Up for the challenge…

As some of you may know, I had the pleasure of spending most of Saturday out at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

I arrived a few minutes past 11 a.m. on Southwest Airlines flight 1095. And since my return flight was at 7:40 p.m., I knew I had to take advantage of every last second on the ground. And boy… did I.

I was up on the roof of the parking garage by 11:30, and had a solid two to three hours for photography before storms rolled in. I welcomed the opportunity to escape the heat and sat inside for an hour or so where I loaded, edited and tagged my photos.

By the time I got back outside, I only had a couple hours left. And that’s when I saw it… an inbound Challenge Airlines 747-400F.

Belgium-based Challenge Airlines (previously ACE Belgium Freighters) operates only two aircraft, both 747-400Fs. The carrier — which began service in April 2019 — was forced to change its name due to a dispute with another ACE: Alaska Central Express.

And yes, for those familiar with Israel’s CAL Cargo Airlines, the two airlines are related. CAL also operates a fleet of just two 747-400F aircraft, both of which bear an all-white livery with “Challenge Accepted” written on the side. I knew there had to be a connection, and lo-and-behold, they’re sister airlines.

Originally, the aircraft (OO-ACF) was slated to land at ATL at 6:30 p.m. However, being at the world’s busiest airport, an hour and 10 minutes before my flight seemed to be pushing it just a smidge… at least for a stress-prone person like myself. But, I was (of course) willing to risk it.

As the hours past, however, the aircraft’s ETA kept getting later, and later, and later. Realistically, this bird was going to touch down a few minutes after 7 p.m. Remember… my flight is at SEVEN FORTY.

Was it risky? Yes.

Did I stay? Yes.

I saw its beautifully kelly green nose when it was still several miles out. My heart was racing… both from nervousness and excitement. I snapped as many pictures as I could in just a minute or two, before packing my camera and beginning what may have been the craziest “race“ of my life.

I sprinted — and I mean SPRINTED (I ran the 100, 200 and 400 on my high school’s varsity track and field team, so THERE!) — across the parking ramp. I scurried down a wet flight of concrete stairs (of course, I nearly fell) and stormed through the crosswalk and into the terminal. I ran up to TSA PreCheck where I was the ONLY human being in sight, zipped right through security and ran down the escalator to the Plane Train where I hopped on for a swift ride over to the C concourse where my gate was luckily the nearest one to the train stop.

I arrived at my gate at 7:20 p.m. and got right into the airplane.

I was huffing and puffing, and drenched in sweat… but underneath my purple mask was one of the biggest smiles one could imagine.

I did it.

So thank you, Challenge Airlines, for challenging ME to pull something off that many people would have thought impossible.



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…