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!

I need my space

Me in front of the CST-100 Starliner inside the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility where astronauts train.

As I am sure most of you all know by now, I’m here at NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston, supporting the CST-100 Starliner Orbital Flight Test. This is history in the making, as it’s the first time a Boeing-owned and -operated human-rated spacecraft has launched into orbit.

The originally planned eight-day mission has been reduced to three days after the spacecraft experienced an off-nominal orbital insertion shortly after launch Friday morning. Having looked forward to this for a long time, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t disappointing. However, even though we’re no longer rendezvousing or docking with the International Space Station, this isn’t done, and the excitement isn’t gone. Now, it’s all about bringing Starliner home safely.

Over the past several days, I’ve been hanging out in a ground level corner office with a handful of incredible Boeing and NASA teammates.

Since we’re working some long, odd hours, there’s an abundance of two-liter soda bottles and a big tub of Christmas cookies here to help sustain us, though adrenaline itself has definitely been keeping me awake and excited.

In preparation for the anticipated landing early tomorrow morning, we’re listening intently to the Mission Control loop – it’s almost like we are actually in the room with the team. Although most of the chatter is far too technical for me to fully comprehend, it is still so fascinating.

Our group here in Houston is just a small subset of a much larger team — from communicators to engineers — all of whom are passionate about space flight. And as both a historian and a communicator, I’m so humbled to be here.

So… roughly 12 hours till our planned landing in White Sands, I ask that you please root for our team, for space and for our future.

Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Our African Adventure

Sunday night, I snuggled into my own bed for the first time in 10 days. It was 9:30 p.m. CT when my head hit the pillow, which oddly enough marked exactly 24 hours since I had woken up across the pond. That early wakeup (3:30 a.m. West Africa Time) was followed by 18 hours of traveling from Casablanca, Morocco to both JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York, and ultimately back home to St. Louis.

This trip came to be when my husband Scott and I decided to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in Morocco. The itinerary we planned for ourselves — which I’m quite proud of, I might add — took us up the beautiful Atlantic coast to the country’s northwestern most region, across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, back into Morocco and on to a picturesque village in which nearly all the buildings are painted blue, farther south to the country’s “cultural” capital before venturing even farther south into the world’s largest hot desert, a mere 30 miles from the Algerian border.

Our 9-day adventure exceeded my expectations… the people were so kind and selfless, the scenery was simply breathtaking and every city had such rich culture and history. Of course, our JFK-CMN flight on Royal Air Maroc’s 787-9 and the return on the 787-8 were reason enough to take this trip (my first Dreamliner!), but throw in a full week of exploring North Africa and all its beauty… what could be better?

I hope you enjoy these photos… I sure enjoyed taking them.

Day 1: Friday, overnight from JFK to CMN on AT201 / Saturday, exploring Casablanca

Day 2: Sunday, bullet train from Casablanca to Tangier

Day 3: Monday, ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain

Day 4: Tuesday, car ride from Tangier to Chefchaouen (the “Blue City”)

Day 5: Wednesday, car ride from Chefchaouen to Fes

Day 6 (1): Thursday, car ride (8.5 hours!) to Sahara

Day 6 (2): Thursday, sunset camel ride through Sahara’s sand dunes

Day 7 (1): Friday, sunrise hike and morning camel ride

Day 7 (2): Friday, car ride from Sahara back to Fes (w/ stops in Rissani and Midelt)

Day 8: Saturday, train from Fes to Casablanca

Day 9: Sunday, racing the sun from CMN to JFK on AT200

Oh yeah, the cats…

Until next time, Morocco…

TWA lives on in Kansas City

I landed my first full-time job — assignment editor at KCTV in Kansas City — in August 2011. Yes, it took me more than two years after graduating from college to find a 40-hour-a-week gig in my field, but I did it, and I was more than willing to make the nearly 450-mile move to begin that new chapter in my life.

During the 15 months that Scott and I lived there, I hadn’t yet realized my passion for aviation. In fact, I was straight up terrified of flying — every second I spent on an airplane was an anxiety-inducing nightmare filled with sweat and tears (luckily no blood).

