If you never try, you’ll never know

A year ago tonight—a Thursday evening in the third week of October—I sat at home with my husband in our downtown St. Paul apartment, frantically preparing myself for what I considered to be the biggest opportunity of my life. The next day, on October 20, 2017 at 12:30 p.m., I was to board American Airlines flight 2455 from Minneapolis-St. Paul to Chicago O’Hare—a 400-mile, 80-minute flight. Upon arrival, I’d board the CTA Blue Line, exit at Clark and Lake, walk one block south and five blocks west to get there… to get to Boeing World Headquarters to interview for a spot on the Executive Communications team.

You may have read my blog from last November, proudly announcing I’d be moving myself and my two cats to Chicago to work for the greatest aerospace company on the planet. It was such a bittersweet time in my life—I was following my dream, but leaving my friends… my family… my husband… I was leaving all of them behind in the state I called home for 28 of my 30 years of existence. Lucky for me, I had a rock solid support system then—luckier yet, I have that same rock solid support system now.

While it’s been tough at times, everything about this experience has made me a better, stronger person. I’ve met incredible people and learned incredible things about the aerospace industry, the world, communications… and I’ve even learned some pretty incredible things about myself. It’s been one heck of a year, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

A few highlights:

  1. I live a hop, skip and a jump away from the second-most-connected airport in the world… it’s truly an aviation enthusiast’s dream! To say I’m out at ORD often may be an understatement.
  2. I got to visit Boeing’s Everett factory for the first time in my life. It’s an overwhelmingly huge, city-like building where incredible, beastly machines are built to connect people and goods across the globe. So. Flipping. Cool.
  3. I met one of my best friends, and her amazing partner. You know how sometimes you just connect with someone, and you immediately feel the goodness in their heart? That’s how I feel about this person—she’s a remarkable human, and one heck of a communicator.
  4. I reunited with one of my best friends… someone I went to high school with and someone I’ve always had a special bond with. She handed me an extra stick when I dropped one of mine while drumming in an emo band more than a decade ago, and today, she brought my doodle to life to create a legit logo for The Great Planes.
  5.  I started traveling by myself. I find cheap, same-day, round-trip flights to new cities and I go explore. If you have the capacity to do that, I highly recommend it as it’s helped me to break out out of my anxiety-ridden, introverted shell, and meet new people and build a sense of confidence I never thought I’d have.

Coming to Boeing taught me that following your dream is worth it. Even though being in a new city is tough, adapting to a new lifestyle can be stressful and learning a new routine can be really, really hard… it is worth it. I’m a very, very lucky girl… and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.

Be kind, be determined, be gracious and oh, meet your hero two… too…

As far as I am concerned, life is all about the connections you make. I don’t mean “knowing someone” in an industry who will put in a good word for you or having an “in” with someone at a company who will help land you a job. I mean the deep, personal connections you make with the people who are always there to help and support you on your journey.

Earlier this year I finally met my industry mentor, Benét Wilson (Aviation Queen). I first reached out to her almost two years ago, and today I’m lucky to call her my friend. We have a solid, trusting relationship and I certainly wouldn’t be where I am without her—I consider her “Hero One” in the story of my journey.

With Benét’s ongoing support and by working hard toward my goal of becoming an aviation journalist, I was brought on as contributing editor at Airways Magazine. That’s how I met “Hero Two” AKA Chris Sloan, Airways’ Managing Editor. Finally, more than a year after starting that gig, I met Chris in “real life” here in Chicago.

It’s funny, I first connected with both Benét AND Chris while living in Minneapolis… the city in which I lived for nearly all of my 31 years on this planet. However, I first met each of them in person here in Chicago as an employee of The Boeing Company—the company I’d long dreamed of working for and a place I’d never be without their help.

Yesterday, I met Chris in the lobby of Chicago’s iconic Sears—I mean WILLIS… (ugh)—Tower, where he and I toured the United Airlines National Operations Center.

It.

Was.

Awesome.

