesson.

I’ve sure learned a lot, but I’m still not quite sure what my biggest takeaway will be once the virus is a thing of the past. What I do know is that I feel tired, cooped up and ready to get back to some semblance of normal — though, as someone who is safe and healthy, I can’t complain.

For now, I’ll do my part to combat this disease by staying home. That’s really all any of us can do… stay home, and perhaps volunteer our time or resources to help in some way.

To combat my own sadness, I’ll continue to look to the sky… that’s where I find hope. I encourage you all to really focus in on whatever it is that brings you hope.

It feels like we’re all so far apart right now, but in terms of how this has affected humanity, I feel like we’ve never been so united. So, brush your hair across your eyes, cake on some black eyeliner, and take comfort in the sweet sound of early 2000s pop punk, and in the words of Something Corporate’s Andrew McMahon:

“You are not alone.”

Farewell, Big Blue

I love KLM.

As an aviation historian, of course the Dutch flag carrier is near and dear to my heart — it’s the world’s oldest airline! KLM is special to me for reasons beyond its incredible 100-plus-year legacy, however…

A few years back, just after I had accepted a job with The Boeing Company, my dad and I took a trip to Europe. We had flown across the pond on a Delta A330, but our return flight was what I was most excited for… as my dad hade done everything he could to ensure I’d finally get to ride on a Boeing 747 — the legendary Queen of the Skies.

As the trip was winding down, my anticipation grew… and before I knew it, I was sitting in a port side window seat on a KLM 747-400 “combi” getting ready to depart Schiphol for Chicago O’Hare (which would become my new “home” airport just a month later).

The flight was magical, to say the least. Everything from first setting foot on the aircraft, to watching the General Electric CF6 engines power up, then ultimately lifting off the ground, sky-bound — it was such a wonderful experience.

Since my flight on the “City of Vancouver” (PH-BFV) in November 2017, I’ve loved seeing and photographing “Big Blue” — my collective nickname for the handful of 747s that KLM still flew over the past few years.

There were rumors circulating that KLM had accelerated the retirement of its 747 fleet. And lo and behold, those rumors rang true. The last revenue flight landed today at Schipol at 3:32 p.m. local time.

I’ll miss seeing you, “Big Blue” — and I’ll always cherish my many fond memories, both on the ground looking up, and in the sky looking out.

Note: I took all of the above photos, with the exception of the last one, which was taken by Ben Suskind. That was my flight coming into ORD from AMS on Nov. 7, 2017.

Goodbye sky (at least for awhile)

From the window of our ninth floor apartment, I can’t help but stare at the eerily empty streets below. I can see into a number of nearby apartments where others are doing the same thing.

Everywhere you look, you see it. And in everything you touch, you feel it.

This novel coronavirus has brought us together in a very strange way — by forcing us into isolation. No one is immune to this beast, so we must defeat it together… by remaining apart.

People are frightened and panicking.

People are sick and dying.

And even though it’s unclear when or how this all will end, the solution — at least for now — is clear as day: listen to the experts and STAY HOME.

These are especially trying times for those of us working in the aviation industry, but we have to remember that regardless of how tough we think we have it, nothing can compare to the struggles of those who have been infected, those whose loved ones have been infected, or the medical professionals working around the clock to treat patients and curtail the spread of this awful disease.

Personally, things haven’t been too bad for me. I’m healthy. My family and friends are healthy. I spent a week with my dad in Florida earlier this month, and this past weekend my mom visited us here in St. Louis. Having seen both of them recently brings me a great deal of comfort.

Both my husband and I have been working remotely for the past week, and let me tell you… our two fuzzy friends couldn’t be happier to have us around all day.

I will say that I really, really miss flying. I’m especially sad knowing I have to cancel my trip to Chicago this weekend. I’m also sad that my best friend likely won’t be able to come visit next month. Come to think of it, all of my upcoming travel plans will likely be impacted by this… but I can’t dwell on that. I am very fortunate to be safe and healthy, and I wish the same good fortune to all of you.

To blue skies, tailwinds and clean hands…

Behind the scenes at MCI

Do you know all the ins and outs — and I mean all the ins and outs — of an airport? Me either!

