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!

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

As far as I am concerned, life is all about the connections you make. I don’t mean “knowing someone” in an industry who will put in a good word for you or having an “in” with someone at a company who will help land you a job. I mean the deep, personal connections you make with the people who are always there to help and support you on your journey.

Earlier this year I finally met my industry mentor, Benét Wilson (Aviation Queen). I first reached out to her almost two years ago, and today I’m lucky to call her my friend. We have a solid, trusting relationship and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without her—I consider her “Hero One” in the story of my journey.

With Benét’s ongoing support and by working hard toward my goal of becoming an aviation journalist, I was brought on as contributing editor at Airways Magazine. That’s how I met “Hero Two” AKA Chris Sloan, Airways’ Managing Editor. Finally, more than a year after starting that gig, I met Chris in “real life” here in Chicago.

It’s funny, I first connected with both Benét AND Chris while living in Minneapolis… the city in which I lived for nearly all of my 31 years on this planet. However, I first met each of them in person here in Chicago as an employee of The Boeing Company—the company I’d long dreamed of working for and a place I’d never be without their help.

Yesterday, I met Chris in the lobby of Chicago’s iconic Sears—I mean WILLIS… (ugh)—Tower, where he and I toured the United Airlines National Operations Center.

It.

Was.

Awesome.

Seriously, the combination of meeting Chris AND seeing the ins and outs of how United keeps their (mostly Boeing!) fleet flying was ridiculously cool. I loved it. My favorite part? Chris and I were in the social media/de-escalation area where they had huge screens displaying real-time social data, and one of the screens had on it incoming conversations that were considered “positive” interactions on Twitter.

Chris: Hey it’s you!

Me: What?

Chris: @thegreatplanes – that’s you!

Me: Como se WHAT!? Whoa!

I looked at the screen and saw my very tweet ABOUT this tour, and the subsequent response from Ben Bearup saying I was living my “best life” (SO TRUE!). It was pretty awesome.

Aside from that, I saw firsthand the many people who are hard at work 24/7 to keep the airline up and running… air traffic controllers, meteorologists, pilots (yes, pilots!), the Airbus team and the Boeing team, among others. I also saw more pie charts, bar graphs, numbers and maps than my geeking-out brain could even handle.

All in all, my biggest take away from that tour was that even though it is extremely frustrating if your flight gets delayed or canceled, just know that whenever something isn’t 100 percent perfect in terms of an airline’s operations (so essentially… always), there are hundreds of dedicated people working to make things right.

Yesterday was a truly great day. I’m so happy to have finally met Chris, and I so much enjoyed spending my lunch hour with the kind folks over at United. The icing on the cake was doing some work from home later that evening as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds zipped past my apartment window over, and over, and over again in preparation for this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.

This year’s two-day event will include parachutists, fighter jets, a C-130 and even an AMERICAN AIRLINES DREAMLINER (pinch me, please). I’ll be attending the show both days, one of them on behalf of Boeing, and as I look forward to that… I think my teammate Jane best captured my excitement in her own words:

“Annie, you’re going to lose your mind.”

Working at the world’s most admired aerospace company is pretty rad

I’m back!

As you all know, at least in terms of this blog, I’ve been MIA for the last two months. And… I’m pretty sure most of you know why.

I’m weird in that I’m equally as terrified as I am thrilled by change. These days, however, change is really all I’m about. And picking up and leaving your entire life behind to move to a new city all by yourself… that’s one heck of a change.

I’ve worked for the greatest aerospace company in the world for seven weeks tomorrow. I’ve been a Chicagoan… an Illini for a solid two months.

My two cats and I live in a sweet little loft in the South Loop neighborhood of downtown Chicago. I don’t have a car. I walk one mile to work each morning, and reverse that same mile home each night.

Sometimes I feel lonely, but somehow this all feels right. I knew this would be hard… but without the love and support of my family and friends — especially my amazing husband Scott — none of this would have been possible.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is to work for a company that lives and breathes innovation, and one that is so loved… so respected. Just last week, Boeing was named the 25th most admired company on the planet by FORTUNE. Moreover, is it any surprise it was named THE most admired aerospace company?

I WORK for this company, and I support these dreamers, these creators and these passionate, imaginative people. I am so, so proud to be able to help tell the stories of the awesome things we are up to… here on the ground, up in the air, underwater and in the depths of outerspace.

You may be wondering exactly what I do for Boeing… Well, simply put, I’m on a team of four people (including my boss) who provide communications support to Boeing’s Chairman, President and CEO. Whether it’s producing web content, writing and editing letters, or drafting talking points in preparation for a meeting or a presentation… I’ve done it all and I’ve loved it all.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting our leader, Dennis Muilenburg, and talk about an amazing story and an inspiring person. He started at Boeing as an intern in aerospace engineering in the 80s and worked his way up to the top spot. He is incredibly kind, employee-focused, and I am honored and humbled to work for him.

Next week, I’ll take my first business trip out to Seattle. And… ready for this? I’m taking a VIP Tour of the Everett Factory. That’s the world’s largest building. It’s where the 747, 767, 777 and 787 are built. I’m getting all tingly inside just thinking about it.

Anyways, I’m glad to be back here in the blogosphere… and I’ll leave you by explaining why I was out of the mix for so long.

