Planes, Trains & Automobiles: Our African Adventure

Sunday night, I snuggled into my own bed for the first time in 10 days. It was 9:30 p.m. CT when my head hit the pillow, which oddly enough marked exactly 24 hours since I had woken up across the pond. That early wakeup (3:30 a.m. West Africa Time) was followed by 18 hours of traveling from Casablanca, Morocco to both JFK and LaGuardia airports in New York, and ultimately back home to St. Louis.

This trip came to be when my husband Scott and I decided to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary in Morocco. The itinerary we planned for ourselves — which I’m quite proud of, I might add — took us up the beautiful Atlantic coast to the country’s northwestern most region, across the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain, back into Morocco and on to a picturesque village in which nearly all the buildings are painted blue, farther south to the country’s “cultural” capital before venturing even farther south into the world’s largest hot desert, a mere 30 miles from the Algerian border.

Our 9-day adventure exceeded my expectations… the people were so kind and selfless, the scenery was simply breathtaking and every city had such rich culture and history. Of course, our JFK-CMN flight on Royal Air Maroc’s 787-9 and the return on the 787-8 were reason enough to take this trip (my first Dreamliner!), but throw in a full week of exploring North Africa and all its beauty… what could be better?

I hope you enjoy these photos… I sure enjoyed taking them.

Day 1: Friday, overnight from JFK to CMN on AT201 / Saturday, exploring Casablanca

Day 2: Sunday, bullet train from Casablanca to Tangier

Day 3: Monday, ferry from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain

Day 4: Tuesday, car ride from Tangier to Chefchaouen (the “Blue City”)

Day 5: Wednesday, car ride from Chefchaouen to Fes

Day 6 (1): Thursday, car ride (8.5 hours!) to Sahara

Day 6 (2): Thursday, sunset camel ride through Sahara’s sand dunes

Day 7 (1): Friday, sunrise hike and morning camel ride

Day 7 (2): Friday, car ride from Sahara back to Fes (w/ stops in Rissani and Midelt)

Day 8: Saturday, train from Fes to Casablanca

Day 9: Sunday, racing the sun from CMN to JFK on AT200

Oh yeah, the cats…

Until next time, Morocco…

TWA lives on in Kansas City

I landed my first full-time job — assignment editor at KCTV in Kansas City — in August 2011. Yes, it took me more than two years after graduating from college to find a 40-hour-a-week gig in my field, but I did it, and I was more than willing to make the nearly 450-mile move to begin that new chapter in my life.

During the 15 months that Scott and I lived there, I hadn’t yet realized my passion for aviation. In fact, I was straight up terrified of flying — every second I spent on an airplane was an anxiety-inducing nightmare filled with sweat and tears (luckily no blood).

Not long after moving back to Minneapolis, I was out jogging near MSP Airport when an airplane lifted off of runway 17 right above me. I looked up and watched it grow smaller and smaller, until it was no more than a speck in the gray autumn sky. That moment changed my life — I decided to face my fear of flying head-on.

I started seeing a counselor for my anxiety, spent as much time as I could out at my new “happy place” (the airport) and began educating myself on the physics of flight, which helped me to look forward to — not dread — flying.

Throughout this personal transformation, I realized how big a part of my life aviation had always been. My dad served more than 30 years with the U.S. Air Force, and my parents met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines. To this day, both my mom and dad are “AV geeks” in the truest sense, and if it weren’t for Eastern bringing them together, I wouldn’t be here today.

It was through my parents’ own stories about their time as flight attendants that I realized how much of a family affair the airline industry really is. There is an undeniable, inextricable bond between an airline and its current and former employees. From pilots to flight attendants… mechanics to ground crews… it seems that most people who work for an airline have a unique love for their employer — one that endures the ups and downs, the mergers and acquisitions, the dreaded bankruptcies and everything in between. That’s certainly the case with my parents and Eastern, and it seems to ring true with the former employees of TWA too — especially those who now volunteer at the airline’s museum at the Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport in Kansas City.

Like Eastern, TWA was one of the earliest commercial airlines to be founded in the United States. It started as Transcontinental & Western Air in 1930 and became Trans World Airlines in 1950. The airline endured until 2001 when it was acquired by American Airlines.

