Hello, it’s me…

It’s bizarre… I am coming up on eight months in my role here at Boeing in Chicago. It has been fun and awe-inspiring at times, busy and stressful at others—but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve made mistakes.

I’ve celebrated successes.

I’ve made friends.

I’ve made enemies.

(just kidding… I haven’t made any enemies)

Anyways…while life and work have been busy, I’ve tried my best to keep up with The Great Planes—both the social media and the blog. And even though my posts may not be as frequent, I still do write as often as I can, and do my best to make sure my stories are meaningful.

A couple weeks back, I was up in the Twin Cities for my father-in-law’s wedding, which took place Saturday. On Sunday, my mom and I spent the morning out at the dog park next to MSP Airport—obsessing over fuzzy friends and watching the big birds fly in. We were waiting around for the KLM A330 to fly in when I noticed two people walking toward us on the gravel path. Before long I heard, “Excuse me,” and I swiftly turned around. Two men stood there, one appeared to be college-aged, the other looked to be my mom’s age. The younger one asked me, “Are you The Great Planes?”

“Como se what?” I asked myself inside my head before quickly answering (aloud), “Yes!”

The younger of the two introduced himself as Max—he was with his dad. They were both incredibly sweet, passionate people… another parent-child duo that share a love of aviation is always fun to come by.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and as I was walking into our Boeing headquarters, a woman approached me in the hallway. “Excuse me,” she said as she slowed in her steps. “Are you the blogger?”

Somewhat taken aback, I said, “I mean, I blog…?”

“But you run the aviation blog, right? And the Instagram?” she asked.

“Oh YES, I run The Great Planes!”

After chatting for a few minutes, I learned her name: Grace. She, too, works for Boeing and said she recognized my face from the few photos that I’m actually in on my account.

It was such a great interaction and a great feeling, similar to how I felt at MSP after meeting Max and his dad. Just knowing that my stories are read (if only by a few people) and that my pictures are seen, really means a lot.

It’s not often that this blog or my social accounts are my top priority, but I still have tried pretty dang hard to build out The Great Planes as its own brand of sorts… and to get that sort of validation and recognition from people who enjoy my posts, was just about the greatest feeling in the world.

Meeting Max and Grace really inspired me to ramp up the writing and to try to post here more often. Life is way too short to spend time doing things you aren’t passionate about. I am glad I learned that early on, and hope that through my stories, my photos and my transparency—someone else will get inspired to follow their dreams too.

Be kind, be determined, be gracious and oh, meet your hero…

Whoever said, “Never meet your hero,” clearly never met Benét Wilson.

Honestly, I feel like it was in the stars for her to be my mentor. It was December 2016 when a little light bulb turned on in my head… “Maybe I can combine my love of planes with my passion for writing,” I thought. I needed to find a professional, someone who was actually doing what I hoped to do… and a few simple Google searches led me to the Aviation Queen website.

I reached out to Benét via email, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone and she gave me some crazy awesome news: she wanted me to contribute to her blog. A few posts in, she saw enough potential in me to recommend me to Airways Magazine’s Chris Sloan, who promptly brought me on as a contributing author. I wrote on a variety of topics and even got to take some pretty awesome trips—I was having the time of my life and was so incredibly gracious (and still am) for the complete and utter selflessness that both Benét and Chris showed in taking me under their wings and helping me as I learned to fly (no pun intended).

You all know how this story ends… I left the nest. Just a few months after this journey began, I was offered a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world: Boeing. My husband Scott is finishing up his last two semesters at the University of Minnesota, so for now it’s just me and our two cats down in Chitown. It is certainly hard to move to a new, big city by yourself… but I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.

Each morning I bid farewell to my sweet, fuzzy friends, and I begin my one-mile walk to work. And each and every time I approach my office building, I stop briefly to look up at the big Boeing logo amidst all the other skyscrapers, and each and every time I just can’t help but crack a smile. I do the same each evening as I head home, except the sun is usually setting and the big logo is glowing against the dusky sky. Now I truly feel like I have more than just aviation in my blood—I have Boeing in my blood. I am proud, honored and humbled to say that I bleed Boeing blue.

Meeting Benét couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either, as just yesterday FIRST—an international nonprofit that inspires K-12 students to develop STEM skills—announced that Boeing had donated $1.5 million to support young innovators. Another thing that makes FIRST awesome? Their focus on mentorship… showcasing firsthand the important role mentors play in learning, dreaming and doing. It wasn’t until my own journey began almost a year-and-a-half ago that I realized what a crucial role a mentor could play in my own life… Benét helped me to learn, she supported my dream and she cheered me on as I chased that dream.