Not long after moving back to Minneapolis, I was out jogging near MSP Airport when an airplane lifted off of runway 17 right above me. I looked up and watched it grow smaller and smaller, until it was no more than a speck in the gray autumn sky. That moment changed my life — I decided to face my fear of flying head-on.

I started seeing a counselor for my anxiety, spent as much time as I could out at my new “happy place” (the airport) and began educating myself on the physics of flight, which helped me to look forward to — not dread — flying.

Throughout this personal transformation, I realized how big a part of my life aviation had always been. My dad served more than 30 years with the U.S. Air Force, and my parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines. To this day, both my mom and dad are “AV geeks” in the truest sense, and if it weren’t for Eastern bringing them together, I wouldn’t be here today.

It was through my parents’ own stories about their time as flight attendants that I realized how much of a family affair the airline industry really is. There is an undeniable, inextricable bond between an airline and its current and former employees. From pilots to flight attendants… mechanics to ground crews… it seems that most people who work for an airline have a unique love for their employer — one that endures the ups and downs, the mergers and acquisitions, the dreaded bankruptcies and everything in between. That’s certainly the case with my parents and Eastern, and it seems to ring true with the former employees of TWA too — especially those who now volunteer at the airline’s museum at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.

Like Eastern, TWA was one of the earliest commercial airlines to be founded in the United States. It started as Transcontinental & Western Air in 1930 and became Trans World Airlines in 1950. The airline endured until 2001 when it was acquired by American Airlines.

Just about 88 years ago, TWA relocated its headquarters from New York to 10 Richards Road in Kansas City. Fittingly, that’s where the TWA museum opened in June 2012, marking the fifth and likely final location for the volunteer-run exhibit that houses artifacts spanning seven decades of aviation history.

TWA holds a special place in my heart, as one of my favorite airplanes — the Douglas DC-3 — came to be because TWA needed a new airplane. The airline had grounded its Fokker F-10s after one was involved in a tragic crash that killed all eight on board, including esteemed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. Unfortunately, the first 60 Boeing 247s were all going to United Airlines, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. TWA’s president, Jack Frye, made a call for a new aircraft and ultimately selected Douglas, who built the DC-1, which evolved into the DC-2 and then the incredible workhorse DC-3. The DC-3 was the first airplane to make money simply by flying passengers, and is regarded by many as the greatest airplane of all time.

Later, TWA requested a bigger, more efficient airplane which led to the development of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation or “Connie” — the triple-tail, four-engine prop plane quickly becoming a TWA icon. Into the Jet Age, TWA flew the Boeing 707 and later the famous “Queen of the Skies” Boeing 747.

In 1988, with its Boeing 747s and 767s, and the three-engine Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, TWA “peaked” in a sense — carrying more than half of all transatlantic passengers. Fun fact: Today marks 100 years since the world’s very first transatlantic flight. On this day in 1919, the U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4 flying boat landed in Lisbon, Portugal after a nearly three-week stop-and-go flight from the U.S.

The 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 really left a permanent scar on the airline. On the evening of July 17, flight 800 departed New York’s JFK Airport headed to Paris and ultimately to Rome, but a center-fuel-tank explosion caused it to crash into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people on board. The airline flew its final flights — both revenue and ceremonial — on Dec. 1, 2001. The MD-80 used in the ceremonial final flight now rests at the TWA Museum.

“The mission of the TWA Museum is to provide information to the public emphasizing the story, history and importance of the major role TWA played in pioneering commercial aviation.

From the birth of airmail to the inception of passenger air travel, to the post-WWII era of global route expansion, TWA led the way for 75 years.”

This intro to the “About Us” section of the museum’s website very accurately captures the overall vibe of the exhibit itself. These days, it’s not often you can learn history firsthand from people who lived it, but that’s what sets the TWA Museum apart. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I enjoyed more — actually seeing the models, photos, equipment and other historical artifacts, or witnessing the pure, unfiltered joy among the former employees who are tasked with keeping the TWA story alive.

To all my AV geek friends, I highly — and I mean highly — recommend you visit the museum next time you’re in the Kansas City area. In and of itself it’s an incredible experience, but factor in the location (IT’S AT AN ACTIVE AIRPORT!) and the fact that just across the airfield is another great tourist attraction: the National Airline History Museum, which boasts more artifacts and a huge hangar full of iconic birds. Make a day of it — trust me, you won’t regret it!

