I’m happiest in the sky

Old planes, new planes.

Fast planes, slow planes.

Big planes, small planes.

I’ve seen all of ’em, flown in all of ’em and love all of ’em.

I don’t care who made it, who bought it, who owns it or who flies it—I love airplanes. I love the places they take me and the “real world” they take me away from. Simply put: I’m happiest in the sky.

Of course, I’m partial to Boeing. For one, I work there… but I’m truly fascinated by the company, its people and its products. It’s a remarkable, beautiful story of determination, perseverance, passion and innovation; and I’m humbled to be able to help keep that history alive.

This passion of mine has really taken me places, both figuratively and literally, and I’m truly grateful for that. Because, believe it or not, that very passion was just sitting dormant inside of me for a long, long time. It was gathering dust somewhere in a deep, dark corner of my mind, for more than a decade. But several years ago, a chance encounter with a metal bird that soared right over my head, just seconds after departing on MSP’s runway 17, was my “aha” moment. I was hooked.

I’m now officially three weeks into working in communications for our company’s historical archives. To say that being in this role is an honor would be an understatement. I am still brand new to this team and to the city of St. Louis, but I have never, ever, ever felt such an intense drive and such determination to do my best. And I love that.

Boeing’s story is one that needs to be kept alive… it needs to be told and retold. It needs to be heard and read, appreciated and understood. I myself understand and respect that all people don’t feel so drawn to these flying machines… but they do—and always will—touch all of our lives.

So, if I could ask anything of you, reading this right now, it would be… take a minute and “Google” William Boeing. Do the same for Donald Douglas, James McDonnell and James “Dutch” Kindelberger. Those men were the true pioneers of aviation—they saw promise in aviation, they believed they could build better airplanes and they stood up and grew these INCREDIBLE companies that today are all part of the Boeing family.

This afternoon, I was fortunate to visit the Greater St. Louis Air and Space Museum. Located at the St. Louis Downtown Airport (CPS), it is chock full of photographs, film, models and other artifacts that bring you right back to the golden age of flight. And, outside the hangars that the museum is housed in (which are on the National Register of Historic Places), you’ll find a stunning 1943 Douglas DC-3 (arguably the greatest airplane of all time), a Convair 440 that started its life with FinnAir in 1957, and a 1969 Lockheed JetStar once owned by none other than Howard Hughes.

I’ll leave you with a few photos from this afternoon, and there’ll be many, many more to come. I’m on a big adventure, I mean a big, BIG adventure, and I’m really lucky to share in that adventure with all of you.

Thanks for the love and the support.

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A Very Great Plane: The Douglas DC-3

I just heard one of my favorite sounds in the world – a prop plane flying nearby. That sound tends to bring my mind back to the early days of aviation, and this time was no different.

Over the last few weeks I’ve become mildly obsessed with the Douglas DC-3… would you believe that there are still thousands of those planes flying? December 17, 1935 – that was when the first one took to the skies. Sometimes I actually forget that planes were around that long ago, but they certainly were. The DC-3 was the “cream of the crop” in the aviation industry during those years and is credited today with having revolutionized air travel in a number of ways.

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A Breitling Douglas DC-3, Photo Courtesy: Breitling

Before the DC-3 came around, there were two other planes that had a strong foothold in the market: the Boeing Model 247 and the “Tin Goose” Ford Trimotor.

The Trimotor first flew in June 1926, powered by (you guessed it) three engines – Pratt and Whitney Wasps. Transcontinental Air Transport (which would later become TWA) pioneered coast-to-coast service with the Trimotor. The plane was strong and sturdy, but unfortunately didn’t have what it took to stand up to the two competitors that would enter the market several years later – the 247 and the DC-1.

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A Ford Trimotor, Photo Courtesy: Golden Wings Flying Museum

The Boeing Model 247 is considered to be the first modern airliner and had its inaugural flight in February 1933. It was the first plane that was capable of flying on only one of its two engines – also Pratt and Whitney Wasps. But just months later, the DC-1 was developed at the request of TWA. And even though the DC-1 itself wasn’t perfect, it paved the way to the eventual DC-3, which was as close to perfect as an airplane could be back then.

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A United Air Lines Boeing Model 247, Photo Courtesy: Boeing

The DC-1 evolved into the larger, faster and more luxurious DC-2 and then nixed beds for upright seats to become the DC-3. Powered by two Wright Cyclone engines, the DC-3 was strong, fast, and comfortable. It had capacity to carry two crew members and 21-32 passengers. Back then, flying really was a luxurious experience, namely because it was just that – a luxury. The DC-3 also pioneered inflight movies.

