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.