I’d like to think I know the basics of who and what keeps them up and running… I mean, you have your gate agents, ramp agents, pilots, flight attendants and air traffic controllers along with well-maintained runways, taxiways, jet bridges, gates and other facilities and BAM! You’ve got yourself an airport.

There are, of course, dozens of other systems and teams that are essential to keeping things running smoothly on and around an airfield — many of which are quietly and constantly at work in the background. One such team is airport operations.

Think of an airport as an apartment complex… the operations team is more or less the landlord, and the airlines are the tenants. At a high level, the ops team is responsible for ensuring the airport is in compliance with Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Part of that includes frequently checking runways and taxiways to make sure they’re in good shape and that there isn’t any FOD (foreign object debris). They’ll look at the condition of the lights, signs and pavement, while keeping an eye out for wildlife or any other hazards on or around the airfield.

Last weekend, I had the privilege of spending a few hours at Kansas City International Airport with Nicole Lordemann, Assistant Manager of Operations.

Her team is out on the airfield six times each day performing thorough inspections to make sure everything is in tip-top shape. While we were out driving around, I learned a lot about what to look for, and also started to notice a lot of patterns.

For instance, the pavement markings on runways are always white, while the markings on taxiways are yellow — that’s easy enough to remember because… “and a big yellow taxi took my girl away.” Right?

Looking down crosswind runway 9
“I gotta take it on the other side…” looking down crosswind runway 27
Yellow = Taxiway

The actual signs that stick out of the ground are color-coded also. There are three types of signs that I tend to notice as an airplane passenger: mandatory instruction signs, location signs and direction signs.

  • Common mandatory instruction signs include runway holding position signs and “no entry” signs. These red signs with white text are there to let you know where to stop — whether it’s to pause before you cross an active runway, or to avoid entering a restricted area.
  • Location signs tell you where you are — who’d a thunk? These signs have a black background, a yellow inscription and a yellow border. If you see it head-on, you’re on it!
  • Direction signs are yellow with black text and help guide you. For example, if you see a yellow sign with a black “A” and an arrow pointing to the right, turn right and you’ll be on taxiway Alpha. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy!
Runway holding position taxiway marking
Taxiway location sign collocated with runway holding position sign
Direction sign
Driving down taxiway F… turn left or right and we’d be on D

There’s one type of sign, however, that I just learned about from Nicole: runway distance remaining signs. Next time you’re riding in an airplane, look out the window as you’re charging down the runway (wait… doesn’t everyone do that already?) and you’ll see black signs with white numbers that are counting down. These indicate the number — in thousands — of feet remaining on the runway. I guess I didn’t take any photos of these guys, oops!

As the afternoon was winding down, we made one last stop at the Kansas City Overhaul Base. When I first arrived a few hours earlier, I noticed some big birds just east of runway 19L/1R — everything from Boeing 747s to McDonnell Douglas DC-10s and even a Lockheed L-1011. It seemed odd to me since the only heavy aircraft that fly into MCI on a regular basis are freighters operating for companies like FedEx and UPS. Stranger still — and even a little eerie — was the fact that many of these planes were missing parts and most had a lot of the paint scraped off of them.

Former Zimbabwe Airways Boeing 777-200ER amongst other heavy aircraft
Tails of former Kenya Airways and Zimbabwe Airways Boeing 777-200ERs next to a pair of tri-holers — a Lockheed L-1011 and a Boeing 727

I learned from Nicole that this area, along with the adjacent hangars, is where many older aircraft come to be parted out and/or refurbished. The Kansas City Overhaul Base has actually been around since the golden age of aviation, opening concurrently with the airport in 1957 and employing more than 5,000 people at its peak in the ‘60s and ‘70s — at which time it was the city’s largest employer. Most notably it served as a maintenance facility for TWA, but today it’s leased primarily by MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) companies like Aviation Technical Services and spare parts trading companies like Jet Midwest.

The Queen of the Skies looking rather… incomplete
This tri-holer has seen better days, though hopefully some TLC can get him back in the sky soon
A rather sad looking former Avianca Fokker 100

For those who haven’t been, Kansas City is a really neat city with a metro area that’s steadily growing, and the airport is doing its part to keep up with that growth. Last year, MCI (yes, that IS the real IATA airport code, stemming from its original name: Mid-Continent International Airport) broke ground on a $1.5 billion project that will replace the airport’s aging three-terminal complex with a single, modern terminal. Dubbed “Build KCI” (remember, it’s actually MCI!), the new terminal is set to open in early 2023.

