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.

This is me.

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be — this is me.

Once again, watching “The Voice” inspired me to write because Kyla Jade just knocked it out of the park with “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack.

That song carries a lot of weight and sort of speaks to me. I mean, all in all, I’ve lived an amazingly fortunate and happy life. However, we all have to deal with not-so-easy stuff from time to time, whether we bring it on ourselves, or it’s just in the cards we’ve been dealt.

This blog is supposed to be about planes, so I’m not going to ramble about any of the so-called “struggles” I’ve had in my nearly 31 years on Earth, but I will say this much: sometimes following your heart isn’t easy.

I followed my plane-shaped heart to Chicago nearly six months ago. I knew it was the right thing to do to pursue my passion for aviation, but it sure was hard leaving my husband back in Minnesota. I’m lucky enough to have a job that keeps my heart overly full, but spending my nights and weekends without my other half has caused many a tearful night.

I’m so over-the-moon to say that, despite having two more semesters left at the University of Minnesota, my husband Scott will be moving down here for the summer this Saturday. I felt like I’ve waited so, so long for this… words can’t describe the sheer joy I’m feeling.

And, to add to the excitement, today I received an invitation to my dear friend Branden’s wedding. Branden is one of many people I’ve connected with through our mutual love of planes, but one of only very few I’ve been fortunate enough to actually meet in person. Scott and I are delighted to be able to be there to watch he and his awesome wife-to-be Cortney tie the knot this July.

It might sound too simple to be true, but no matter how “perfect” life may seem… there will always be *something* working against you. In my case, I found my dream job in a city that I’m madly in love with, but sustaining a long-distance relationship hasn’t exactly been “easy.”

What I’ve learned, is that you always have to be looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (Scott and I WILL reunite) and find joy in little every day bursts of sunshine (a wedding invitation from a new friend, a good laugh at work, late night snuggles with feline friends, you get the idea…).

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be — this is me.

I was born a dreamer…

“All dreams start out small,

Sometimes you don’t know they’re there at all.

But I lay awake wishing on the stars,

All the while knowing in my heart.

I was born a dreamer,

A wide-eyed believer in things unseen.

I was born a dreamer,

Oh say you believe in me.”

Those lyrics are from one of my favorite songs of all time, “I Was Born a Dreamer” by Shel. And now more than ever I feel like those words ring so true.

I’ve always been a dreamer. As far back as I can remember, I’ve approached situations and ideas with the wide eyes, eagerness and often times naivety of a child. And to this day, nothing about that has changed.

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been having a recurring dream that I, myself, can fly. Now, as an adult, that notion and those dreams are even more meaningful, because I know that it will simply never happen. Sounds like a total “Debbie Downer” reason to call something “meaningful,” right? It’s not though.

I mean… I’ll never be able to hold my hands straight above my head and launch into the sky the way I do in my dreams—but that’s what makes the dream so special. I love going to bed each night and hoping and praying that I might be so lucky to take a flight in those dark, quiet hours I lay in my bed.

The other night, however, I had a somewhat strange variation of that decades-old dream. Please, hold your applause—I mean… laughter—till the end. I dreamt that I was none other than a queen. No, I wasn’t wearing a crown… I wasn’t sitting on a throne… not THAT kind of queen.

I was a big, beautiful Boeing 747 and I was very obviously flying due East over the Atlantic. I climbed and I continued to climb. I was working so hard to stay airborne—for some reason it felt like everything was working against me, like gravity was even stronger than it already is.

The weird thing is, I’ve felt like that in “real life” lately. I feel like I am something big and beautiful… like it’s my time to shine… my time to fly—but I’m working really hard to make sure I keep it that way without crashing down.

Four months into my new job, I still love it so, so much. That doesn’t mean, however, that it hasn’t been hard. Being in a new city is fun and scary, starting a new job is exciting and stressful, and living alone is liberating and depressing.

I’m starting to think that the poor TSA folks at MSP think I’m completely bananas, as I usually show up with tears streaming down my face. It is really hard to bid farewell to my partner in crime and it never gets easier—never.

Lucky for me, Scott was recently brought on as an intern at an engineering firm in Chicago, which means he will live with me for roughly four months, before heading back to Minneapolis to tackle his final semester of school. I’m so proud of him and so excited to have someone to come home to once again.

I know there will always be both good days and bad days, just like there are always going to be both blue skies and grey, turbulent skies. The cool thing is that my intense love of aviation has not only made flight exciting, as opposed to utterly terrifying, for me… it has helped me to embrace and actually love hitting rough air. I love—and I mean LOVE—the chop.

All in all, I’m just hoping I can use what I’ve learned through flight (that everything will be OK despite the bumps) to help ease the pain of the tough times in everyday life. I’m not a religious person, but I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. Tomorrow, and the next day, and even the day after that are going to happen… and I’m going to make the best of each and every one of those days.

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.