Seriously, the combination of meeting Chris AND seeing the ins and outs of how United keeps their (mostly Boeing!) fleet flying was ridiculously cool. I loved it. My favorite part? Chris and I were in the social media/de-escalation area where they had huge screens displaying real-time social data, and one of the screens had on it incoming conversations that were considered “positive” interactions on Twitter.

Chris: Hey it’s you!

Me: What?

Chris: @thegreatplanes – that’s you!

Me: Como se WHAT!? Whoa!

I looked at the screen and saw my very tweet ABOUT this tour, and the subsequent response from Ben Bearup saying I was living my “best life” (SO TRUE!). It was pretty awesome.

Aside from that, I saw firsthand the many people who are hard at work 24/7 to keep the airline up and running… air traffic controllers, meteorologists, pilots (yes, pilots!), the Airbus team and the Boeing team, among others. I also saw more pie charts, bar graphs, numbers and maps than my geeking-out brain could even handle.

All in all, my biggest take away from that tour was that even though it is extremely frustrating if your flight gets delayed or canceled, just know that whenever something isn’t 100 percent perfect in terms of an airline’s operations (so essentially… always), there are hundreds of dedicated people working to make things right.

Yesterday was a truly great day. I’m so happy to have finally met Chris, and I so much enjoyed spending my lunch hour with the kind folks over at United. The icing on the cake was doing some work from home later that evening as the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds zipped past my apartment window over, and over, and over again in preparation for this weekend’s Chicago Air and Water Show.

This year’s two-day event will include parachutists, fighter jets, a C-130 and even an AMERICAN AIRLINES DREAMLINER (pinch me, please). I’ll be attending the show both days, one of them on behalf of Boeing, and as I look forward to that… I think my teammate Jane best captured my excitement in her own words:

“Annie, you’re going to lose your mind.”

Long live the Queen: VC-25A is now officially the longest serving presidential aircraft

SAM 28000, one of two current VC-25As (photo: Wikipedia)

It’s official: the Boeing VC-25A—two modified 747-200Bs with tail numbers 28000 and 29000, more commonly referred to as Air Force One—is now the longest-serving presidential aircraft. I’ve been tracking this milestone for awhile now, and to be quite honest, I actually botched it at first (don’t judge… I’m not a mathematician!).

Because I also have a strange fascination with the Kennedy family (who doesn’t?), I knew that JFK’s two modified 707s with tail numbers 26000 and 27000 (the Boeing VC-137C) were most certainly the longest serving presidential aircraft of all time… I didn’t, however, realize just how soon today’s Queens of the Skies were going to steal the crown from those two planes that first entered service when Kennedy was in office.

I originally (and mistakenly) did my calculations as follows (using the entry-into-service date for the VC-137C as opposed to the first time it actually flew as Air Force One). This had VC-25A officially becoming the longest serving presidential aircraft on Aug. 5, just a couple days ago.

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,194 days between Oct. 9, 1962 (VC-137C first entered service) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,195 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and Aug. 5, 2018

However, upon realizing my mistake and finding the actual date when VC-137C first flew with Kennedy on board (therefore using the call sign Air Force One), November 10, 1962, I realized that my timeline had moved up roughly a month and that this milestone actually happened on July 4 of this year (pretty cool date for an American milestone, eh?).

VC-137C (two different modified 707s:  SAM 26000 and SAM 27000)

10,162 days between Nov. 10, 1962 (VC-137C first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first few as Air Force One)

VC-25A (two different modified 747-200Bs: SAM 28000 and SAM 29000)

10,163 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (VC-25A first flew as Air Force One) and July 4, 2018

It is important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean the 747 (generally speaking) is the longest serving presidential aircraft… that honor still goes to the 707, at least for now. Dwight D. Eisenhower was actually the first to fly in a modified Boeing 707 using the call sign Air Force One (VC-137B) when he departed Dec. 3, 1959 on his “Flight to Peace” goodwill tour to 11 Asian nations.

The 747 won’t officially take the crown from the 707 for another three years, on June 11, 2021.

