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…

On to the Emerald City…

Aviation enthusiast.


Adventure seeker.

Those are the phrases I use to describe myself across my social media pages, and I do my best to live up to each one of them on a daily basis.

For the first, I usually find myself out at a St. Louis-area airport three-to-four times a week, and I love documenting those experiences and sharing them with others on Instagram who share my love for airplanes.

For the second, that’s where my day job comes in. As a historian at Boeing, I’m fortunate to be able to spend my time researching and writing about the company’s past. There’s a lot we can learn from history, and it’s my job to tell those stories and make them meaningful and relevant today.

For the third, I haven’t quite lived up to my own expectations over the last year or two, but that’s largely due to the pandemic, which wreaked havoc on the world and hit the travel industry particularly hard. However, I have had one BIG adventure in the works for awhile now, and it’s finally time to share that with you, my fellow aviation enthusiasts and travel lovers.

I’ve been with Boeing for about three-and-a-half years. I started in Chicago where I worked in executive communications for just over a year. The Windy City is, of course, the company’s headquarters, but nestled on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, I didn’t really feel like I was working for an airplane manufacturer. A new opportunity to work in Historical Services led me to St. Louis at the end of 2018, and while I’m not nearly as passionate about military aircraft as I am about commercial, this has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For the last two years, I’ve worked just steps from where the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft were built in the 1960s, and a stone’s throw from where Boeing builds the F-15, F/A-18 and T-7A today. Living in downtown St. Louis, I’m situated almost perfectly in between a number of airports where I’ve managed to photograph some incredible airplanes… from an OC-135B at MidAmerica (BLV) or a DC-3 downtown (CPS), to N757A — the first 757 built, which today is used as a testbed for the F-22 Raptor — at Lambert (STL) or a DC-9 at Spirit of St. Louis (SUS). This city is an aviation mecca.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. And as the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Since I first started applying to jobs with Boeing half-a-decade ago, I’ve had my sights set on one city. Lucky for me, my husband Scott was just as interested in moving to this particular place. Over the last few months, planning has been in full swing, and today… well, today is the day.

Cruising above Missouri on a one-way flight to Seattle.

I’m sitting on an Alaska 737-900ER, cruising at 34,000 feet, on a one-way flight to Seattle. Our two cats, Penelope (aka Beans) and Luka (aka Buddy), are in the cargo hold, experiencing life in the sky for the first time. Scott, his dad and brother, are about to hit the road… driving our car and a truck 2,000 miles cross-country. I’ll land at my new home airport in about four hours. The guys will arrive in about four days. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this day to come, and in many ways I feel like we’re finally “going home.”

Buddy, Beans and I checking in for our big adventure!

Scott and I will always trace our roots back to Minnesota… that’s where we met in 2010 and where most of our family still resides. And since then, we’ve been on an incredible journey with some awesome “layovers” — first in Kansas City, then back to Minneapolis, on to Chicago and now here in St. Louis. It’s been fun, but we’re both very ready to land at our final destination: Seattle.

Stay tuned for new airplanes, new stories and new adventures. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to share this particular adventure with all of you, and am eternally grateful for your support.

To blue skies and tailwinds.

So this is the New Year

Earlier today, I was channeling my angsty 16-year-old self, singing “The New Year” by Death Cab for Cutie. This year especially, the song’s opening line really resonated with me:

“So this is the New Year, and I don’t feel any different.”

Last year was tough — there’s no doubt about it. And at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st, I found myself hoping and praying that the “clanking of crystal” and the “explosions off in the distance” would bring an end to the stress, worry and hopelessness that plagued us all for most of 2020.

Unfortunately, that just wasn’t the case.

Last Thursday marked one year since the first COVID-19 case was announced in the U.S. Today, more than 400,000 Americans have died from the virus. Yes, vaccines have been approved and are rolling out across the country, but we’re not out of the woods yet.

Please, for your own safety and that of others, mask up and practice social distancing. We’ll get through this, but everyone has to do their part.

With that, enjoy this 2003 music video, and be sure to cover your ears at 2:25 — no one wants to imagine a world without airplanes!