WAI 2022: Enriching, encouraging and enlightening

A Lufthansa ERJ-190 pilot who previously flew the 737 and the legendary Queen of the Skies, the 747.

A former flight attendant who is now pursuing her pilot’s license and intends to fly helicopters with law enforcement.

An author who fought to ensure her grandmother — and other members of the WASP — received equal recognition at Arlington National Cemetery.

A U.S. Navy pilot who flies the SH-60 Seahawk — the naval version of the Army UH-60 Black Hawk.

A former U.S. Air Force Thunderbird pilot and the first woman to fly the T-7 Red Hawk.

Me and Caroline “Blaze” Jensen. She used to fly with the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds demonstration team, and last year became the first woman to fly the Boeing T-7 Red Hawk trainer. I attended a virtual session with her a few months back as part of a leadership program I’m in at Boeing, and jumped at the chance to meet her.

These are just a few of the incredibly smart, kind and inspiring women I met at this year’s International Women in Aviation Conference — and that doesn’t even touch on the dozens of industry colleagues I mixed and mingled with at the Exhibit Hall, which featured more than 100 exhibitors including airlines, manufacturers, military branches, schools and more.

Over the course of three days, I attended a number of leadership and educational seminars. All of them were so enlightening, but very different in terms of content and tone. One of them was on flight test, and another was on resiliency. One featured a former astronaut and two U.S. Space Force guardians, and another talked about the early (and I mean early!) history of women in aviation, including balloonists in the 1800s.

During the conference’s opening general session, there were some very, very powerful speakers, including Niloofar Rahmani, the first female fixed-wing pilot for the Afghan Air Force. With the support of her parents, Rahmani went against all odds to follow her dream of flying in war-torn Afghanistan. But after receiving death threats from the Taliban — not just against her, but against her family — Rahmani moved to the United States where she was granted political asylum. She has since learned to fly the C-130. Also during that session, we all stood for the Ukrainian National Anthem. I’m sure I’m not the only one who was misty-eyed.

I feel very fortunate to work in this industry. While it’s unthinkably large, it feels so very small. As a lifelong introvert, aviation has helped me to break out of my shell over the course of the last several years. It’s equally as comforting as it is exhilarating to be in a room full of people who you know share your passion. And it makes it that much easier to strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, because you know within a few seconds they won’t feel so “strange.”

I’m grateful to have been able to attend this year’s conference in Nashville, Tennessee, and look forward to sustaining these new friendships and putting into practice the many lessons I learned.

Goodbye, Mriya

The Antonov An-225 departing MSP International Airport on July 2, 2014. (Chris Lundberg photo)

Every story has an aviation angle.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is no different.

At the break of dawn on Feb. 23, Russian troops moved into Ukraine and launched a series of missile attacks near Kyiv and Kharkiv — the country’s largest and second-largest cities, respectively. By lunch time, roughly 40 soldiers and 10 civilians had been killed. To date, at least 16 children have died.

In a situation unfathomable to many of us, Ukrainian citizens are taking up arms, mixing Molotov cocktails, and building defensive walls — they’re fighting for their lives, risking everything for the precious country they call home.

Families are being separated as men of fighting age are forced to stay, while wives and children flee to Poland and other neighboring countries.

Western countries are imposing sanctions left and right in an effort to cripple Russia’s economy — banning transactions with Russia’s central bank, closing their airspace to Russian planes, and suspending Russian athletes and sports teams from major competitions, to name a few.

On Feb. 24, rumors started circulating that the massive record-setting An-225 Mriya — a one-of-a-kind strategic airlift cargo plane built by Ukrainian aircraft manufacturing company Antonov — had been destroyed in a Russian attack on Antonov Airport in Hostomel, a northwestern suburb of Kyiv. 

The rumors were quickly put to rest when that same day An-225 chief pilot Dmitro Antonov posted on Facebook that the aircraft was intact. However, three days later, the Ukrainian Government confirmed on Twitter that the airplane had in fact been destroyed.

“Mriya” means “Dream” in Ukrainian.