Boeing 707

11,235 days between Dec. 3, 1959 (707 first flew as Air Force One) and Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One)

Boeing 747

11,236 days between Sept. 6, 1990 (747 first flew as Air Force One) and June 11, 2021

I want to give a special thanks to our incredibly awesome historian here at Boeing, Mike Lombardi, for reminding me that it’s important to make these distinctions. And, I’ll add… that June 2021 milestone is a surefire thing since the new Air Force One planes currently on order are two 747-8s expected to be delivered (last I heard) by 2024. So even if they were delivered tomorrow, they’re still 747s and the math still works… so there.

With that, there’s only one thing left to say: Long live the Queen.

Boeing: Air Force One (read about past, current and future presidential aircraft)

Hello, it’s me…

It’s bizarre… I am coming up on eight months in my role here at Boeing in Chicago. It has been fun and awe-inspiring at times, busy and stressful at others—but I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’ve made mistakes.

I’ve celebrated successes.

I’ve made friends.

I’ve made enemies.

(just kidding… I haven’t made any enemies)

Anyways…while life and work have been busy, I’ve tried my best to keep up with The Great Planes—both the social media and the blog. And even though my posts may not be as frequent, I still do write as often as I can, and do my best to make sure my stories are meaningful.

A couple weeks back, I was up in the Twin Cities for my father-in-law’s wedding, which took place Saturday. On Sunday, my mom and I spent the morning out at the dog park next to MSP Airport—obsessing over fuzzy friends and watching the big birds fly in. We were waiting around for the KLM A330 to fly in when I noticed two people walking toward us on the gravel path. Before long I heard, “Excuse me,” and I swiftly turned around. Two men stood there, one appeared to be college-aged, the other looked to be my mom’s age. The younger one asked me, “Are you The Great Planes?”

“Como se what?” I asked myself inside my head before quickly answering (aloud), “Yes!”

The younger of the two introduced himself as Max—he was with his dad. They were both incredibly sweet, passionate people… another parent-child duo that share a love of aviation is always fun to come by.

Fast forward a couple weeks, and as I was walking into our Boeing headquarters, a woman approached me in the hallway. “Excuse me,” she said as she slowed in her steps. “Are you the blogger?”

Somewhat taken aback, I said, “I mean, I blog…?”

“But you run the aviation blog, right? And the Instagram?” she asked.

“Oh YES, I run The Great Planes!”

After chatting for a few minutes, I learned her name: Grace. She, too, works for Boeing and said she recognized my face from the few photos that I’m actually in on my account.

It was such a great interaction and a great feeling, similar to how I felt at MSP after meeting Max and his dad. Just knowing that my stories are read (if only by a few people) and that my pictures are seen, really means a lot.

It’s not often that this blog or my social accounts are my top priority, but I still have tried pretty dang hard to build out The Great Planes as its own brand of sorts… and to get that sort of validation and recognition from people who enjoy my posts, was just about the greatest feeling in the world.

Meeting Max and Grace really inspired me to ramp up the writing and to try to post here more often. Life is way too short to spend time doing things you aren’t passionate about. I am glad I learned that early on, and hope that through my stories, my photos and my transparency—someone else will get inspired to follow their dreams too.

Working at the world’s most admired aerospace company is pretty rad

I’m back!

As you all know, at least in terms of this blog, I’ve been MIA for the last two months. And… I’m pretty sure most of you know why.

I’m weird in that I’m equally as terrified as I am thrilled by change. These days, however, change is really all I’m about. And picking up and leaving your entire life behind to move to a new city all by yourself… that’s one heck of a change.

I’ve worked for the greatest aerospace company in the world for seven weeks tomorrow. I’ve been a Chicagoan… an Illini for a solid two months.

My two cats and I live in a sweet little loft in the South Loop neighborhood of downtown Chicago. I don’t have a car. I walk one mile to work each morning, and reverse that same mile home each night.

Sometimes I feel lonely, but somehow this all feels right. I knew this would be hard… but without the love and support of my family and friends — especially my amazing husband Scott — none of this would have been possible.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how exciting it is to work for a company that lives and breathes innovation, and one that is so loved… so respected. Just last week, Boeing was named the 25th most admired company on the planet by FORTUNE. Moreover, is it any surprise it was named THE most admired aerospace company?