Just about 88 years ago, TWA relocated its headquarters from New York to 10 Richards Road in Kansas City. Fittingly, that’s where the TWA museum opened in June 2012, marking the fifth and likely final location for the volunteer-run exhibit that houses artifacts spanning seven decades of aviation history.

TWA holds a special place in my heart, as one of my favorite airplanes — the Douglas DC-3 — came to be because TWA needed a new airplane. The airline had grounded its Fokker F-10s after one was involved in a tragic crash that killed all eight on board, including esteemed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne. Unfortunately, the first 60 Boeing 247s were all going to United Airlines, but that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. TWA’s president, Jack Frye, made a call for a new aircraft and ultimately selected Douglas, who built the DC-1, which evolved into the DC-2 and then the incredible workhorse DC-3. The DC-3 was the first airplane to make money simply by flying passengers, and is regarded by many as the greatest airplane of all time.

Later, TWA requested a bigger, more efficient airplane which led to the development of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation or “Connie” — the triple-tail, four-engine prop plane quickly becoming a TWA icon. Into the Jet Age, TWA flew the Boeing 707 and later the famous “Queen of the Skies” Boeing 747.

In 1988, with its Boeing 747s and 767s, and the three-engine Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, TWA “peaked” in a sense — carrying more than half of all transatlantic passengers. Fun fact: Today marks 100 years since the world’s very first transatlantic flight. On this day in 1919, the U.S. Navy’s Curtiss NC-4 flying boat landed in Lisbon, Portugal after a nearly three-week stop-and-go flight from the U.S.

The 1996 crash of TWA flight 800 really left a permanent scar on the airline. On the evening of July 17, flight 800 departed New York’s JFK Airport headed to Paris and ultimately to Rome, but a center-fuel-tank explosion caused it to crash into the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people on board. The airline flew its final flights — both revenue and ceremonial — on Dec. 1, 2001. The MD-80 used in the ceremonial final flight now rests at the TWA Museum.

“The mission of the TWA Museum is to provide information to the public emphasizing the story, history and importance of the major role TWA played in pioneering commercial aviation.

From the birth of airmail to the inception of passenger air travel, to the post-WWII era of global route expansion, TWA led the way for 75 years.”

This intro to the “About Us” section of the museum’s website very accurately captures the overall vibe of the exhibit itself. These days, it’s not often you can learn history firsthand from people who lived it, but that’s what sets the TWA Museum apart. Honestly, I’m still not sure what I enjoyed more — actually seeing the models, photos, equipment and other historical artifacts, or witnessing the pure, unfiltered joy among the former employees who are tasked with keeping the TWA story alive.

To all my AV geek friends, I highly — and I mean highly — recommend you visit the museum next time you’re in the Kansas City area. In and of itself it’s an incredible experience, but factor in the location (IT’S AT AN ACTIVE AIRPORT!) and the fact that just across the airfield is another great tourist attraction: the National Airline History Museum, which boasts more artifacts and a huge hangar full of iconic birds. Make a day of it — trust me, you won’t regret it!

To blue skies and tailwinds…

“Whoosh!” Time flies… and so do fighter jets.

Yesterday afternoon as I was leaving the office, something incredible happened. I exited the building alongside several other employees—all of us making our way down the sidewalk toward the parking lot. That walk typically feels endless, but on a sunny, 60-degree day like yesterday, everyone seems to enjoy each step a little more. Just seconds after the automatic sliding doors closed behind me, a loud “whoosh!” caused all of us to quickly turn our heads to the right.

An F/A-18 had lifted off runway 12L at St. Louis Lambert International Airport so quickly that I barely caught a glimpse before it became the size of a fly above the eastern horizon. And as it disappeared, another “whoosh!” really got our attention. We all watched a second jet disappear into the clouds… and then “WHOOSH!” — a third and final one sped into the blue spring sky.

Most of you know that my fascination with flight tends toward commercial airplanes, however, I think I’ve got a decent bit of military aviation in my bones. After all, my familial ties to the industry involve both my dad’s decades-long career as a navigator in the U.S. Air Force, and my parents having met as flight attendants on Eastern Airlines.

