Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Our African Adventure

Sunday night, I snuggled into my own bed for the first time in 10 days. It was 9:30 p.m. CT when my head hit the pillow, which oddly enough marked exactly 24 hours since I had woken up across the pond. That early wakeup (3:30 a.m. West Africa Time) was followed by 18 hours of traveling from Casablanca, Morocco to both JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York, and ultimately back home to St. Louis.

This trip came to be when my husband Scott and I decided to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in Morocco. The itinerary we planned for ourselves — which I’m quite proud of, I might add — took us up the beautiful Atlantic coast to the country’s northwestern most region, across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, back into Morocco and on to a picturesque village in which nearly all the buildings are painted blue, farther south to the country’s “cultural” capital before venturing even farther south into the world’s largest hot desert, a mere 30 miles from the Algerian border.

Our 9-day adventure exceeded my expectations… the people were so kind and selfless, the scenery was simply breathtaking and every city had such rich culture and history. Of course, our JFK-CMN flight on Royal Air Maroc’s 787-9 and the return on the 787-8 were reason enough to take this trip (my first Dreamliner!), but throw in a full week of exploring North Africa and all its beauty… what could be better?

I hope you enjoy these photos… I sure enjoyed taking them.

Day 1: Friday, overnight from JFK to CMN on AT201 / Saturday, exploring Casablanca

Day 2: Sunday, bullet train from Casablanca to Tangier

Day 3: Monday, ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain

Day 4: Tuesday, car ride from Tangier to Chefchaouen (the “Blue City”)

Day 5: Wednesday, car ride from Chefchaouen to Fes

Day 6 (1): Thursday, car ride (8.5 hours!) to Sahara

Day 6 (2): Thursday, sunset camel ride through Sahara’s sand dunes

Day 7 (1): Friday, sunrise hike and morning camel ride

Day 7 (2): Friday, car ride from Sahara back to Fes (w/ stops in Rissani and Midelt)

Day 8: Saturday, train from Fes to Casablanca

Day 9: Sunday, racing the sun from CMN to JFK on AT200

Oh yeah, the cats…

Until next time, Morocco…

TWA lives on in Kansas City

I landed my first full-time job — assignment editor at KCTV in Kansas City — in August 2011. Yes, it took me more than two years after graduating from college to find a 40-hour-a-week gig in my field, but I did it, and I was more than willing to make the nearly 450-mile move to begin that new chapter in my life.

During the 15 months that Scott and I lived there, I hadn’t yet realized my passion for aviation. In fact, I was straight up terrified of flying — every second I spent on an airplane was an anxiety-inducing nightmare filled with sweat and tears (luckily no blood).

Not long after moving back to Minneapolis, I was out jogging near MSP Airport when an airplane lifted off of runway 17 right above me. I looked up and watched it grow smaller and smaller, until it was no more than a speck in the gray autumn sky. That moment changed my life — I decided to face my fear of flying head-on.

I started seeing a counselor for my anxiety, spent as much time as I could out at my new “happy place” (the airport) and began educating myself on the physics of flight, which helped me to look forward to — not dread — flying.

Throughout this personal transformation, I realized how big a part of my life aviation had always been. My dad served more than 30 years with the U.S. Air Force, and my parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines. To this day, both my mom and dad are “AV geeks” in the truest sense, and if it weren’t for Eastern bringing them together, I wouldn’t be here today.

It was through my parents’ own stories about their time as flight attendants that I realized how much of a family affair the airline industry really is. There is an undeniable, inextricable bond between an airline and its current and former employees. From pilots to flight attendants… mechanics to ground crews… it seems that most people who work for an airline have a unique love for their employer — one that endures the ups and downs, the mergers and acquisitions, the dreaded bankruptcies and everything in between. That’s certainly the case with my parents and Eastern, and it seems to ring true with the former employees of TWA too — especially those who now volunteer at the airline’s museum at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.

Like Eastern, TWA was one of the earliest commercial airlines to be founded in the United States. It started as Transcontinental & Western Air in 1930 and became Trans World Airlines in 1950. The airline endured until 2001 when it was acquired by American Airlines.

Just about 88 years ago, TWA relocated its headquarters from New York to 10 Richards Road in Kansas City. Fittingly, that’s where the TWA museum opened in June 2012, marking the fifth and likely final location for the volunteer-run exhibit that houses artifacts spanning seven decades of aviation history.

TWA holds a special place in my heart, as one of my favorite airplanes — the Douglas DC-3 — came to be because TWA needed a new airplane. The airline had grounded its Fokker F-10s after one was involved in a tragic crash that killed all eight on board, including esteemed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. Unfortunately, the first 60 Boeing 247s were all going to United Airlines, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. TWA’s president, Jack Frye, made a call for a new aircraft and ultimately selected Douglas, who built the DC-1, which evolved into the DC-2 and then the incredible workhorse DC-3. The DC-3 was the first airplane to make money simply by flying passengers, and is regarded by many as the greatest airplane of all time.

