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.”

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

Whoever said, “Never meet your hero,” clearly never met Benét Wilson.

Honestly, I feel like it was in the stars for her to be my mentor. It was December 2016 when a little light bulb turned on in my head… “Maybe I can combine my love of planes with my passion for writing,” I thought. I needed to find a professional, someone who was actually doing what I hoped to do… and a few simple Google searches led me to the Aviation Queen website.

I reached out to Benét via email, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone and she gave me some crazy awesome news: she wanted me to contribute to her blog. A few posts in, she saw enough potential in me to recommend me to Airways Magazine’s Chris Sloan, who promptly brought me on as a contributing author. I wrote on a variety of topics and even got to take some pretty awesome trips—I was having the time of my life and was so incredibly gracious (and still am) for the complete and utter selflessness that both Benét and Chris showed in taking me under their wings and helping me as I learned to fly (no pun intended).

You all know how this story ends… I left the nest. Just a few months after this journey began, I was offered a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world: Boeing. My husband Scott is finishing up his last two semesters at the University of Minnesota, so for now it’s just me and our two cats down in Chitown. It is certainly hard to move to a new, big city by yourself… but I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.

Each morning I bid farewell to my sweet, fuzzy friends, and I begin my one-mile walk to work. And each and every time I approach my office building, I stop briefly to look up at the big Boeing logo amidst all the other skyscrapers, and each and every time I just can’t help but crack a smile. I do the same each evening as I head home, except the sun is usually setting and the big logo is glowing against the dusky sky. Now I truly feel like I have more than just aviation in my blood—I have Boeing in my blood. I am proud, honored and humbled to say that I bleed Boeing blue.

Meeting Benét couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either, as just yesterday FIRST—an international nonprofit that inspires K-12 students to develop STEM skills—announced that Boeing had donated $1.5 million to support young innovators. Another thing that makes FIRST awesome? Their focus on mentorship… showcasing firsthand the important role mentors play in learning, dreaming and doing. It wasn’t until my own journey began almost a year-and-a-half ago that I realized what a crucial role a mentor could play in my own life… Benét helped me to learn, she supported my dream and she cheered me on as I chased that dream.

Lucky for me, Benét is still on my team today—she is someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on and someone who supports me. I am so proud to call her my friend.

So here’s to you, Benét. You are an amazing person. Your smile is infectious. You make me want to be a better person. And as I hard as I try, I could never truly repay you for the ways in which you’ve helped me. In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime full of blue skies and tailwinds more than you do.

Striving to keep an open mind, a full heart and thick skin

I’ve been quite happy lately. “Why?” you ask? Because I’ve actually been chasing and fulfilling a dream, and have found along the way how good it really feels to accomplish something, especially when you’re very passionate about that something.

“The Great Planes” on Instagram has well over 600 followers – something I never thought I’d see just five months into it. Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP), my home away from home, has shared TWO of my photos on their Instagram account – and just yesterday, Sun Country Airlines posted one of my photos on theirs. These may seem like very minute successes, but they’re actually huge for me.

It wasn’t terribly long ago that I was relaying this dream of becoming an aviation journalist to my husband Scott… thinking nothing would ever come of it. I can even remember SO vividly a time that we were walking through Loring Park and talking about this very subject. Scott said to me, “Why don’t you just write something up and submit it to newspapers or something?” It got me sort of excited, but I didn’t really think I could do something like that. I didn’t think I had the will and the drive to TRY to do something like that.

But lo and behold, just months later, here I am with my second piece published on the Airways Magazine website, thanks once again to the immense kindness of THE Aviation Queen: Benét Wilson.

If you remember, my first piece was about how smaller manufacturers, specifically Embraer and Bombardier, are stepping up to the plate to compete with the big guys: Boeing and Airbus. It was fun to see my family and friends react to my work being published. And it was equally as fun to see the comments and likes on Facebook, and the retweets and favorites on Twitter.

My second piece, though, was a bit different. This one was more of an Op-Ed on a topic that I knew had the potential to cause a bit of controversy. Even though it happened well over a month ago, I didn’t think people had quite gotten over the “dragged doctor” incident on United Flight 3411…

I was right.

It seemed that the popular opinion following the incident was that United Airlines is truly, utterly awful. BELIEVE me, I do think United really messed up. I think what happened was awful and that the airline is ultimately at fault. I also think there are two sides to every story. I really just wanted to try to get people to look at what happened in a different light. Trust me, I HATE what happened to Dr. David Dao, as most people do. At the same time, however, I do NOT think it is fair that the lasting impression following flight 3411 has been United = Bad, Doctor = Good. Because it’s just not that cut and dry.

For my story “Is Ignorance Bliss? United Flight 3411 is Part of a Larger Story that Isn’t Being Told” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anthony Roman, president of Roman and Associates, a risk management and investigation firm. Roman, a former commercial pilot himself, noted that even though United was ultimately the catalyst behind this unfortunate incident, Dr. Dao was still at fault to some extent, namely for not obeying the commands of law enforcement personnel. I also spoke with Jamie Horwitz of the Association Professional Flight Attendants (APFA) who provided some background information on the recent congressional hearing on flight 3411 that he attended. Jamie also directed me to the recent Op-Ed written by Bob Ross, president of the APFA, that shed light on bigger issues in the airline industry, including constant pressure from Wall Street to please investors.

I knew some angry people would voice their disagreement after reading my piece, and they didn’t disappoint. Some people respectfully disagreed (thank you), and others said things that were slightly hurtful, including:

“Airways Magazine is known for its interesting and very professional writing about aviation. But this article is totally nonsense. Please, put it offline and save at least your reputation.”

“What a load of absolute bullshit! Sometimes I simply cannot believe the crap you Americans come up with!”

“How much is the writer getting from this?”

“This definitely comes off as a shill piece.”

But, you know what, there were some people who either agreed with the article, or respected and supported the thoughts presented in it. My favorite was:

“Finally someone calls out the fact that the passenger failed to comply with law enforcement. Thank you!”

Those who know me well, know how incredibly sensitive I am. I cry fairly easily, and simply put, I hate to be hated. But… upon reading these comments, both the good and the bad, I realized how much I’ve toughened up. Not only did I not even flinch at the bad comments, I actually giggled and was weirdly thrilled by it. To think that something I wrote and ideas I shared could affect people in a way that compels them to say something, that right there is enough motivation for me to keep doing what I’m doing, and keep doing it with a smile on my face.

I’d like to think I am a good person. In the past, however, I may have been what some people would consider a “pushover” … well, not anymore. Thick-skinned Annie is here to stay. I’ll defend myself, hold true to my words and stand up for what I believe is right. And, as this post’s title alluded to, I’ll keep an open mind and a full heart while I am at it. At least I’ll try my best to. 😉