Lucky for me, Benét is still on my team today—she is someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on and someone who supports me. I am so proud to call her my friend.

So here’s to you, Benét. You are an amazing person. Your smile is infectious. You make me want to be a better person. And as I hard as I try, I could never truly repay you for the ways in which you’ve helped me. In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime full of blue skies and tailwinds more than you do.

This big beautiful machine… my only high

07CF82BE-A145-4B2C-964D-3DE8F34C5AEE.jpeg“It’s like I’ve never seen the sky before,
It’s like I never knew that we could fly.
Now all I want to do is spread my wings and soar,
This big, beautiful machine… my only high.”

Those are words I wrote some time ago as a sort of love letter to my so-called “flying friends” and the magic that they’re made of.

Right now I’m writing this from 37,000 feet, just south of Spokane, Wash. Merely two months into my new job with Boeing, I was fortunate enough to travel to Seattle to support the all-manager and executive webcast that our CEO hosted.

To say that a lot of work went into that event is an understatement, but the experience in its entirety was a great one. Watching my team’s hard work come to fruition this morning was so satisfying, and the trip as a whole was so much fun.

Yesterday afternoon I was extremely lucky to have the chance to visit our Everett factory with one of my teammates, Brittany. To be completely frank, I can’t find the words to describe how awe-inspiring that building is and how remarkable the facility’s operations truly are. We’re talking the world’s largest building by volume—it’s absolutely monstrous.

Upon our arrival, I nearly lost it as the huge building came into view and I saw the artwork that adorned the exterior, depicting different aircraft in vibrant colors. I had seen that wall hundreds of times in photos… I just couldn’t believe I was actually there.

When we first entered the building, the door shut behind us, I looked up and my eyes immediately glued themselves to a nearly-complete 747-800F being built for UPS. I was overcome with a feeling unlike any other… I felt like I was home. My eyes and my mouth were in a viscious battle with one another… would I burst out crying? Or would I smile big enough to cause stretch marks on my cheeks? Lucky for me, it was the latter.

Throughout our time there we saw a number of 747s—my favorite—and a slew of 767s, 777s and, of course, the ever-beautiful 787 Dreamliners all lined up and ready to go.

I touched landing gear that was ready to begin its life inside the belly of a 747-8—the gear standing nearly as tall as me. I saw the very first 777X wing and it’s folding wingtip… innovation at its finest. I saw an incredibly intricate “saddle” laying atop a 777-300ER, a mind-boggling structure that allows those who work atop the plane to do so much more easily.

We drove down the indoor streets aboard our little cart—the longest uninterrupted stretch of “road” spanning nearly a mile. We’d cruise past the lined up aircraft as I proudly named the airline each plane was being built for by looking at the paint on its tail—sometimes with only a slight sliver of paint down the middle. I was having the time of my life. I was in MY heaven.

The best way to describe the atmosphere inside Everett is that it’s essentially a city… an indoor city. Folks ride bicycles to get from one place to another, there are multiple cafeterias and it’s always bustling… much like New York City, it’s a “city” that truly never sleeps.

As I imagined it would be, leaving was hard. Just in the way I had always dreamed of working for Boeing, I had always dreamed of visiting Everett. It was a shame that it had to end.

When we pulled out of the parking lot, I heard a rumbling… I knew something was taking off from Paine Field next door, but I didn’t see anything. I quickly whipped out my phone and opened my flight radar app. I clicked on the nearest yellow airplane icon, its four engines let me know it was her royalty—the Queen of the Skies. However, once the aircraft information displayed, I realized that it wasn’t just the Queen… I shouted, “OH MY GOSH IT’S A DREAMLIFTER!”

I literally screamed, my heart rate skyrocketed and at the same time, Brittany shouted, “Oh my gosh there it is!” I looked up ahead just in time to see it soar off into the low clouds. The Dreamlifters are so magical… they’re specially modified 747-400s used to transport parts of the Dreamliner—only four of the massive, somewhat odd looking planes even exist.

And now I sit here at 37,000 feet, cruising above only-God-knows-where, Montana, reminiscing on these amazing memories so fresh in my mind. The air is smooth and the ground beneath looks grey, mountainous and snowy. On the northern horizon I see a sliver of soft yellow sky fading into blue. I see night ahead of us, and daytime behind us. I am tired, but so, so happy. My heart is full.