In St. Louis, Boeing is much more defense-focused, as has been the case since McDonnell first began operations here in 1939. James McDonnell’s company was best known for its fighter jets and—of course—its spacecraft. The first American in space, Alan Shephard, left Earth’s soil and blasted into the black, vast unknown aboard the McDonnell-built single-seat Mercury space capsule.

It’s been three months since I left the Windy City for a new opportunity here in the “Show Me” state, but still, I so vividly remember the way I felt each time I approached Boeing’s world headquarters in Chicago. Starting down at street level, my eyes would slowly make their way up to the apex of our 36-story building. I’d inhale, and slowly exhale… in utter disbelief—but with the utmost gratitude—that I was working for the greatest aerospace company on the planet.

I was.

And I still am.

Boeing and its heritage companies (North American, Douglas and, of course, McDonnell) have such remarkable pasts… to think that I’ve been tasked with helping to preserve that history is beyond me.

Flight has the ability to captivate each and every one of us, young and old. Whether it takes you a few feet off the ground, or all the way to the Moon, to fly is something purely magical—there’s no denying it.

And that’s how it should be.

There is always something new—something bigger and better out there. So it’s up to us to go explore, discover and unleash the future. And I’m so thankful to be part of a company that works to do just that every day.

I Got Friends in High Places: A Tow-tally Awesome Day at MSP

I feel so fortunate that my love of big metal birds has brought such a unique sense of purpose, fulfillment and happiness to my life. It’s also introduced me to a new group of lifelong friends who share my passion for aviation—one of my very favorites is Joe, an air traffic controller at MSP tower.

Our paths first crossed via Instagram and before I knew it, I was up in the tower with Joe, witnessing firsthand the controlled chaos that is air traffic control. Fast forward a few months and my husband Scott and I got together with Joe and his wife Tina (also an incredibly awesome person) at Holman’s Table at the Downtown St. Paul Airport, which was brand new at the time. We were even fortunate to visit with them in Chicago a couple months after I had moved down there for my job with Boeing.

Every chance I get, I like to connect in person with fellow aviation enthusiasts. I’ve been lucky enough to meet a handful of my Instagram followers—several up in Minneapolis and even a couple in Chicago and one in Baltimore (gotta give a quick shout out to Robert and Tam Tam… HEY!). So, naturally when I scheduled a weekend trip up to Minnesota, I reached out to Joe and he graciously invited my husband Scott and I up to the tower—Scott had never been.

Joe talked through some of the ins and outs of what exactly the controllers do on a day-to-day basis, and I—of course—enjoyed some quality time on the catwalk snapping photos of the airfield. I even caught the snow plow conga line!

Earlier that day, Joe had enlightened us to the fact that he had a “surprise” planned that afternoon. Any plane-related surprise is a great surprise… but I had NO idea what a tow-tally awesome experience we were in for.

“Alright, you ready? Let’s go,” Joe said. Scott and I followed him down the stairs, exited the tower and walked over to a pickup truck where we met an incredibly kind Delta employee named Kyle. The four of us hopped in the truck and drove around the airfield. We crossed runways and cruised through tunnels before pulling up to a beautiful, beastly Delta Boeing 767. We were about to tow that sucker using the Super Tug.

Scott and I hopped inside the cockpit, and he took the jump seat while I played first officer. And yes, a legit Delta employee manned the ship from the captain’s seat. Joe got into the Super Tug and before I knew it, its powerful arms had grabbed hold of our nose gear and raised it a whopping foot-and-a-half off the ground! Then, that powerful little whipper snapper pulled us to a new gate like it was nothin’.

After that, we got to do the same thing, but this time in a BRAND new A321. We switched things up a bit, Scott rode along in the Super Tug, and Joe and I went along for the gate-to-hangar ride in the cockpit. Of course I’m partial to Boeing planes, but let me tell you… the new-plane smell of this A321 and it’s shiny, barely-touched cockpit were incredible.

I live for these types of experiences… it’s really something to spend even a few minutes in someone else’s shoes, much less an entire afternoon. There are so many people, companies and organizations that keep or skies safe and our airports running—I’m grateful for every chance I get to learn a little more about each.

