Flying the Feathered Edge

R.A. “Bob” Hoover, as seen on the cover of the documentary detailing his astounding career.

“Each time I did see an airplane — and there weren’t too many flying back in those days — I’d stop whatever I was doing to watch it until it went out of sight. All I could think about or want to read about would be airplanes and aviation.”

Those words were spoken by R.A. “Bob” Hoover himself during an interview for Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project, a documentary highlighting the remarkable life and legacy of the man often called the greatest pilot of all time.

My favorite thing about Bob is that his friends and former military comrades say he was “always up to something.” Example: He was shot down in World War II, spent more than a year in a prison camp, escaped, stole a Focke-Wulf F190 (the very plane he was shot down by) and flew to safety in The Netherlands.

Years later, he worked as a test pilot for Boeing heritage company North American Aviation. From the FJ-2 Fury to the F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre… he flew ‘em all.

In the ‘60s, he began flying the can’t-be-stopped P-51 Mustang in airshows. Often called “a pilot’s pilot,” his post-war aerobatics career lasted almost 40 years.

In watching the movie, I of course was enlightened as to what a remarkable pilot and person Bob was (he unfortunately passed away in 2016), but I also realized how many museums are out there housing artifacts and relics from his and other notable pilots’ careers… museums I’ve never been to. From the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and its annex, the Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles, all the way across the country to the San Diego Air and Space Museum… heck, I’ve never even been to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Wash.

So, in summary: Annie has a lot of places she needs to go, and everyone needs to watch Flying the Feathered Edge.

And… Scene.

I’m happiest in the sky

Old planes, new planes.

Fast planes, slow planes.

Big planes, small planes.

I’ve seen all of ’em, flown in all of ’em and love all of ’em.

I don’t care who made it, who bought it, who owns it or who flies it—I love airplanes. I love the places they take me and the “real world” they take me away from. Simply put: I’m happiest in the sky.

Of course, I’m partial to Boeing. For one, I work there… but I’m truly fascinated by the company, its people and its products. It’s a remarkable, beautiful story of determination, perseverance, passion and innovation; and I’m humbled to be able to help keep that history alive.

This passion of mine has really taken me places, both figuratively and literally, and I’m truly grateful for that. Because, believe it or not, that very passion was just sitting dormant inside of me for a long, long time. It was gathering dust somewhere in a deep, dark corner of my mind, for more than a decade. But several years ago, a chance encounter with a metal bird that soared right over my head, just seconds after departing on MSP’s runway 17, was my “aha” moment. I was hooked.

I’m now officially three weeks into working in communications for our company’s historical archives. To say that being in this role is an honor would be an understatement. I am still brand new to this team and to the city of St. Louis, but I have never, ever, ever felt such an intense drive and such determination to do my best. And I love that.

Boeing’s story is one that needs to be kept alive… it needs to be told and retold. It needs to be heard and read, appreciated and understood. I myself understand and respect that all people don’t feel so drawn to these flying machines… but they do—and always will—touch all of our lives.

So, if I could ask anything of you, reading this right now, it would be… take a minute and “Google” William Boeing. Do the same for Donald Douglas, James McDonnell and James “Dutch” Kindelberger. Those men were the true pioneers of aviation—they saw promise in aviation, they believed they could build better airplanes and they stood up and grew these INCREDIBLE companies that today are all part of the Boeing family.

This afternoon, I was fortunate to visit the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum. Located at the St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS), it is chock full of photographs, film, models and other artifacts that bring you right back to the golden age of flight. And, outside the hangars that the museum is housed in (which are on the National Register of Historic Places), you’ll find a stunning 1943 Douglas DC-3 (arguably the greatest airplane of all time), a Convair 440 that started its life with FinnAir in 1957, and a 1969 Lockheed JetStar once owned by none other than Howard Hughes.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from this afternoon, and there’ll be many, many more to come. I’m on a big adventure, I mean a big, BIG adventure, and I’m really lucky to share in that adventure with all of you.

Thanks for the love and the support.

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A Very Great Plane: The Douglas DC-3

I just heard one of my favorite sounds in the world – a prop plane flying nearby. That sound tends to bring my mind back to the early days of aviation, and this time was no different.

Over the last few weeks I’ve become mildly obsessed with the Douglas DC-3… would you believe that there are still thousands of those planes flying? December 17, 1935 – that was when the first one took to the skies. Sometimes I actually forget that planes were around that long ago, but they certainly were. The DC-3 was the “cream of the crop” in the aviation industry during those years and is credited today with having revolutionized air travel in a number of ways.

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A Breitling Douglas DC-3, Photo Courtesy: Breitling

Before the DC-3 came around, there were two other planes that had a strong foothold in the market: the Boeing Model 247 and the “Tin Goose” Ford Trimotor.

The Trimotor first flew in June 1926, powered by (you guessed it) three engines – Pratt and Whitney Wasps. Transcontinental Air Transport (which would later become TWA) pioneered coast-to-coast service with the Trimotor. The plane was strong and sturdy, but unfortunately didn’t have what it took to stand up to the two competitors that would enter the market several years later – the 247 and the DC-1.

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A Ford Trimotor, Photo Courtesy: Golden Wings Flying Museum

The Boeing Model 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner and had its inaugural flight in February 1933. It was the first plane that was capable of flying on only one of its two engines – also Pratt and Whitney Wasps. But just months later, the DC-1 was developed at the request of TWA. And even though the DC-1 itself wasn’t perfect, it paved the way to the eventual DC-3, which was as close to perfect as an airplane could be back then.

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A United Air Lines Boeing Model 247, Photo Courtesy: Boeing

The DC-1 evolved into the larger, faster and more luxurious DC-2 and then nixed beds for upright seats to become the DC-3. Powered by two Wright Cyclone engines, the DC-3 was strong, fast, and comfortable. It had capacity to carry two crew members and 21-32 passengers. Back then, flying really was a luxurious experience, namely because it was just that – a luxury. The DC-3 also pioneered inflight movies.

Of course some of today’s airlines still offer that touch of glamour, but with the rise in low-cost carriers and even the legacy carriers offering stripped down “basic economy” fares, it’s not as common. Flying today is, for most, a means to get from point A to point B. Why else do you see people rapt with magazines or computers, and not with the fact that they’re FLYING? I mean… HELLO – you are six miles in the sky, soaring amongst the clouds in a 100,000-pound METAL TUBE. WHY AREN’T YOU STARING OUT THE WINDOW IN SHEER AMAZEMENT?

OK – I think I’ve made my point. I love flying, and I don’t take it for granted. I need to be in a window seat so I can constantly look out at the sky we’re in and the ground below, because I am amazed that we as humans were able to pioneer this concept. We figured out how to DEFY gravity. It’s remarkable! But the message I really want to convey to all of you is that the planes we fly on today were in some way, shape or form derived from the sturdy workhorse Douglas DC-3. It’s a legend. Why else do you think some 2,000 of the planes still fly? I can only hope that someday I’ll have a chance to fly in one of those time capsules myself.