To blue skies and tailwinds…

Our Moon

I can tell just by looking out the window that the air outside is warmer than the air in my living room.

And no matter how hard I try — no matter how captivating the television dialogue is and no matter how loud my cats meow to try to get my attention — I can’t take my eyes off the Moon… our Moon. It feels like there’s a magnetic force between the two blue orbs protruding out of my head and that one massive, majestic orb hanging in the sky… and I don’t know why, but it’s so strong.

The sun shines on it and it glows golden and more vivid with each minute — but I know that without that massive ball of fire there to light it up, our Moon is just a gray, rocky, dusty satellite. That’s it.

Sometimes I wish we had more than one moon. I wonder what the sky would look like at night if we had two moons like Mars. I wonder what it would look like during the day if we had 60-some moons like Jupiter or Saturn. I know how excited I get when I notice mid-afternoon that the small, round, seemingly perfect cloud I’ve affixed my eyes to is actually our Moon. What if I saw dozens of them all at once?

But then, as night falls and the Moon gets higher and brighter — almost pure white against the dark blue sky — I realize just how much I love our one Moon. Of the eight planets that orbit our sun, there are two that don’t have any moons (Mercury and Venus), there’s one that has two moons (Mars), one that has 14 moons (Neptune) and one that has 27 moons (Uranus), there are two that have more than 60 moons (Saturn has 62, Jupiter has 67), but there’s just one planet that has only one moon… and that’s us: Earth.

How different would the space race have been if we had multiple moons? What would the space race have even been if we had no moons at all?

As the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first lunar landing approaches, I’m so thankful for Earth’s one and only satellite: our Moon. And knowing that 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last human foot leaving that crater-filled ground… I’m so anxious and hopeful to see what the next generation of lunar exploration holds — for Americans and for the world.

Photo: NASA

“Whoosh!” Time flies… and so do fighter jets.

Yesterday afternoon as I was leaving the office, something incredible happened. I exited the building alongside several other employees—all of us making our way down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. That walk typically feels endless, but on a sunny, 60-degree day like yesterday, everyone seems to enjoy each step a little more. Just seconds after the automatic sliding doors closed behind me, a loud “whoosh!” caused all of us to quickly turn our heads to the right.

An F/A-18 had lifted off runway 12L at St. Louis Lambert International Airport so quickly that I barely caught a glimpse before it became the size of a fly above the eastern horizon. And as it disappeared, another “whoosh!” really got our attention. We all watched a second jet disappear into the clouds… and then “WHOOSH!” — a third and final one sped into the blue spring sky.

Most of you know that my fascination with flight tends toward commercial airplanes, however, I think I’ve got a decent bit of military aviation in my bones. After all, my familial ties to the industry involve both my dad’s decades-long career as a navigator in the U.S. Air Force, and my parents having met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines.

In St. Louis, Boeing is much more defense-focused, as has been the case since McDonnell first began operations here in 1939. James McDonnell’s company was best known for its fighter jets and—of course—its spacecraft. The first American in space, Alan Shephard, left Earth’s soil and blasted into the black, vast unknown aboard the McDonnell-built single-seat Mercury space capsule.

It’s been three months since I left the Windy City for a new opportunity here in the “Show Me” state, but still, I so vividly remember the way I felt each time I approached Boeing’s world headquarters in Chicago. Starting down at street level, my eyes would slowly make their way up to the apex of our 36-story building. I’d inhale, and slowly exhale… in utter disbelief—but with the utmost gratitude—that I was working for the greatest aerospace company on the planet.

I was.

And I still am.

Boeing and its heritage companies (North American, Douglas and, of course, McDonnell) have such remarkable pasts… to think that I’ve been tasked with helping to preserve that history is beyond me.

Flight has the ability to captivate each and every one of us, young and old. Whether it takes you a few feet off the ground, or all the way to the Moon, to fly is something purely magical—there’s no denying it.

And that’s how it should be.

There is always something new—something bigger and better out there. So it’s up to us to go explore, discover and unleash the future. And I’m so thankful to be part of a company that works to do just that every day.

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.