With that, I want to sincerely thank Nicole for her time and hospitality last week. It’s not too often that AV geeks like me are able to take part in these behind-the-scenes adventures, but it was so much fun and an all-around awesome learning experience. I’ll certainly be back to check out the new terminal, if not before then.

I’ll leave y’all with a few more photos from the day. Cheers!

Happy New Year!

My “top nine” Instagram posts from 2019.

January 1, 2020 marks three years since I started The Great Planes. At the time, I was living in Minneapolis, working as a digital content designer at Xcel Energy. My job wasn’t a great fit and I felt a bit hopeless, unsure as to what the future would hold. One thing was crystal clear though… I loved aviation and space. Then I thought, “Aw, what the heck?” and figured I’d see what could come of pursuing that passion.

What ensued has been nothing short of spectacular.

Through my blog and by sharing my photography on social media, doors I didn’t even know existed were opened. I got to meet, work with and learn from the legendary Aviation Queen herself, Benét Wilson, before covering a slew of incredible stories — on the ground and in the air — for Airways Magazine.

Of course, the grand finale (or what I thought was the grand finale at the time) was getting a job in executive communications at Boeing’s world headquarters in Chicago. It was a challenging and at times frustrating gig, but a rewarding experience nonetheless. And somehow, it got even better.

I had a great manager in Chicago — he told me when and where I fell short, offered praise for a job well done and (most importantly) helped me to learn, improve and grow. He truly wanted the best for me, which I’m eternally grateful for.

The support from him, other colleagues, and my family and friends helped me to land what I still consider to be a dream job, working as a historian and digital communications lead with Boeing Historical Services.

Reporting to our senior corporate historian is pretty flippin’ cool in and of itself, but each day I get to put my skills and passion to good use, telling stories and helping to preserve the legacy of this incredible company I had once only dreamed of working for.

Looking back, I really can’t believe all that’s happened in the last three years — from bad to good, and everything in between.

I lost my dear stepmom Carolyn in 2017 and my sweet cousin Wendy in 2018 — both of whom were champions for me. I still hear their voices, see their smiles and feel their love.

We moved a LOT. Scott and I have lived in four houses in three states — five houses if you count the year-and-a-half that I lived alone in Chicago / St. Louis while he was finishing school in Minneapolis.

And oh yeah… Scott FINISHED school and we’re finally living under the same roof and working in jobs we love. I’m so proud of him!

I traveled a lot… across the U.S., throughout Europe and even to Asia and Africa. I love exploring and am fortunate to be able to do so much of it.

I went under the knife TWICE. I got my appendix out in Istanbul (yes, Turkey) in 2017 and just a few weeks ago had knee surgery.

I flew on the Queen of the Skies — the legendary Boeing 747 — for the first (and hopefully not last!) time.

I got to be part of history when I supported the first Boeing CST-100 Starliner launch from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

I made new friends and strengthened existing friendships.

I took lots of pictures.

I felt stressed and worried, and cried my fair share of tears.

I celebrated lots of successes — personally and professionally — and learned a LOT.

Through all of these highs and lows, my love of aviation, space and all things flight has grown even stronger.

I am so thankful to the nearly 15,000 (WHAT?) people who have decided to share in this journey with me through Instagram. The best is yet to come, though…

Happy New Year!

I need my space

Me in front of the CST-100 Starliner inside the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where astronauts train.

As I am sure most of you all know by now, I’m here at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, supporting the CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test. This is history in the making, as it’s the first time a Boeing-owned and -operated human-rated spacecraft has launched into orbit.

The originally planned eight-day mission has been reduced to three days after the spacecraft experienced an off-nominal orbital insertion shortly after launch Friday morning. Having looked forward to this for a long time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing. However, even though we’re no longer rendezvousing or docking with the International Space Station, this isn’t done, and the excitement isn’t gone. Now, it’s all about bringing Starliner home safely.

Over the past several days, I’ve been hanging out in a ground level corner office with a handful of incredible Boeing and NASA teammates.