Of course, coming into this job, Boeing knew about my personal interest in the aerospace industry… from my work for Airways Magazine to my social media accounts where I showcase my photography and, of course, this very blog.

I wanted to be 110 percent sure that I was not doing anything that could affect my job, so I was in the midst of a “Conflict of Interest” case through our Ethics Department. Yesterday I received the verdict, and lo and behold, they determined that because what I write about is public information, I’m in the clear. No COI.

So there you have it folks, I’m back and that makes me incredibly happy. I sure miss MSP, but let me tell you… a HECK of a lot of heavies fly into ORD. And as someone who is unhealthily obsessed with the Queen of the Skies, it’s HEAVEN.

Thanks for taking part in this journey with me and look for more updates soon!

 

Lights will guide you home…

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Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

I have always loved the song “Fix You” by Coldplay. It’s one of those songs that speaks to me, but I never really knew why – am I trying to fix someone? Is someone trying to fix me? I didn’t know, but it’s becoming a lot clearer these days.

I started singing the song in my head while my dad and I were sitting in a plane out on the tarmac at Chicago O’Hare Airport, getting ready to fly back to Minneapolis after a 10-day trip through Europe.

It was dark out, and the bright runway lights enticed me as they always do. And in that moment, just as the song popped into my head, I realized I was home. And I wasn’t just “home” as in back in the states, I was home in Chicago.

When you try your best but you don’t succeed
When you get what you want, but not what you need
When you feel so tired, but you can’t sleep
Stuck in reverse

My life, just like everyone else’s, has been filled with ups and downs. There have been tough times and feelings of hopelessness; there have been good times and lights at the ends of many tunnels.

During college, living with a toxic combination of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and disordered eating took its toll on me. My body and my mind were always tired, but I pressed on and did my best to power through class, homework and exams. I was working hard, but I didn’t know what exactly it was I was working toward.

After graduation, the future of my career always felt uncertain. I had met the love of my life, which brought so much needed happiness into my world, but I still didn’t know what I was doing – I didn’t know what my purpose was here on planet Earth.

I worked in newsrooms, I did communications for a nonprofit, I did website work at an energy company and most recently I found myself writing for the Minnesota Department of Health – where I currently still work. All these jobs had profound impacts on me and helped shape me into a better person, but I had no idea what my end goal was, and I didn’t know what these experiences were preparing me for.

High up above or down below
When you’re too in love to let it go
If you never try, you’ll never know
Just what you’re worth

A few years back, I fell madly in love… and in case you’re wondering, my husband and I met more than seven years ago, so no, it wasn’t with him. Don’t worry guys, it’s not scandalous… I was out for a run near Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, and was blown away when and airplane lifted off right over my head. I was hooked. I quickly realized how “right” this all felt though… I mean, my parents met as flight attendants, my dad was in the Air Force… aviation was in my blood from the start.

I began reading about the physics of flight and watching documentaries on airplanes. I found myself out at MSP multiple times a week taking photos of the planes, and before I knew it, I was identifying many of them from decently far away. I was learning a lot and, more importantly, this was bringing me joy.

Almost a year ago, I had an “aha” moment… “Why can’t I combine my passion for aviation with my journalism degree and my love of writing?” Simple answer: I can. I reached out to Aviation Queen Benét Wilson, an aviation journalist who has inspired me in so many ways. And that decision to ask someone for help, proved to be so worth it.

Benét critiqued my writing and helped me to develop my skills and get my name out there. She also introduced me to Chris Sloan, the managing editor at Airways Magazine. Chris, too, helped me in more ways than one, he suggested topics for me to research and write about that I never would have thought of on my own. As a contributor to Airways, I was improving my industry knowledge, becoming a better writer and making connections out the wazoo.

I was so, so glad I found something that brought me so much joy. It was that one piece in my “happy life” pie that was missing, and now it was there. I kept working and learning, traveling and exploring… just trying to figure out what I was going to make of all of this. I knew that someday I wanted to find a full-time job in the aviation industry, whether at an airline or a manufacturer… I just didn’t know.

Another thing I didn’t know, was that the opportunity to work full time doing writing and communications in the aviation industry was about to present itself… a lot sooner than I had ever expected.

Tears stream down your face
I promise you I will learn from mistakes

After years of uncertainty… years of ups and downs and years filled with (yes) plenty of mistakes, I learned, I grew and I found my passion. On day one of the trip I just took with my dad, I accepted an offer to work in communications at BOEING.

Wait… did I just say that? Someone pinch me, please.

YES. It’s true… in December I’ll be setting up shop in Chicago to begin this new journey. It’s amazing. Of course, there will be hurdles… as my husband will be up here in Minnesota finishing his last year of school, before joining me in the Windy City. Our love is rock solid though… so I know we’ll be fine. He is over the moon knowing that I have this opportunity, and his love is truly what helped me to realize that I was (and still am) capable of anything. So… I finally know why that song speaks to me. No one was trying to fix me, and I wasn’t trying to fix someone else – I was trying to fix myself, and I think I’m slowly but surely doing just that.

It was more than 10 years ago that I first began dealing with mental health issues and constantly feeling hopeless for what the future may hold. Who would have thought that in my upper twenties I’d fall so in love with these huge, flying machines, and that in the end, those guiding lights would be runway approach lights, and home would be this city that’s always held a special place in my heart.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you

See you soon, Chicago.