If you never try, you’ll never know

A year ago tonight—a Thursday evening in the third week of October—I sat at home with my husband in our downtown St. Paul apartment, frantically preparing myself for what I considered to be the biggest opportunity of my life. The next day, on October 20, 2017 at 12:30 p.m., I was to board American Airlines flight 2455 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Chicago O’Hare—a 400-mile, 80-minute flight. Upon arrival, I’d board the CTA Blue Line, exit at Clark and Lake, walk one block south and five blocks west to get there… to get to Boeing World Headquarters to interview for a spot on the Executive Communications team.

You may have read my blog from last November, proudly announcing I’d be moving myself and my two cats to Chicago to work for the greatest aerospace company on the planet. It was such a bittersweet time in my life—I was following my dream, but leaving my friends… my family… my husband… I was leaving all of them behind in the state I called home for 28 of my 30 years of existence. Lucky for me, I had a rock solid support system then—luckier yet, I have that same rock solid support system now.

While it’s been tough at times, everything about this experience has made me a better, stronger person. I’ve met incredible people and learned incredible things about the aerospace industry, the world, communications… and I’ve even learned some pretty incredible things about myself. It’s been one heck of a year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

A few highlights:

  1. I live a hop, skip and a jump away from the second-most-connected airport in the world… it’s truly an aviation enthusiast’s dream! To say I’m out at ORD often may be an understatement.
  2. I got to visit Boeing’s Everett factory for the first time in my life. It’s an overwhelmingly huge, city-like building where incredible, beastly machines are built to connect people and goods across the globe. So. Flipping. Cool.
  3. I met one of my best friends, and her amazing partner. You know how sometimes you just connect with someone, and you immediately feel the goodness in their heart? That’s how I feel about this person—she’s a remarkable human, and one heck of a communicator.
  4. I reunited with one of my best friends… someone I went to high school with and someone I’ve always had a special bond with. She handed me an extra stick when I dropped one of mine while drumming in an emo band more than a decade ago, and today, she brought my doodle to life to create a legit logo for The Great Planes.
  5.  I started traveling by myself. I find cheap, same-day, round-trip flights to new cities and I go explore. If you have the capacity to do that, I highly recommend it as it’s helped me to break out out of my anxiety-ridden, introverted shell, and meet new people and build a sense of confidence I never thought I’d have.

Coming to Boeing taught me that following your dream is worth it. Even though being in a new city is tough, adapting to a new lifestyle can be stressful and learning a new routine can be really, really hard… it is worth it. I’m a very, very lucky girl… and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Happy National Aviation Day from the Windy City

If ever a day was made for me, today is that day: National Aviation Day. The holiday—established in 1939 by President Roosevelt—is celebrated each year on August 19 to commemorate Orville Wright’s birthday and to promote interest in all things flight.

Some people (like me) don’t need a holiday to up our interest in aviation. Others (like the rest of the population) come out to air shows and stare up at the sky, jaws dropped and eyes wide, as though they’ve never seen an airplane before.

The 79th National Aviation Day fell on day two of the 2018 Chicago Air and Water Show—an event that draws roughly 2 million people to the Windy City over the course of two days. This year—as both a Chicagoan and an employee of The Boeing Company—was the first time I attended the event.

Now, I’ve been to airshows, but this… this took the cake.

Saturday, my husband, father-in-law, step-mother-in-law and I biked up to North Avenue Beach to take in the five-hour show. It was hot and it was crowded, but it was an absolute blast. I was completely in my element and it meant so much to me to share that time with people whom I care so deeply about.

Sunday, my husband Scott and I were fortunate enough to have “VIP” passes to the Boeing tent. Those little orange tags hanging from lanyards around our necks were our passes to free food, free beer, a set of two heavy-duty Boeing lawn chairs and (best of all) front row seats to all the action.

My heart beats fast and my mind strays each time I do so much as think of what I saw over the last two days… I know the pictures won’t do it justice, but at the very least they’ll help paint a picture of what the show is all about.

We saw military parachute teams, both the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

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We also saw a LOT of aerobatics… the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and the Firebirds Delta Team among other teams and solo acts.

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We saw crazy awesome military aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II and the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (a modified 707).

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And, aside from airplanes, we saw plenty of helicopters and boats… photos that I’m not going to spend the time sifting through and posting. Sorry, I like airplanes, and that’s what you’re going to see here.

However, I will say that this event was completely eye-opening… not because fighter jets were zipping past at 600 miles-per-hour; not because aerobatics teams were crisscrossing, zigzagging and doing anything and everything that we thought they shouldn’t be able to do; and not because parachutists were floating down from two miles above Earth while gracefully making multicolored curlicues.

No, that’s not why.

This event was eye-opening because people from literally all walks of life came out to the shores of Lake Michigan to turn their eyes to the sky and tune their ears to the buzzes, hums and sometimes downright scary roars of the planes flying overhead. It didn’t matter if you were homeless or a millionaire with a lakefront condo… every single person oohed and aahed, pointed toward the sky and had goofy grins plastered on their faces as they watched the miracle of flight unfurl before their very eyes.