Since we’re working some long, odd hours, there’s an abundance of two-liter soda bottles and a big tub of Christmas cookies here to help sustain us, though adrenaline itself has definitely been keeping me awake and excited.

In preparation for the anticipated landing early tomorrow morning, we’re listening intently to the Mission Control loop – it’s almost like we are actually in the room with the team. Although most of the chatter is far too technical for me to fully comprehend, it is still so fascinating.

Our group here in Houston is just a small subset of a much larger team — from communicators to engineers — all of whom are passionate about space flight. And as both a historian and a communicator, I’m so humbled to be here.

So… roughly 12 hours till our planned landing in White Sands, I ask that you please root for our team, for space and for our future.

What is life?

“What is life?”

That’s a phrase I often use to describe situations in which I find myself unable to comprehend how lucky I am.

There is so much bad in the world — bad people, bad places, bad situations — but in my 32 years of life, I’ve somehow managed to avoid most all of it. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve experienced so much of the good… so much that it sometimes feels unfair.

And today… today was yet another really good day.

It all starts with Chicago… a blustery, midwestern city that reeled me in a couple years back and helped me to blossom into the happiest “me” I’ve ever been. It was there that I began working for The Boeing Company, and it was there that I met some truly incredible people, two of whom I had the pleasure of traveling with today.

While I was living in The Windy City, I met a fellow Chicagoan named Stathis. He’s the founder and president of branding.aero — a brand experience management agency — and a marketing professor at SUNY Oswego. He’s good people, and he’s a fellow AV geek.

Through Stathis, I was introduced to Elliot, who had interned with United Airlines and now works for the company at its Chicago headquarters. He too, is good people, and (of course) a fellow AV geek.

A few weeks back, I had posted a photo of the new United CRJ-550 on Instagram — the first regional jet with a three-class configuration. I spotted the 50-seater out at STL, an airport that doesn’t typically offer much in the way of new, exciting airplanes (at least not compared to Chicago). And in the caption, I mentioned how much I’d like to try out first class on the 550 some day…

Shortly after posting the photo, Elliot reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in coming out to Chicago to fly first class on the newly-configured airplane. My heart rate skyrocketed and I said to Scott, “Oh. My. Gosh.” I was so, so excited.

Before I knew it, Elliot and I were working out the details for what was sure to be an incredible day. Shortly thereafter, he had even more good news for me — Stathis would be joining us!

I waited and waited in anticipation. And before I knew it, the day had arrived. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. with a spring in my step, and headed to the airport for my first flight, which was to depart at 7:45. I flew from St. Louis to Chicago where the three of us met and boarded our first flight on United’s new jet. Next stop: Sioux Falls!

The three of us sat near one another in first class, and let me tell you… there was SO. MUCH. SPACE. Aside from my fluke-of-an-experience flying business class on Turkish Airlines, I’ve always flown economy, so this was quite a treat. After the initial cabin service, we were able to grab additional drinks and snacks from a self-serve bar area, which was super fun and unlike anything I had experienced before.

After landing in Sioux Falls, we had the chance to visit the flight deck, before stepping off the plane for just a few minutes, then getting right back on. Both flights were so smooth and so quiet. What made the trip so special, though, was the fact that I could enjoy it with two awesome people.

After we returned to O’Hare, we spent a bit of time in the United lounge, before Elliot and Stathis saw me off as I boarded my last flight of the day, back home to St. Louis.

Before today, I had never flown standby, and let me tell you… it’s really fun, albeit a little nerve-racking at times. Lucky for me, I live for this stuff and would have been perfectly content if I was “stranded” in Chicago. Alas, I was the very last passenger called to board the flight. I even got seat 1A — go figure!

So, there you have it… in exactly nine hours’ time I flew from St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago to Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls to Chicago, and Chicago back to St. Louis. Spending all day in airports and in the sky isn’t for everyone, but it IS for some folks… like me, Elliot and Stathis. And lucky for us, every now and again the stars align and we have the chance to take to the skies together… the three amigos!

Thank you, Elliot, for making today possible. It was an incredible adventure and I am so grateful for your generosity and thankful to have you as a friend.

And thank you Stathis, for being such a kind, selfless person. It was so great to be able to share in this experience with you!

So, what is life?

Well… simply put, life is good.

Here’s to friends, blue skies and tailwinds.