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.

An afternoon with the legendary Bob Parks

As a World War II veteran, an incredibly talented artist, an esteemed aviator and a genuinely good person, Bob Parks is a legend.

Born in 1926, Parks enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces at age 17 after graduating high school. He served as a crewmember in a number of different aircraft, from trainers to transports and bombers. After being discharged from the military in 1945, he attended Duke University and also received his pilot’s license. He then joined The Boeing Company where he worked in a number of positions over the course of nearly 50 years, including as a production illustrator on the XB-52.

Throughout his remarkable military and aviation career, Parks was constantly sketching or painting. His artwork garnered much attention throughout his life and today is on display in a number of different corporate offices and museums across the country, including the prestigious Smithsonian.

Additionally, Parks was commissioned to do illustrations for Ernest Gann in Flying Magazine and perhaps most notably for the author’s famous book, Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I had the pleasure of meeting Parks and his lovely wife Judy in their Seattle-area home last week, where a handful of current and former Boeing employees had the chance to look through dozens of Parks’ drawings and paintings, including landscapes, portraits and — of course — airplanes.

I also got to sit down with him and hear stories about the inspiration behind many of his paintings. The amount of thought and detail that went into each one of them is unreal… from the color of the sweeping sands in the Sahara Desert to the chamois cloth used to filter out whatever junk was in the aviation fuel — every detail needed to be just right.

I purchased two stunning prints: one of the famous Boeing 367-80 or “Dash 80” and one of a Northwest Airlines Boeing 377 Stratocruiser — the latter appears in Ernest Gann’s Flying Circus.

I can’t say enough good things about Bob Parks. I am eternally grateful to have met him and to now be able to call him a friend. Parks is, of course, part of the “Greatest Generation,” and after spending an afternoon with him… I certainly know why.

TW-YAY: A nostalgic night at JFK

As an aviation historian and a die-hard Av Geek, a visit to the newish TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport was imminent. The mid-century modern hotel had its long-awaited “soft opening” on May 15, 2019 (my husband Scott’s 30th birthday — talk about a missed opportunity!), and I’ve been itching to get out there ever since.

Originally, Scott and I planned to make a two-week trip to Korea with our good friend Jiho this fall, but COVID-19 put the kibosh on that right quick, so Scott and I decided to head to the Big Apple for a week instead. My dad has a timeshare in Midtown Manhattan that we were fortunate to secure for a few nights, but this time — in addition to our time in the concrete jungle — we decided to tack on an extra night on the front end to check out the 1960s-era hotel.

Designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen, the TWA Flight Center opened in 1962 and served as a bustling terminal until the airline ceased operations in 2001 following its acquisition by American Airlines. The iconic winged structure or “head house” remained intact and was declared a New York City Landmark in 2004 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places the following year.

As part of a Terminal 5 expansion, a new JetBlue terminal opened just east of the head house in October 2008. The hotel project was announced in 2015 and a groundbreaking ceremony took place the following year. The two hotel buildings, aptly named the Saarinen and Hughes wings, flank the head house and sit just between it and the JetBlue terminal. The Saarinen Wing is of course named for the famous architect, and the Hughes Wing for Hollywood icon and aviation legend Howard Hughes.

In the late 1930s, at the advice of TWA President Jack Frye, Hughes began purchasing stock in the airline and would eventually own more than three-quarters of the company. In fact, he’s often credited with turning TWA into a “world-class” airline. Hughes and Frye went to Lockheed in 1939 to request a new 40-passenger airplane with a range of 3,500 miles, eventually leading to the L-049 Constellation. Hughes actually used his own money to purchase 40 of the new planes for TWA.

TWA and the “Connie” truly go hand-in-hand. In addition to its 40 L-049s, the airline went on to operate 12 L-749 and 28 of the L-749A variants, 40 L-1049 Super Constellations in multiple variants, and 30 of the L-1649A Starliners — the last in the Constellation series. For that reason, it’s only fitting that the TWA Hotel’s main attraction is N8083H — a 1958 L-1649A. The beautifully restored airplane now serves as a cocktail bar just behind Saarinen’s iconic head house. You can read her story here.

Other notable, nostalgic features include the spacious sunken lounge with an authentic split flap departures board by Solari di Udine, a rooftop infinity pool, museum exhibits, an outdoor roller skating rink and more than 500 guest rooms, many of which have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the airfield.

So, there you have it! For aviation enthusiasts and history buffs alike, I can’t speak highly enough of the incredible, immersive experience offered by the TWA Hotel. It isn’t cheap (runway view rooms can run you roughly $300 per night) but remember it’s more than just a hotel… it’s a time machine.


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!