I really can’t explain it, but these airborne metal tubes mean the world to me, and that’s an understatement. I feel something huge going on inside my heart when I look up at an airplane, and that feeling is amplified when I’m actually in the sky.

Flight is magic in its purest form, and I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to work for a company that makes this magic happen, one that embraces new ideas and helps dreamers become doers. I am so incredibly humbled and honored to work for Boeing, and I just can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me… both physically and emotionally.

I truly appreciate the love and support of my family and friends who embrace and respect my childlike wonder. Now I’m positive that anything—and I mean ANYTHING—is possible.

Living in the Age of Airplanes

NAT GEOIs it any wonder that people from all walks of life are fascinated with airplanes? Think about it… these massive hunks of metal fire up their engines and FLY… I mean, how can you not look up at the sky each time you hear one soaring overhead?

But planes have done more than just defy gravity, they’ve changed the world by connecting us to people and places in a way that simply wouldn’t have been possible in the days before their existence.

And that, my friends, is why I love the movie “Living in the Age of Airplanes.”

The 47-minute National Geographic documentary was filmed in 18 countries on all seven continents. Released in 2015, I actually planned a trip to Florida around seeing this flick on the big screen at the Orlando Science Center. Call me a sap, but I was tearing up within the first two minutes.

I watched the movie again recently, and was reminded of the real reason I love these humble beasts. I say humble because not all airplanes are built to “show off” and please us aesthetically, in fact, most of them aren’t built for that purpose at all… their beauty is just an added bonus. They’re really here to serve as workhorses that get us to and from the places we need to be. So, let’s all pause, take a step back and give a collective “thanks” to our flying friends.

If you love planes, you’ll love this movie. And if you hate planes? This movie will make you love them. Admit it – you take air travel for granted. You don’t need to feel ashamed though… most of us take flight for granted. But this movie is a work of art that will inspire you to look at aviation in a different light and will leave you with a newfound appreciation of how miraculous flight truly is.

I recently interviewed the CEO of Cape Air, Dan Wolf, and he said something that really struck me… “You can build a mile of runway and go anywhere, you can build a mile of road and go a mile.” This movie really drives home that point, so if you haven’t seen it… please check it out and let me know what you think!

To blue skies and tailwinds…

 

Flying to Pass the Time

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Time really does fly… but come this weekend, you’d think I was flying just to pass the time. Something big, something HUGE, something SO exciting is happening. BUT.. I’m keeping my lips sealed for now. I’ll just tell you this – two days, four states, five flights. That’s all you get for now. You’ll hear more from me Monday or Tuesday.

ANYWAYS… those who know me well, know I stress out pretty easily. But oddly enough, since I’ve started to really hone in on my aviation journalism and photography, I’ve gotten a heck of a lot busier AND a heck of a lot happier. Who’d have thought there’d be a positive correlation between the two? Not me. Not in a million years.

June brought a lot of changes in my life… I hit the big 3-0, we moved from Minneapolis to St. Paul and I lost my dear, sweet stepmom. With that being said, my apologies for being MIA in the blogging world, but I’m sure you can understand why I was.

However, my love of planes helped keep me sane and grounded throughout that time. And, over the last month I’ve hit a couple milestones that were quite exciting for me:

1. On my birthday, June 16, I hit one THOUSAND Instagram followers on @thegreatplanes (currently, I’m creeping up on 1,300 – it’s a good feeling).

2. I’ve had my third and fourth stories published on Airways Magazine’s website, both of which feature several of my own photos (and even one of my husband’s):

Where Planes Go, They Follow: The Rise of Plane Spotting and How Airports Are Embracing Their Biggest Fans

Fight For The Skies: The Air Traffic Control Debate

3. My Instagram friends, @jfkspotting, hit 7,000 followers and in doing so, named my page the ninth best of all those followers. Thanks guys!

4. I found that there is a bus that takes me directly from my new apartment to my favorite spotting location at MSP – the gold parking ramp. I was asked to leave by airport police, which I calmly and apologetically did. BUT, after a few days I didn’t feel quite right about it. I reached out to a contact of mine at the airport who in turn spoke with the police chief who confirmed I CAN be up there. The chief passed the message along to his officers and now I go three to four times a week. Now THAT’S a “great planes” win!

Thank you all for the love and support. To think that six months ago I went out on a whim and just thought I’d “take a shot” at pursuing something that I love… and seeing where I am now – it’s pretty incredible. The things I’m learning, the people I’m meeting, the stories I’m writing and the places I’m going… I’m very thankful and cannot wait to see where this love takes me in the years to come.