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There’s nothing left to say, except thank you Boeing and thank you Chicago for one heck of a weekend.

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.”

Long live the Queen: VC-25A is now officially the longest serving presidential aircraft

SAM 28000, one of two current VC-25As (photo: Wikipedia)

It’s official: the Boeing VC-25A—two modified 747-200Bs with tail numbers 28000 and 29000, more commonly referred to as Air Force One—is now the longest-serving presidential aircraft. I’ve been tracking this milestone for awhile now, and to be quite honest, I actually botched it at first (don’t judge… I’m not a mathematician!).

Because I also have a strange fascination with the Kennedy family (who doesn’t?), I knew that JFK’s two modified 707s with tail numbers 26000 and 27000 (the Boeing VC-137C) were most certainly the longest serving presidential aircraft of all time… I didn’t, however, realize just how soon today’s Queens of the Skies were going to steal the crown from those two planes that first entered service when Kennedy was in office.

I originally (and mistakenly) did my calculations as follows (using the entry-into-service date for the VC-137C as opposed to the first time it actually flew as Air Force One). This had VC-25A officially becoming the longest serving presidential aircraft on Aug. 5, just a couple days ago.

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,194 days between Oct. 9, 1962 (VC-137C first entered service) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,195 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and Aug. 5, 2018

However, upon realizing my mistake and finding the actual date when VC-137C first flew with Kennedy on board (therefore using the call sign Air Force One), November 10, 1962, I realized that my timeline had moved up roughly a month and that this milestone actually happened on July 4 of this year (pretty cool date for an American milestone, eh?).

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,162 days between Nov. 10, 1962 (VC-137C first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first few as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,163 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and July 4, 2018

It is important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean the 747 (generally speaking) is the longest serving presidential aircraft… that honor still goes to the 707, at least for now. Dwight D. Eisenhower was actually the first to fly in a modified Boeing 707 using the call sign Air Force One (VC-137B) when he departed Dec. 3, 1959 on his “Flight to Peace” goodwill tour to 11 Asian nations.

The 747 won’t officially take the crown from the 707 for another three years, on June 11, 2021.

Boeing 707

11,235 days between Dec. 3, 1959 (707 first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One)

Boeing 747

11,236 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One) and June 11, 2021

I want to give a special thanks to our incredibly awesome historian here at Boeing, Mike Lombardi, for reminding me that it’s important to make these distinctions. And, I’ll add… that June 2021 milestone is a surefire thing since the new Air Force One planes currently on order are two 747-8s expected to be delivered (last I heard) by 2024. So even if they were delivered tomorrow, they’re still 747s and the math still works… so there.

With that, there’s only one thing left to say: Long live the Queen.

Boeing: Air Force One (read about past, current and future presidential aircraft)

Hello, it’s me…

It’s bizarre… I am coming up on eight months in my role here at Boeing in Chicago. It has been fun and awe-inspiring at times, busy and stressful at others—but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve made mistakes.

I’ve celebrated successes.

I’ve made friends.

I’ve made enemies.

(just kidding… I haven’t made any enemies)

Anyways…while life and work have been busy, I’ve tried my best to keep up with The Great Planes—both the social media and the blog. And even though my posts may not be as frequent, I still do write as often as I can, and do my best to make sure my stories are meaningful.

A couple weeks back, I was up in the Twin Cities for my father-in-law’s wedding, which took place Saturday. On Sunday, my mom and I spent the morning out at the dog park next to MSP Airport—obsessing over fuzzy friends and watching the big birds fly in. We were waiting around for the KLM A330 to fly in when I noticed two people walking toward us on the gravel path. Before long I heard, “Excuse me,” and I swiftly turned around. Two men stood there, one appeared to be college-aged, the other looked to be my mom’s age. The younger one asked me, “Are you The Great Planes?”

“Como se what?” I asked myself inside my head before quickly answering (aloud), “Yes!”

The younger of the two introduced himself as Max—he was with his dad. They were both incredibly sweet, passionate people… another parent-child duo that share a love of aviation is always fun to come by.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and as I was walking into our Boeing headquarters, a woman approached me in the hallway. “Excuse me,” she said as she slowed in her steps. “Are you the blogger?”

Somewhat taken aback, I said, “I mean, I blog…?”

“But you run the aviation blog, right? And the Instagram?” she asked.

“Oh YES, I run The Great Planes!”

After chatting for a few minutes, I learned her name: Grace. She, too, works for Boeing and said she recognized my face from the few photos that I’m actually in on my account.

It was such a great interaction and a great feeling, similar to how I felt at MSP after meeting Max and his dad. Just knowing that my stories are read (if only by a few people) and that my pictures are seen, really means a lot.

It’s not often that this blog or my social accounts are my top priority, but I still have tried pretty dang hard to build out The Great Planes as its own brand of sorts… and to get that sort of validation and recognition from people who enjoy my posts, was just about the greatest feeling in the world.

Meeting Max and Grace really inspired me to ramp up the writing and to try to post here more often. Life is way too short to spend time doing things you aren’t passionate about. I am glad I learned that early on, and hope that through my stories, my photos and my transparency—someone else will get inspired to follow their dreams too.

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.

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.