Of course some of today’s airlines still offer that touch of glamour, but with the rise in low-cost carriers and even the legacy carriers offering stripped down “basic economy” fares, it’s not as common. Flying today is, for most, a means to get from point A to point B. Why else do you see people rapt with magazines or computers, and not with the fact that they’re FLYING? I mean… HELLO – you are six miles in the sky, soaring amongst the clouds in a 100,000-pound METAL TUBE. WHY AREN’T YOU STARING OUT THE WINDOW IN SHEER AMAZEMENT?

OK – I think I’ve made my point. I love flying, and I don’t take it for granted. I need to be in a window seat so I can constantly look out at the sky we’re in and the ground below, because I am amazed that we as humans were able to pioneer this concept. We figured out how to DEFY gravity. It’s remarkable! But the message I really want to convey to all of you is that the planes we fly on today were in some way, shape or form derived from the sturdy workhorse Douglas DC-3. It’s a legend. Why else do you think some 2,000 of the planes still fly? I can only hope that someday I’ll have a chance to fly in one of those time capsules myself.

Discovering my Aviation Roots: Part 2

This is the second entry of a two-part blog I did in an effort to learn more about my parents’ history in aviation. Last week, I posted about my dad’s ties to flying, from college (when his interest in aviation first began) through his careers in both the U.S. Air Force and with Eastern Airlines.

This week, we’ll learn more about my mom. She was with Eastern Airlines for about 14 years in the 70s and 80s and that’s where she and my dad met. I’ve always known how much she loved flying (and planes), but I knew there was still a lot I didn’t know about that love. She is a great storyteller with an ability to paint very vivid pictures through her words.

Enjoy!

When and how was your interest in aviation first piqued?

When I was very young, early grade school age, we lived in a rural area. Next door was a farmhouse and barn, and across the fields in the back of our house there was a small airfield. My oldest brother was often there, talking to the owner (Whitey) and the pilots, and taking an occasional lesson. I loved watching the windsock, and the planes would usually take off in the direction of our house. I loved being around my brother Steve and would often walk to the field with him. I think this is where my brother’s love of flying began.

We lived in northern Indiana, and many times planes that took off from (or were going to land at) O’Hare or Midway in Chicago, would fly over our house. I remember on cold nights being cuddled under a red and black Hudson Bay blanket in the bedroom with knotty pine walls that I shared with my brother Bob. When it was very very quiet, I could hear a distant deep hum which would grow steadily louder until I knew that the airliner was right over our house. And then I would listen until I could no longer hear even a trace of the powerful propeller sound. I imagined the people in the plane sleeping or reading; I wondered where they were going. I also wondered about the people that got to work on those planes.

What years were you a flight attendant and what was that job like? Do you have a favorite memory?

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Mom as a flight attendant with Eastern Airlines

I was hired by Eastern Airlines in the fall of 1973. I went through training and after graduation my class was furloughed. We were called back in the fall of 1974 and went through an abbreviated training refresher (one week instead of the typical six weeks). I chose New York as my first base station and was with Eastern until I resigned in late 1987.

I was based in Chicago after a short time in NYC, and in Atlanta after that. Considering who I was when I started, I grew up with Eastern Airlines. I can not single out a favorite memory, there were so, so many. Being a flight attendant is a unique lifestyle, and also a very physical job. I feel like when I was working as one, there was still a small element of “glamour” attached to the job, but nothing like the years before.

What is your favorite thing about flying?

I have always loved skimming clouds… just the beauty of the clouds and the realization of how fast you are going.

What is your least favorite thing about flying?

Windy landings were my least favorite aspect of flying; I mean really windy, not just a gentle buffet now and then. Seated in the rear of the plane you could hear the throttles being adjusted, and in the front of the plane “glide slope” and the other infamous voice alarms were things I was never fond of hearing.

Tell me about the most frightening experience you ever had on an airplane.

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Mom in front of a Concorde

I had a few, but not one stands out as being the most frightening. Shortly after takeoff in an L-1011 from Atlanta to San Juan, I was seated at the third door back on the left. As the gear was coming up there was a very loud “BOOM!” The plane shuddered a bit and lots of overhead bins flew open. There was not a lot of communication from the crew except that we were returning to the airfield. As we were coming in, I could see emergency vehicles on the ground with their lights flashing. We landed safely, but apparently some kind of mechanism in the gear had let go.

