There’s a first time for everything…

It was the first commercial airplane to break the 1,000-sales mark. It was the first Boeing jet to use triple-slotted flaps and the first to have an APU. Following in the footsteps of the 707, this t-tail trijet was designed for use at smaller airports with shorter runways.

Announced in December 1960, it rolled out two years later and first took to the skies Feb. 9, 1963. After a 22-year production run, more than 1,800 were built.

It was introduced with Eastern Airlines in 1964 and made its last commercial passenger flight just last year with Iran Aseman Airlines, bringing its 55-year career to a close. Even though it’s no longer flying people on regularly scheduled routes, a dozen or so are still flying — mostly as freighters.

Yes, I’m talking about the Boeing 727. It’s an airplane I logically assumed I would never set foot on, but this weekend that logic was quickly proven to be incorrect.

I had the opportunity to spend Saturday afternoon at Kansas City International Airport, where I rode around the airfield with my friend Adam, who works in airport operations. He and his colleague Nicole — who I had the opportunity to meet with earlier this year — are truly two of the nicest, most knowledgeable people I’ve been fortunate to meet in this industry. It’s always a treat to meet others who share my passion for aviation.

On Saturday, I got an up-close look at the handful of airplanes Delta still has in storage at MCI, and a front row seat to shoot photos of planes taking off and landing. We also drove over to the overhaul base where a lot of larger aircraft are undergoing refurbishment or being parted out — it’s always bittersweet to see these big, beautiful birds being torn apart.

While most of the aircraft that hang out at the base are owned by airlines that utilize the space or maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies like Jet Midwest, one plane is actually owned by the airport. It’s a 727-200 that began its career in 1978 with Braniff, before being converted to a freighter in 1990 and serving with FedEx till 2012, at which point it began its well-earned retirement at MCI. I’d seen this particular plane before, and was of course happy to see it again… but nothing can compare to the sheer joy I experienced when I was offered the chance to climb aboard.

Adam lowered the Airstair and we slowly climbed up the steps, with a Pratt & Whitney JT8D on either side just outside the windows, and the third just overhead in the tail cone. The plane was dark and slightly dusty… but boy was it awesome to view it from the inside out. We made our way up toward the cockpit and I had the chance to sit in the left seat where I carefully inspected all of the instruments. There was of course a third seat behind the first officer’s for the now-obsolete flight engineer — quite different from today’s flight decks!

I’ll admit I was really hoping to post this blog on Monday (you know, on 7/27) but after the four-hour drive home from Kansas City, I just didn’t have it in me to finish writing. And this experience was so unique and so special, I knew I had to do it justice… so approaching it with fresh eyes was the way to go.

Thank you again to Adam for hosting me — it was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to come back!


Farewell, Big Blue

I love KLM.

As an aviation historian, of course the Dutch flag carrier is near and dear to my heart — it’s the world’s oldest airline! KLM is special to me for reasons beyond its incredible 100-plus-year legacy, however…

A few years back, just after I had accepted a job with The Boeing Company, my dad and I took a trip to Europe. We had flown across the pond on a Delta A330, but our return flight was what I was most excited for… as my dad hade done everything he could to ensure I’d finally get to ride on a Boeing 747 — the legendary Queen of the Skies.

As the trip was winding down, my anticipation grew… and before I knew it, I was sitting in a port side window seat on a KLM 747-400 “combi” getting ready to depart Schiphol for Chicago O’Hare (which would become my new “home” airport just a month later).

The flight was magical, to say the least. Everything from first setting foot on the aircraft, to watching the General Electric CF6 engines power up, then ultimately lifting off the ground, sky-bound — it was such a wonderful experience.

Since my flight on the “City of Vancouver” (PH-BFV) in November 2017, I’ve loved seeing and photographing “Big Blue” — my collective nickname for the handful of 747s that KLM still flew over the past few years.

There were rumors circulating that KLM had accelerated the retirement of its 747 fleet. And lo and behold, those rumors rang true. The last revenue flight landed today at Schipol at 3:32 p.m. local time.

I’ll miss seeing you, “Big Blue” — and I’ll always cherish my many fond memories, both on the ground looking up, and in the sky looking out.

Note: I took all of the above photos, with the exception of the last one, which was taken by Ben Suskind. That was my flight coming into ORD from AMS on Nov. 7, 2017.

Goodbye sky (at least for awhile)

From the window of our ninth floor apartment, I can’t help but stare at the eerily empty streets below. I can see into a number of nearby apartments where others are doing the same thing.

Everywhere you look, you see it. And in everything you touch, you feel it.

This novel coronavirus has brought us together in a very strange way — by forcing us into isolation. No one is immune to this beast, so we must defeat it together… by remaining apart.

People are frightened and panicking.

People are sick and dying.

And even though it’s unclear when or how this all will end, the solution — at least for now — is clear as day: listen to the experts and STAY HOME.

These are especially trying times for those of us working in the aviation industry, but we have to remember that regardless of how tough we think we have it, nothing can compare to the struggles of those who have been infected, those whose loved ones have been infected, or the medical professionals working around the clock to treat patients and curtail the spread of this awful disease.

Personally, things haven’t been too bad for me. I’m healthy. My family and friends are healthy. I spent a week with my dad in Florida earlier this month, and this past weekend my mom visited us here in St. Louis. Having seen both of them recently brings me a great deal of comfort.

Both my husband and I have been working remotely for the past week, and let me tell you… our two fuzzy friends couldn’t be happier to have us around all day.

I will say that I really, really miss flying. I’m especially sad knowing I have to cancel my trip to Chicago this weekend. I’m also sad that my best friend likely won’t be able to come visit next month. Come to think of it, all of my upcoming travel plans will likely be impacted by this… but I can’t dwell on that. I am very fortunate to be safe and healthy, and I wish the same good fortune to all of you.

To blue skies, tailwinds and clean hands…

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!