Later, TWA requested a bigger, more efficient airplane which led to the development of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation or “Connie” — the triple-tail, four-engine prop plane quickly becoming a TWA icon. Into the Jet Age, TWA flew the Boeing 707 and later the famous “Queen of the Skies” Boeing 747.

In 1988, with its Boeing 747s and 767s, and the three-engine Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, TWA “peaked” in a sense — carrying more than half of all transatlantic passengers. Fun fact: Today marks 100 years since the world’s very first transatlantic flight. On this day in 1919, the U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4 flying boat landed in Lisbon, Portugal after a nearly three-week stop-and-go flight from the U.S.

The 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 really left a permanent scar on the airline. On the evening of July 17, flight 800 departed New York’s JFK Airport headed to Paris and ultimately to Rome, but a center-fuel-tank explosion caused it to crash into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people on board. The airline flew its final flights — both revenue and ceremonial — on Dec. 1, 2001. The MD-80 used in the ceremonial final flight now rests at the TWA Museum.

“The mission of the TWA Museum is to provide information to the public emphasizing the story, history and importance of the major role TWA played in pioneering commercial aviation.

From the birth of airmail to the inception of passenger air travel, to the post-WWII era of global route expansion, TWA led the way for 75 years.”

This intro to the “About Us” section of the museum’s website very accurately captures the overall vibe of the exhibit itself. These days, it’s not often you can learn history firsthand from people who lived it, but that’s what sets the TWA Museum apart. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I enjoyed more — actually seeing the models, photos, equipment and other historical artifacts, or witnessing the pure, unfiltered joy among the former employees who are tasked with keeping the TWA story alive.

To all my AV geek friends, I highly — and I mean highly — recommend you visit the museum next time you’re in the Kansas City area. In and of itself it’s an incredible experience, but factor in the location (IT’S AT AN ACTIVE AIRPORT!) and the fact that just across the airfield is another great tourist attraction: the National Airline History Museum, which boasts more artifacts and a huge hangar full of iconic birds. Make a day of it — trust me, you won’t regret it!

To blue skies and tailwinds…

“Whoosh!” Time flies… and so do fighter jets.

Yesterday afternoon as I was leaving the office, something incredible happened. I exited the building alongside several other employees—all of us making our way down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. That walk typically feels endless, but on a sunny, 60-degree day like yesterday, everyone seems to enjoy each step a little more. Just seconds after the automatic sliding doors closed behind me, a loud “whoosh!” caused all of us to quickly turn our heads to the right.

An F/A-18 had lifted off runway 12L at St. Louis Lambert International Airport so quickly that I barely caught a glimpse before it became the size of a fly above the eastern horizon. And as it disappeared, another “whoosh!” really got our attention. We all watched a second jet disappear into the clouds… and then “WHOOSH!” — a third and final one sped into the blue spring sky.

Most of you know that my fascination with flight tends toward commercial airplanes, however, I think I’ve got a decent bit of military aviation in my bones. After all, my familial ties to the industry involve both my dad’s decades-long career as a navigator in the U.S. Air Force, and my parents having met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines.

In St. Louis, Boeing is much more defense-focused, as has been the case since McDonnell first began operations here in 1939. James McDonnell’s company was best known for its fighter jets and—of course—its spacecraft. The first American in space, Alan Shephard, left Earth’s soil and blasted into the black, vast unknown aboard the McDonnell-built single-seat Mercury space capsule.

It’s been three months since I left the Windy City for a new opportunity here in the “Show Me” state, but still, I so vividly remember the way I felt each time I approached Boeing’s world headquarters in Chicago. Starting down at street level, my eyes would slowly make their way up to the apex of our 36-story building. I’d inhale, and slowly exhale… in utter disbelief—but with the utmost gratitude—that I was working for the greatest aerospace company on the planet.

I was.

And I still am.

Boeing and its heritage companies (North American, Douglas and, of course, McDonnell) have such remarkable pasts… to think that I’ve been tasked with helping to preserve that history is beyond me.

Flight has the ability to captivate each and every one of us, young and old. Whether it takes you a few feet off the ground, or all the way to the Moon, to fly is something purely magical—there’s no denying it.

And that’s how it should be.

There is always something new—something bigger and better out there. So it’s up to us to go explore, discover and unleash the future. And I’m so thankful to be part of a company that works to do just that every day.

I Got Friends in High Places: A Tow-tally Awesome Day at MSP

I feel so fortunate that my love of big metal birds has brought such a unique sense of purpose, fulfillment and happiness to my life. It’s also introduced me to a new group of lifelong friends who share my passion for aviation—one of my very favorites is Joe, an air traffic controller at MSP tower.