To blue skies and tailwinds

It’s been nearly a month since I’ve posted, and this post will be slightly more personal than past entries.

About two months ago I started a new job with the State of Minnesota AND was brought on as a writer for Airways Magazine – two milestones that were pretty big in and of themselves. However, this week alone has brought about (and will continue to bring about) a number of changes… all important and all very different.

On Sunday, we will officially move into our new loft in downtown St. Paul, something I’ve been looking forward to for months. On Friday, I will turn 30 … boy does that sound old! But … nothing compares to having lost my dear, sweet stepmom Carolyn, who passed away Sunday after a long, courageous battle with cancer. We will honor her and her amazing life and legacy this afternoon at a service here in Nashville, Tenn.

To say that Carolyn touched a lot of lives is an understatement. If you had the pleasure of meeting her, I take comfort in knowing you’ll never forget her, because trust me – you couldn’t.

She was one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known, and if I had to think of one word to describe her personality it would be “sparkly” – her presence could be felt the minute she entered a room… it was almost as though she carried sunshine and happiness in her purse with her everywhere she went. She always seemed to radiate a rainbow of colors.

Carolyn and I certainly disagreed on some things… but that’s just what happens when you grow up in different regions and different eras. But I can honestly say that in the nearly 15 years she was a part of my life, I can’t ever remember us being upset with one another. She made me smile … and she will continue to make me smile for years to come.

Carolyn was aptly nicknamed “GoGo” because she and my dad were always traveling. If they weren’t abroad in Japan or Israel or somewhere in Europe, they were going back and forth, and back and forth, and back and forth between their two homes: Nashville and and Indialantic, Fla.

And, she even took her selflessness to a whole new level in opening up her own family practice clinic here in Nashville: Hope Health. She found great pride and joy in her job as a nurse practitioner … showing that even at “work” all she wanted to do was help others.

Those who know me will not be at all surprised by this, but just the other day while sitting on the couch here at my dad and Carolyn’s house in Nashville, I saw a package all sealed up that said “aviator bottle opener” – so I (obviously) tore into it without question, just out of curiosity. 

I asked my dad, “Did you buy this?” and he replied, “No, Carolyn bought that for you … for your birthday.” I’m actually tearing up a bit writing this, but that little bottle opener will hold a special place in my heart forever… she knew me so well.

For those who didn’t get to meet her, I’m so sorry. She was a truly remarkable human being who will be sorely missed, but whose spirit will live on for a long, long time.

I love and miss you Carolyn.

Top Fun: A Hidden Gem for Aviation Enthusiasts of ALL Ages

I love airplanes.

I bet you didn’t see that coming.

Of course, I prefer the real deal to a model or a toy of any sort. But alas… I’m not fortunate enough to find myself actually in an airplane or out at the airport as often as I’d like. So, I’ve expectedly gathered an aviation trinket or two… or twenty.

A few of my favorites?

  • A plush Boeing 747 (who wouldn’t want to snuggle an airplane at bedtime?)
  • A shabby chic seaplane that hangs in our living room
  • A model FedEx Boeing 777
  • A vintage Eastern Airlines magazine ad

The list goes on, and on, and on.

But I recently heard about someone whose “collection” puts mine to shame – I mean really puts mine to shame.

The city of Fitchburg, Mass. boasts a hidden gem for aviation enthusiasts of all ages: Top Fun Aviation Toy Museum. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve never even been to Massachusetts – but now I really have a reason to visit the Bay State.

The Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise highlighted the museum and its curators earlier this week. In a nutshell, nearly 20 years ago Deborah Scheetz earned her private pilot’s license. And at the time, her friends jokingly gifted her a number of toy airplanes to “‘make up” for not being able to give her a real plane.

Today, Scheetz and friend Rosalie Dunbar act as cocurators, volunteering their time to keep this all ages “wonder of flight” museum running. And get this – Top Fun boasts nearly three thousand aviation toys. That’s unreal!

The two friends say that it wasn’t necessarily the toy collection, but rather aviation history and a fascination with flight that inspired them to open the museum. They knew kids would be interested and curious, so they first opened Top Fun in 2000 in Winchendon. About six years later, the nonprofit museum relocated to its current spot in Fitchburg.

In addition to the overabundance of toys and the brightly painted murals, the museum’s annual “paper airplane contest” is a huge draw.

Well… I know where I’m headed when I finally make it out to Massachusetts!

Learn more about Top Fun on their website.