Finding my place in the sun

The view from my downtown St. Louis apartment — my eighth home in eight years.

Eight years ago today, I was living with my mom in the town I grew up in just south of the Twin Cities. I was a year-and-a-half out of college, working two part-time jobs—day shifts at FOX Sports North and weekend overnights at KARE 11 News—and I had been dating a guy named Scott for about six months. Kind of funny that I ended up marrying a DIFFERENT Scott, huh?

Calm down… I’m kidding—it was the same Scott.

Anyways, I wouldn’t land my first full-time job for another six months, but I never could have dreamt up the journey I was about to embark on… never.

In these eight years, I’ve moved seven times, changed jobs six times, lived in five different cities, worked in four different states, gained three siblings, raised two cats and followed one big dream—one really big dream that I didn’t even realize I had until a few years back.

Even though it sounds like I had a lot going on, not much about my story is unique, at least not for a millennial.

I graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism, which offered a lot of flexibility in terms of what direction I could take my career. Naturally, I started in news… my first full-time gig was at KCTV in Kansas City, and before long I accepted a similar position back home in Minnesota with WCCO.

Alas, a few years of working as an assignment editor was enough for me to realize that news wasn’t my jam. I had a lot of fun and met some amazing lifelong friends, but my heart just wasn’t in it.

I switched to communications—still unsure what my “dream job” really was. I first worked for a nonprofit, before jumping ship to a corporate gig where there was more money to be had (almost 50 percent more, to be exact). I wasn’t really happy there, though. Yeah, yeah… insert your “money can’t buy happiness” comment here. I know, I know, you told me so. I get it.

I then did one more switcheroo from the private sector to government. I had heard from several people that working for the state was a lot more “chill,” and at the time, a low key gig was just what I needed. You see, it was during my first post-news job at the nonprofit when I had my “aha” moment: I loved airplanes… I always had.

So, throughout those few years of uncertainty, stress and not making “enough” money in various communications positions, I was also trying to figure out what the heck I could do with my love of aviation. I tossed around a few ideas in my head, and picked the brains of my family and friends.

Simultaneously, I was on two huge journeys: one with my head (trying to find my place in the working world) and one with my heart (trying to make something of my passion). I knew though, that if I really, really wanted to, I could rekindle the romance between my head and my heart, and weave these two stories into one epic saga.

I started small… I went out to MSP Airport a couple times a week to watch planes coming and going—I took pictures and quizzed myself on the manufacturers and models of the various aircraft. On January 1, 2017, I started this blog and launched my @thegreatplanes Instagram account.

Shortly thereafter, I began working with a mentor who critiqued my writing, cheered me on and helped me to get my name out there. I then did some freelance writing for Airways Magazine, which—between the many interviews I conducted and trips I took—was completely life-changing in the best possible way.

I was a few months into my job with the State of Minnesota when I got “the” call. It was Boeing, wanting to interview me for a position on the Executive Communications team in Chicago. No ifs, ands or buts… I knew I was taking it.

The job itself was a great experience, but it was pretty demanding and, on top of that, I was living alone while Scott finished school back in Minnesota. Despite the challenges, I did my very best… I made friends, I learned as much as I could and I kept a smile on my face even when times were tough. I had no idea that just one year after moving to Chicago—and before my husband even moved down there—I’d be packing my bags once again, this time for St. Louis.

And so, today, I find myself a Missouri resident once again. I’m working on Boeing’s historical archives team, where I’ll get to tell the story of all the amazing people, products and events that helped Boeing to become the industry-leading aerospace company it is today. That’s pretty remarkable, to me at least.

If my story isn’t enough to prove to you that YOU CAN DO ANYTHING, then I don’t know what is. At 31 years old, I’ve had a lot of jobs, I’ve lived in a lot of different cities and I’ve put myself first more than once, but all of it was because I was following my heart… and I’m glad I did. Plus, millennials are supposed to be selfish job hoppers, right?

Fly on, my friends… fly on.

Peace Out, 2018!