Our paths first crossed via Instagram and before I knew it, I was up in the tower with Joe, witnessing firsthand the controlled chaos that is air traffic control. Fast forward a few months and my husband Scott and I got together with Joe and his wife Tina (also an incredibly awesome person) at Holman’s Table at the Downtown St. Paul Airport, which was brand new at the time. We were even fortunate to visit with them in Chicago a couple months after I had moved down there for my job with Boeing.

Every chance I get, I like to connect in person with fellow aviation enthusiasts. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a handful of my Instagram followers—several up in Minneapolis and even a couple in Chicago and one in Baltimore (gotta give a quick shout out to Robert and Tam Tam… HEY!). So, naturally when I scheduled a weekend trip up to Minnesota, I reached out to Joe and he graciously invited my husband Scott and I up to the tower—Scott had never been.

Joe talked through some of the ins and outs of what exactly the controllers do on a day-to-day basis, and I—of course—enjoyed some quality time on the catwalk snapping photos of the airfield. I even caught the snow plow conga line!

Earlier that day, Joe had enlightened us to the fact that he had a “surprise” planned that afternoon. Any plane-related surprise is a great surprise… but I had NO idea what a tow-tally awesome experience we were in for.

“Alright, you ready? Let’s go,” Joe said. Scott and I followed him down the stairs, exited the tower and walked over to a pickup truck where we met an incredibly kind Delta employee named Kyle. The four of us hopped in the truck and drove around the airfield. We crossed runways and cruised through tunnels before pulling up to a beautiful, beastly Delta Boeing 767. We were about to tow that sucker using the Super Tug.

Scott and I hopped inside the cockpit, and he took the jump seat while I played first officer. And yes, a legit Delta employee manned the ship from the captain’s seat. Joe got into the Super Tug and before I knew it, its powerful arms had grabbed hold of our nose gear and raised it a whopping foot-and-a-half off the ground! Then, that powerful little whipper snapper pulled us to a new gate like it was nothin’.

After that, we got to do the same thing, but this time in a BRAND new A321. We switched things up a bit, Scott rode along in the Super Tug, and Joe and I went along for the gate-to-hangar ride in the cockpit. Of course I’m partial to Boeing planes, but let me tell you… the new-plane smell of this A321 and it’s shiny, barely-touched cockpit were incredible.

I live for these types of experiences… it’s really something to spend even a few minutes in someone else’s shoes, much less an entire afternoon. There are so many people, companies and organizations that keep or skies safe and our airports running—I’m grateful for every chance I get to learn a little more about each.

Peace Out, 2018!

My 2018 Top Nine

Wowzers, 2018 has been one heck of a year. As most of you know, I spent the majority of it in Chicago in my new job with Boeing. My brief stint in the Windy City was great, but living apart from my husband was—and still is—quite tough. I made the best of it though… by exploring new neighborhoods, making new friends and spending a heck of a lot of time out at O’Hare—my happiest place.

Looking back on the past year, I’m so glad I did all those things, and I’m really proud of myself for making it a priority to embrace being a Chicagoan… as I had no idea my time there would be so short.

A couple months ago, I was offered a position working on the Boeing Archives team—an opportunity that I truly believe would have been foolish to turn down. And even though it meant packing up and moving to St. Louis (even before my husband made it down to Chicago!), it felt right, and I’m all for doing what feels “right.”

So, this New Year’s Eve, I’m once again a Missourian—for those who don’t know, my first full-time job was at KCTV in Kansas City, so this isn’t the first time I’ve called the “Show-Me” state home. Having only lived in St. Louis for a few days, there are things I like an awful lot: rent is dirt cheap, it’s a bit warmer, I have my car back, there’s a lot of neat little neighborhoods and I’m quite fond of the arch AND the fact that I can see it from our ninth-floor windows. There are also things I don’t like at all: it’s SO spread out, it’s the most dangerous city in the U.S., it doesn’t have even close to the same vibe as Chicago…much less the awesome donuts and pizza that I loved to veg out on, yada yada yada.

But, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my other half is to always make the best of things… and that’s exactly what we’ll do here together. I’m working for the greatest aerospace company on the planet, and now I get to truly embrace my inner AV geek and tap into my writing skills to help tell the story of this company that’s been going strong for more than a century—it’s a complete honor and privilege, and I can’t wait to embark on this journey with my family, friends and all of you fellow AV geeks.

Thanks for the support and here’s to another solid year of peace, love and airplanes!

If you never try, you’ll never know

A year ago tonight—a Thursday evening in the third week of October—I sat at home with my husband in our downtown St. Paul apartment, frantically preparing myself for what I considered to be the biggest opportunity of my life. The next day, on October 20, 2017 at 12:30 p.m., I was to board American Airlines flight 2455 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Chicago O’Hare—a 400-mile, 80-minute flight. Upon arrival, I’d board the CTA Blue Line, exit at Clark and Lake, walk one block south and five blocks west to get there… to get to Boeing World Headquarters to interview for a spot on the Executive Communications team.