Another one was during an overnight flight from Seattle to Atlanta. Service was done, lights were out, and passengers were sleeping. The senior flight attendant and I were sitting together in a couple of seats in first class when a loud rumbling and vibration occurred; the sound was just like the sound of something meant to slow the plane down, like the flaps or speed brake, except we were at cruising altitude. The captain came out and talked to us shortly after. He explained what had happened and his other comment was, “I almost had to change my pants with that one.”

Tell me about the most magical and/or amazing experience you ever had on an airplane.

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Mom in the cockpit

So much about flying was amazing to me, it is hard to pinpoint. However, when we had an empty airplane that needed to go to another airport for positioning (a “ferry” flight), I would always accept the captain’s offer to sit in the cockpit jump seat. Takeoffs and landings up there were so exciting to me, and the view from there, with just basically the sound of the wind slipping by, was indeed magical.

Do you have a favorite model of airplane? If so, what is it and why is it your favorite?

We had six different aircraft during my time with Eastern, from the prop-jet Lockheed L-188 Electra to the Boeing 757… I loved all of them. As much as I love the sound of jet engines, the sound of the four big prop-jet engines on the Electra gave me goosebumps. The nimble little DC-9, the steady workhorse 727, all the way to the long, long 757 with the back end that would sway a bit during flight… I really did love them all.

What do you miss most about your career in aviation?

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Mom with friends and coworkers Lucinda and Beverly

I miss the airplanes of course, and the crew members that I got to know, and the ability to fly almost anywhere for a minimal amount of money. Eastern was like a huge family… everyone was there because they loved airplanes and the industry. It is very sad that the company doesn’t exist anymore after such a long, proud history.

What is the most drastic change you’ve seen over the years between when you first started your aviation career and today?

Like I said earlier, I flew in the days when there was still something special about air travel. We served full meals in coach even on short flights, and served several-course meals on china and crystal in first class on longer ones. Toward the end of my career with Eastern, the “no frills” seats were starting to appear, but they were nothing like many of today’s flights that have more of a bus trip feel. Besides a seat, you got real service with your ticket when I worked for Eastern.

And that’s that. I set out to learn more about my parents’ ties to aviation, from their careers to their favorite (and least favorite) memories, and I’d say I succeeded.

As I mentioned, my mom has a way with words… everything she says and writes allows me to effortlessly envision exactly what she is referring to just like I am right there alongside her in her past.

I knew she would have great things to say about her aviation career and her love of planes, and she most certainly didn’t disappoint. 

Discovering my Aviation Roots: Part 1

I really do think aviation is in my blood. My parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines in the early 80s and my dad spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Air Force. Simply put, planes are near and dear to my family. So I figured, why not learn a little more about my parents’ ties to flying… from how they began their aviation careers to their most exciting (and scariest) memories. 

We’ll start with my dad. As I’m sure is the case for a lot of daughters, my dad is a hero to me. I loved learning more about his past, and I hope you will too.

When and how was your interest in aviation first piqued?

I had zero interest in flight until I was a junior in college at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. One of my friends and I decided to hitchhike from Jackson to Knoxville to see a Kentucky vs. Tennessee football game. We got one ride all the way to Nashville, which was 120 miles, and then stood on the freeway for a couple of hours with no luck. We were right at the exit for the airport, and thought, “What the heck, let’s see how much it costs to fly to Knoxville!” We walked to the terminal and found that a one-way ticket was $18, but with our student discounts it was only $13. That was the first flight for both of us, and I was hooked from that moment on.

What years were you a flight attendant and what was that job like? Do you have a favorite memory?

I was with Eastern from the spring of 1978 until the fall of 1987, when we moved to Minnesota. Of course there were many good memories, especially having come across a long list of well-known personalities, but my biggest thrill was spending a whole day with Ted Williams.

It was during the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) strike during the Reagan era. As a result of the strike, there were very few qualified controllers, and many flights were cancelled for a number of weeks… maybe months. Because of this, a lot of previous nonstop flights now had multiple stops before reaching their final destination. I was on one such flight from Boston to Atlanta. I had worked that morning, and was “deadheading” back to Atlanta. Fortunately, I was given a first class seat on this three or four leg flight. Ted Williams sat next to me. We talked about everything from baseball to fishing to single malt scotch that day. I recall almost every detail of that flight.

What years were you in the Air Force and what exactly did you do? Do you have a favorite memory?