The increasing violence in Ukraine — Eastern Europe’s second-largest country — is terrifying, disheartening and upsetting. For Av Geeks in particular, however, the destruction of the An-225 really struck a chord.

Unsurprisingly, Ukraine has committed to rebuilding the iconic airplane, adding, “We will fulfill our dream of a strong, free and democratic Ukraine.” I have no doubt that after this nightmare is over, the country and its driven, devoted and inspiring people will emerge stronger than ever.

As many of you know, my roots are in Minneapolis, and in the summer of 2014, the An-225 made a visit to MSP International Airport where it attracted thousands of spectators. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them — it would be a couple years before I got into aviation. On the eve of its departure out of MSP, I was just relaxing in our 18th floor apartment downtown. I heard a massive roar, unlike anything I had heard before. My husband Scott and I raced to the window and saw this gigantic blue and yellow airplane fly low and slow right over head.

I am grateful to have since met so many outstanding aviation photographers, including the wildly talented Chris Lundberg (@airandskyspotter) who graciously granted me permission to use his stunning photo for this post.

To everyone in Ukraine: We stand with you.

Peace.

Thanks and Giving

It’s hard to believe that another Thanksgiving has come and gone. Black Friday and Cyber Monday are (thankfully!) past us too. Now, for the good stuff.

Today is Giving Tuesday, a “global generosity movement unleashing the power of people and organizations to transform their communities and the world.” The movement began in 2012 and almost a decade later is still going strong.

Personally, I have a lot to be grateful for. I’m happy and healthy, working my dream job in a city I love, and surrounded by the greatest family and friends (and fuzzy friends!) on Earth. With that, I feel it’s my duty to give back, and I’m very grateful to be able to do so.

I just wrapped up my second annual fundraiser, and am so proud to announce that thanks to the kindness of those who helped spread the word and those who purchased 2022 The Great Planes calendars, we raised $750 for Los Angeles-based Pet Rescue Pilots! I am beyond thrilled to have been able to make this donation on behalf of myself, my family, my friends and my fellow Av Geeks, on this Giving Tuesday.

Friends… I can’t stress enough the importance of giving back. If you’re in the position to do so, I highly encourage you to give your time or money to an organization near and dear to YOUR heart. And if you don’t have one in mind, consider showing some love to my friends at Pet Rescue Pilots.

Again, thank you so much. May your hearts be full and your holidays warm!

Help animals in need, order a 2022 TGP calendar!

I love aviation. Whether it’s flying, taking photos of airplanes, or watching aviation-themed movies – it’s something that brings me great joy. 

I’m also a huge animal lover. I’ll always go out of my way to help an animal in need, and in fact it was my love of animals that led me to become a vegetarian five years ago. I grew up with cats and dogs – all rescues – and today I couldn’t imagine life without my two best friends: Beans (top) and Buddy.

One of my all-time favorite animal-related experiences was back in my hometown of Minneapolis in 2014, helping to kick off the Animal Humane Society (AHS) “Community Cats” program. Community Cats works to improve the lives of free-roaming and feral cats and reduce the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy cats that are not suitable for adoption.

The program was already in the works when I stumbled upon a litter of kittens outside the parking garage of my Loring Park apartment. Working with AHS, I was able to safely live-trap all of the kittens, who were subsequently spayed/neutered and adopted, as well as the mother, who was spayed and then released back into the wild – the first of roughly 250 cats to be released in the program’s first five months.

You can read more about my experience with Community Cats on page 16 of the Spring/Summer 2015 Animal Tracks magazine.

Last year, I sold calendars featuring my aviation photography, with 100% of the profits going to Wings of Hope – we were able to donate $1,000! Since it was such a success, I figured we needed to do something again this year, which is why I’m selling 2022 calendars with 100% of the profits going to Los Angeles-based Pet Rescue Pilots, a fantastic organization that flies pets out of shelters and brings them safely to rescue groups, fosters and forever homes.

Calendars are $25 each and available to order through Monday, Nov. 15. Please, if you’re able, support this great organization and help get these animals to their forever homes!

Buy a 2022 The Great Planes calendar now