I WORK for this company, and I support these dreamers, these creators and these passionate, imaginative people. I am so, so proud to be able to help tell the stories of the awesome things we are up to… here on the ground, up in the air, underwater and in the depths of outerspace.

You may be wondering exactly what I do for Boeing… Well, simply put, I’m on a team of four people (including my boss) who provide communications support to Boeing’s Chairman, President and CEO. Whether it’s producing web content, writing and editing letters, or drafting talking points in preparation for a meeting or a presentation… I’ve done it all and I’ve loved it all.

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting our leader, Dennis Muilenburg, and talk about an amazing story and an inspiring person. He started at Boeing as an intern in aerospace engineering in the 80s and worked his way up to the top spot. He is incredibly kind, employee-focused, and I am honored and humbled to work for him.

Next week, I’ll take my first business trip out to Seattle. And… ready for this? I’m taking a VIP Tour of the Everett Factory. That’s the world’s largest building. It’s where the 747, 767, 777 and 787 are built. I’m getting all tingly inside just thinking about it.

Anyways, I’m glad to be back here in the blogosphere… and I’ll leave you by explaining why I was out of the mix for so long.

Of course, coming into this job, Boeing knew about my personal interest in the aerospace industry… from my work for Airways Magazine to my social media accounts where I showcase my photography and, of course, this very blog.

I wanted to be 110 percent sure that I was not doing anything that could affect my job, so I was in the midst of a “Conflict of Interest” case through our Ethics Department. Yesterday I received the verdict, and lo and behold, they determined that because what I write about is public information, I’m in the clear. No COI.

So there you have it folks, I’m back and that makes me incredibly happy. I sure miss MSP, but let me tell you… a HECK of a lot of heavies fly into ORD. And as someone who is unhealthily obsessed with the Queen of the Skies, it’s HEAVEN.

Thanks for taking part in this journey with me and look for more updates soon!

 

California, California… here we come.

 

Mike Kelly Wake Turbulence
Mike Kelley’s famous Wake Turbulence photo compilation, shot at LAX

I’m pretty sure I was 10 or 11 years old the last time I was in Los Angeles. Back then, I knew my parents met as flight attendants and I knew my dad was in the Air Force, but I didn’t have even an ounce of interest in aviation. I do remember falling in love with the brightly colored glass pylons and the massive “LAX” outside the airport though – you know, the things a preteen girl should appreciate.

Now, roughly 20 years later – I’m going back. And I am FLIPPING OUT. As the second-busiest airport in the country, LAX is TEEMING with heavies. Of course I know this from following dozens of Los Angeles-based plane spotters on social media, but, as one might expect, I also enjoy a good LAX air traffic control tower listening session – that stuff really hits the spot and soothes me after a hard day’s work.

While I love the heck out of the Twin Cities, you just don’t get the diversity here at MSP that you get at LAX or JFK or any of those biggies… you just don’t. Anytime I’m ANYWHERE close to planes, someone says to me, “You’re just like a kid in a candy store, aren’t you?” And I just stare back at them stupidly agape with an ear-to-ear grin and nod. But this is going to take the cake… I just know it. This will be me if the world suddenly crumbled into a pile of raisinets and I was sitting on top of it. This will be huge. Yuge.

I should mention, the real reason my husband and I are traveling to Los Angeles this weekend is to celebrate our third wedding anniversary. Yet somehow, all I can do is imagine what it will be like the first time I set eyes on an A380 (sorry Scott…). He understands though. And I appreciate his patience with me more than he’ll ever know.

BUT, I should mention, we do have lots of romantic things planned, like Scott getting In-N-Out Burger while I photograph planes from the fast food restaurant that just happens to be a prime-spotting location – I’m a vegetarian… what can I say? Or what about our possible trip out to one of the two aircraft “boneyards” in the area – I mean… incapacitated British Airways 747s and FedEx 727s SCREAM “Romance!” to me… AMIRIGHT?

All in all, I think this is going to be one heck of a trip. I really can’t wait to share it with you all through photos and stories. Until then…

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.

Breitling.png
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.

FORD_1.jpg
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.

model_247_hero_med_01_1280x436.jpg
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.