You may have read my blog from last November, proudly announcing I’d be moving myself and my two cats to Chicago to work for the greatest aerospace company on the planet. It was such a bittersweet time in my life—I was following my dream, but leaving my friends… my family… my husband… I was leaving all of them behind in the state I called home for 28 of my 30 years of existence. Lucky for me, I had a rock solid support system then—luckier yet, I have that same rock solid support system now.

While it’s been tough at times, everything about this experience has made me a better, stronger person. I’ve met incredible people and learned incredible things about the aerospace industry, the world, communications… and I’ve even learned some pretty incredible things about myself. It’s been one heck of a year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

A few highlights:

  1. I live a hop, skip and a jump away from the second-most-connected airport in the world… it’s truly an aviation enthusiast’s dream! To say I’m out at ORD often may be an understatement.
  2. I got to visit Boeing’s Everett factory for the first time in my life. It’s an overwhelmingly huge, city-like building where incredible, beastly machines are built to connect people and goods across the globe. So. Flipping. Cool.
  3. I met one of my best friends, and her amazing partner. You know how sometimes you just connect with someone, and you immediately feel the goodness in their heart? That’s how I feel about this person—she’s a remarkable human, and one heck of a communicator.
  4. I reunited with one of my best friends… someone I went to high school with and someone I’ve always had a special bond with. She handed me an extra stick when I dropped one of mine while drumming in an emo band more than a decade ago, and today, she brought my doodle to life to create a legit logo for The Great Planes.
  5.  I started traveling by myself. I find cheap, same-day, round-trip flights to new cities and I go explore. If you have the capacity to do that, I highly recommend it as it’s helped me to break out out of my anxiety-ridden, introverted shell, and meet new people and build a sense of confidence I never thought I’d have.

Coming to Boeing taught me that following your dream is worth it. Even though being in a new city is tough, adapting to a new lifestyle can be stressful and learning a new routine can be really, really hard… it is worth it. I’m a very, very lucky girl… and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Long live the Queen: VC-25A is now officially the longest serving presidential aircraft

SAM 28000, one of two current VC-25As (photo: Wikipedia)

It’s official: the Boeing VC-25A—two modified 747-200Bs with tail numbers 28000 and 29000, more commonly referred to as Air Force One—is now the longest-serving presidential aircraft. I’ve been tracking this milestone for awhile now, and to be quite honest, I actually botched it at first (don’t judge… I’m not a mathematician!).

Because I also have a strange fascination with the Kennedy family (who doesn’t?), I knew that JFK’s two modified 707s with tail numbers 26000 and 27000 (the Boeing VC-137C) were most certainly the longest serving presidential aircraft of all time… I didn’t, however, realize just how soon today’s Queens of the Skies were going to steal the crown from those two planes that first entered service when Kennedy was in office.

I originally (and mistakenly) did my calculations as follows (using the entry-into-service date for the VC-137C as opposed to the first time it actually flew as Air Force One). This had VC-25A officially becoming the longest serving presidential aircraft on Aug. 5, just a couple days ago.

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,194 days between Oct. 9, 1962 (VC-137C first entered service) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,195 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and Aug. 5, 2018

However, upon realizing my mistake and finding the actual date when VC-137C first flew with Kennedy on board (therefore using the call sign Air Force One), November 10, 1962, I realized that my timeline had moved up roughly a month and that this milestone actually happened on July 4 of this year (pretty cool date for an American milestone, eh?).

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,162 days between Nov. 10, 1962 (VC-137C first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first few as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,163 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and July 4, 2018

It is important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean the 747 (generally speaking) is the longest serving presidential aircraft… that honor still goes to the 707, at least for now. Dwight D. Eisenhower was actually the first to fly in a modified Boeing 707 using the call sign Air Force One (VC-137B) when he departed Dec. 3, 1959 on his “Flight to Peace” goodwill tour to 11 Asian nations.

The 747 won’t officially take the crown from the 707 for another three years, on June 11, 2021.

Boeing 707

11,235 days between Dec. 3, 1959 (707 first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One)

Boeing 747

11,236 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One) and June 11, 2021

I want to give a special thanks to our incredibly awesome historian here at Boeing, Mike Lombardi, for reminding me that it’s important to make these distinctions. And, I’ll add… that June 2021 milestone is a surefire thing since the new Air Force One planes currently on order are two 747-8s expected to be delivered (last I heard) by 2024. So even if they were delivered tomorrow, they’re still 747s and the math still works… so there.

With that, there’s only one thing left to say: Long live the Queen.

Boeing: Air Force One (read about past, current and future presidential aircraft)