Up for the challenge…

As some of you may know, I had the pleasure of spending most of Saturday out at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I arrived a few minutes past 11 a.m. on Southwest Airlines flight 1095. And since my return flight was at 7:40 p.m., I knew I had to take advantage of every last second on the ground. And boy… did I.

I was up on the roof of the parking garage by 11:30, and had a solid two to three hours for photography before storms rolled in. I welcomed the opportunity to escape the heat and sat inside for an hour or so where I loaded, edited and tagged my photos.

By the time I got back outside, I only had a couple hours left. And that’s when I saw it… an inbound Challenge Airlines 747-400F.

Belgium-based Challenge Airlines (previously ACE Belgium Freighters) operates only two aircraft, both 747-400Fs. The carrier — which began service in April 2019 — was forced to change its name due to a dispute with another ACE: Alaska Central Express.

And yes, for those familiar with Israel’s CAL Cargo Airlines, the two airlines are related. CAL also operates a fleet of just two 747-400F aircraft, both of which bear an all-white livery with “Challenge Accepted” written on the side. I knew there had to be a connection, and lo-and-behold, they’re sister airlines.

Originally, the aircraft (OO-ACF) was slated to land at ATL at 6:30 p.m. However, being at the world’s busiest airport, an hour and 10 minutes before my flight seemed to be pushing it just a smidge… at least for a stress-prone person like myself. But, I was (of course) willing to risk it.

As the hours past, however, the aircraft’s ETA kept getting later, and later, and later. Realistically, this bird was going to touch down a few minutes after 7 p.m. Remember… my flight is at SEVEN FORTY.

Was it risky? Yes.

Did I stay? Yes.

I saw its beautifully kelly green nose when it was still several miles out. My heart was racing… both from nervousness and excitement. I snapped as many pictures as I could in just a minute or two, before packing my camera and beginning what may have been the craziest “race“ of my life.

I sprinted — and I mean SPRINTED (I ran the 100, 200 and 400 on my high school’s varsity track and field team, so THERE!) — across the parking ramp. I scurried down a wet flight of concrete stairs (of course, I nearly fell) and stormed through the crosswalk and into the terminal. I ran up to TSA PreCheck where I was the ONLY human being in sight, zipped right through security and ran down the escalator to the Plane Train where I hopped on for a swift ride over to the C concourse where my gate was luckily the nearest one to the train stop.

I arrived at my gate at 7:20 p.m. and got right into the airplane.

I was huffing and puffing, and drenched in sweat… but underneath my purple mask was one of the biggest smiles one could imagine.

I did it.

So thank you, Challenge Airlines, for challenging ME to pull something off that many people would have thought impossible.



I got a fever, and the only prescription… is more planes.

IMG_3980This past Monday, I went to flights.google.com. I typed in Chicago as my origin, I left the destination blank and I put Saturday, March 3 as both the departure and return date. I clicked “map” view and scoured the U.S. with a keen eye. Every city displayed roundtrip prices $150 and up… except one: Atlanta. Most don’t know and most would never guess, but I was actually born in Atlanta—June 16, 1987. The interesting thing was, the price that displayed just above the Atlanta, GA “dot” was $87. Yeah… this was happening.

I moved to Minnesota with my parents when I was still a baby, and I only returned to my true “hometown” once, for the 1996 Summer Olympics with my dad. It was a great trip—something not a lot of nine-year-old kids get to do, but I found it rather odd that technically, I’ve been an adult for almost 13 years, and I’d never returned to the Peach State… until yesterday.

I’m sure it goes without saying, but Hartsfield-Jackson (being the busiest airport in the entire world) had just a bit of influence on my seemingly impulsive decision to fly there for a day—that and the fact that the Delta Flight Museum also happened to be in ATL.

I think some people were a little surprised that I planned to spend nearly $100 just to fly to and from Atlanta for one day, all by myself. But you know what? After my solo trip to Istanbul where I ended up in the hospital on day one for an emergency appendectomy… I LOVE the idea of traveling solo. There is something so liberating about it.

So, after a full week of work, I awoke—albeit slightly unenthusiastically—at 5:30 Saturday morning to catch the 6:15 a.m. train to O’Hare. Being at airports and flying are things I would give just about anything to do any day of the week, so the early wake up on a weekend was a “no-brainer” for me.

I arrived at the airport, sped through security (thanks TSA pre-check) and took a few photos of planes taxiing or at their gates, before making it to my own gate to board the American Airlines 737 that would carry me to Atlanta.

When I landed at Hartsfield-Jackson, I immediately made my way to the ride-share area to catch a Lyft over to the Delta Flight Museum. When I arrived… let’s just say my bottom jaw was practically on the pavement outside the massive hangars that housed the aviation artifacts I was about to set eyes on. Upon entering, I couldn’t even believe what was in front of me: a Douglas DC-3, a Travel Air 6B Sedan and the always-beautiful “Spirit of Delta” Boeing 767, to name a few.

I was sort of in shock… not knowing where to go, what to touch, how to feel, who to talk to… above all, I was in AV geek heaven. A few highlights: meeting a group of six to seven friends who were likely in their late 70s/early 80s inside the “Spirit of Delta” who had asked me to take their photo, meeting them again at the first Boeing 747-400 ever built (Ship 6301) where they asked me to take another photo of them in front of an engine and where they, kindly, offered to take a photo of me standing in that engine (YES PLEASE!) and, finally, being able to walk out on the wing of the Queen of the Skies.

If you are an AV geek, and you’ve never been to this museum… you ARE missing out. Seriously. Go there as soon as you possibly can. You will not be disappointed.

Following my time there, I headed out to the Georgia Tech campus where I spent some time exploring and, most-importantly, reenergizing with an iced coffee and stuffing my face with a donut that happened to BE about the size of my face. I then bought a MARTA ticket and took the train back to the airport, where I made my way to the top of the south daily parking ramp to take some photos.

The weather was perfect: low 60s and warm sunshine. I saw a KLM 777, the Lufthansa A-340 in the Star Alliance livery and, expectedly, dozens of Maddog MD-80s and 90s. It was lovely.

I went back into the airport, found my way to my gate and boarded my ERJ-175 (my first time on an Embraer jet!) to fly back home to Chicago. It was a perfect, perfect day. And it must have been good… because I woke up this “morning” at 12:30 p.m.—I KNOW!

So… tonight, I raise a glass (OK, a tallboy of Collective Arts’ Radio the Mothership) in honor of Atlanta: my hometown and a true AV geek heaven. Thanks for the memories ATL.

View photos from my adventures on Facebook.