My 2018 Top Nine

Wowzers, 2018 has been one heck of a year. As most of you know, I spent the majority of it in Chicago in my new job with Boeing. My brief stint in the Windy City was great, but living apart from my husband was—and still is—quite tough. I made the best of it though… by exploring new neighborhoods, making new friends and spending a heck of a lot of time out at O’Hare—my happiest place.

Looking back on the past year, I’m so glad I did all those things, and I’m really proud of myself for making it a priority to embrace being a Chicagoan… as I had no idea my time there would be so short.

A couple months ago, I was offered a position working on the Boeing Archives team—an opportunity that I truly believe would have been foolish to turn down. And even though it meant packing up and moving to St. Louis (even before my husband made it down to Chicago!), it felt right, and I’m all for doing what feels “right.”

So, this New Year’s Eve, I’m once again a Missourian—for those who don’t know, my first full-time job was at KCTV in Kansas City, so this isn’t the first time I’ve called the “Show-Me” state home. Having only lived in St. Louis for a few days, there are things I like an awful lot: rent is dirt cheap, it’s a bit warmer, I have my car back, there’s a lot of neat little neighborhoods and I’m quite fond of the arch AND the fact that I can see it from our ninth-floor windows. There are also things I don’t like at all: it’s SO spread out, it’s the most dangerous city in the U.S., it doesn’t have even close to the same vibe as Chicago…much less the awesome donuts and pizza that I loved to veg out on, yada yada yada.

But, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned from my other half is to always make the best of things… and that’s exactly what we’ll do here together. I’m working for the greatest aerospace company on the planet, and now I get to truly embrace my inner AV geek and tap into my writing skills to help tell the story of this company that’s been going strong for more than a century—it’s a complete honor and privilege, and I can’t wait to embark on this journey with my family, friends and all of you fellow AV geeks.

Thanks for the support and here’s to another solid year of peace, love and airplanes!

Thinking of You

“Fly the wings of an eagle,
Glide along with the wind…
No matter how high,
I’ll be thinking of you the whole time.”

I first heard the song “Thinking of You” by Hanson as a 9-year-old girl who was crazy about boys and even crazier about music. Fast-forward 22 years, and oddly enough this song speaks to me more now than it ever did before.

One year ago today marked the first time I was truly on my own, living in Chicago. It was an unseasonably warm fall day, and I had no idea at the time how different life would be starting fresh in a new town, in a new job, with no family and only one friend—a high school pal who fortunately had lived in The Windy City for several years.

It was the day after Thanksgiving 2017 and my husband Scott, his brother Keith and I drove down here from Minneapolis. The two brothers hung around Saturday to help me get settled, but come Sunday morning… they headed back north. We said our goodbyes and I went for a long walk alone along Lake Michigan—I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I was equally excited and scared, knowing my new gig with Boeing would be an incredible experience, but being apart from Scott would be difficult to say the least.

It was my love of aviation that got me here—I’ve always loved traveling and the connectedness that comes with doing so, but more recently I’ve become fascinated with the physics of flight and all the magic that comes with defying gravity. When the opportunity presented itself, I couldn’t turn down the chance to work for the greatest aerospace company on the planet, but at the time, I had no idea that saying “yes” to a job, meant sacrificing so much.

Long story short, I wouldn’t change a thing…. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. I knew going into this that Scott and I would only be apart for 18 months… and we’re already two-thirds of the way through it! If the next six months go by even half as quickly as the last year did, it’ll be a breeze. Scott and I are two tough cookies, but together, we’re like… a tough Oreo… double stuffed with… toughness.

Anyways…

Yesterday around lunchtime, after spending the long holiday weekend together, Scott and I hit the road… he dropped me off at O’Hare before continuing on toward Minnesota. The airport is on his way home, so we get a bit more time together on the 20-minute drive, and I’m left feeling a lot less sad and a lot less lonely out there with my flying friends. What can I say? The airport is my happy place.

After spending a few hours photographing the heavies landing on 28C, I headed back to the train station to catch the blue line home. The sky was gray and the streets were empty… I cried a few tears, and then started humming “Thinking of You.” Today, I was inspired to tap back into my musical side, so I recorded my own version of the two-decades-old pop hit. So, without further ado, I give you my best impersonation of three prepubescent boys, rocking out in harmony.