I was a navigator having completed my many prerequisite schools in the spring of 1973. Briefly, it was off to Loring, Maine until the summer of 1976, flying B-52s.

I had a tour to Guam in G model B-52s and another to Thailand in the D model. After that, I flew C-141s out of McGuire Air Force Base outside of Trenton, N.J. from June 1976 until May 1982. Next was the C-130, first at Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, Ga. until Sept. 1987.

Coming up with a favorite memory is really a tough one, but I’m going to go with my first C-141 flight to Europe. I believe it was to Royal Air Force Mildenhall, just outside of London. After years in the B-52, and almost always landing where we took off, it was great to finally get to see the world.

What is your favorite thing about flying?

It has to be the experience of visiting so many countries, and observing the different peoples and their cultures. You cannot learn that from any book.

What is your least favorite thing about flying?

I’m going to say it was the pressure of being in the B-52 during the height of the Cold War. It wasn’t actually flying itself, but rather, the fear of running out to the airplane during an alert drill, not knowing if it was another test, or the start of a nuclear war.

Tell me about the most frightening experience you ever had on an airplane.

That would have to be on a C-141 flight to Greenland sometime around 1978-79. There were multiple mistakes made by the pilots, the loadmaster, and myself. We were going to Thule, Greenland, and after a stop there we were to fly south to Kangerlussuaq Fjord (Danish: Søndre Strømfjord). The weather in Thule was the pits so we tried to land, and after not being able to, we went into a holding pattern.

After a while, it became obvious that we had to press on to Sondrestrom Air Base as an alternative. It was about two hours away, and we had just over 25,000 pounds of fuel. The C-141 burns about 12,000 pounds per hour.

We knew it would be close, so to keep spirits up, we all guessed how much fuel we’d have when we landed. On the ground, fuel is measured by a “dipstick” where the flight engineer walks on the wing, removes the fuel cap, and places the dipstick in.

We landed safely, without flaming out the engines for lack of fuel. I won the guessing game of how much fuel we would have: I said 2,000 pounds (about 12 minutes worth). When the engineer took his reading, he didn’t get anything… it was too low to measure.

Tell me about the most magical and/or amazing experience you ever had on an airplane.

I guess that would be the Ted Williams story I mentioned earlier. I’m certain that experience wasn’t something that many people had – outside of those associated with Ted Williams in baseball.

Do you have a favorite model of airplane? If so, what is it and why is it your favorite?

I’d say the C-141. As much as I loved the C-130 and all the missions I flew in it, the C-141 could take you a lot further on a tank of gas, and at faster speeds. The range and cargo capability of the C-141 made it a strategic airlifter, while the C-130 had more “tactical” airlift capabilities. That said, the C-130 could get you into airports (or grass strips) that the C-141 (or any other aircraft) couldn’t even consider.

What do you miss most about your career in aviation?

The people I worked with in each of the aircraft, as well as the relationships I tried to develop with all of our support personnel: maintenance, refuelers, life support, etc.

What is the most drastic change you’ve seen over the years between when you first started your aviation career and today?

That’s an easy one: the overall technology changes that have taken place. When I first started in the B-52, we primarily relied on celestial and radar to get from point A to point B. And while we had external navigation aids like Tacan, VOR, Loran, etc., we weren’t allowed to use any of those on check rides because they wouldn’t be available in a time of war. The only difference between that era and the ancient mariners on the sea was that we had radar!

Then came along Inertia Navigation Systems (INS) followed by all of the satellite based navaids, so the career of the navigator was quickly brought to the point of extinction. There are still navigators around in a lot of military airplanes, but that probably won’t be true for much longer.

I came along at a perfect time. I was able start out “old school” with not much technology, but I also experienced all of the modern technology that would eventually kill my career field. And my timing allowed for a long career… folks who worked much earlier than myself never saw the marvels of GPS, and those that came along 20-30 years later would never get the benefits of having a complete career in the field of navigation.

So there you have it, folks. My dad was spot on when he told me his answers would likely result in more questions on my part, but I loved learning more about his career, especially his time in the Air Force.

I remember spending a lot of time on the Air Force Base here in Minneapolis when I was a little kid, and I remember back then it wasn’t always my favorite place to be. Thinking back on it now, I wish I hadn’t taken those visits for granted, but hindsight is 20/20, right?

I can’t afford to dwell on the past, though. Here I am, nearly 30 years old, and with my love of planes I’ve come to realize just how lucky I am to have someone in my life who can tell me such incredible, special stories about flying.