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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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!
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…