The Three Keys

I realized the other day that it’s been more than four months since I posted here, which isn’t like me. Typically, I’ve held myself to a pretty high standard when it comes to how often I post on social media: once a day on Instagram and once a month here on my blog. In fact, that high standard has typically applied to all facets of my life… I’ve always been “go, go, go!” at home, at work and here on The Great Planes. But there’s been a lot going on in my world lately, so I thought it would be best to take that pressure off myself, slow the pace and embrace more of a “go with the flow” lifestyle. It’ll take awhile to get there, but I’m trying!

With that… I suppose it’s time for a story. This one isn’t ALL about airplanes, but I hope you enjoy it nonetheless. I call it, “The Three Keys.”

Last month, I became the owner of a very special key. It was special not only because of the door it would unlock, but because of what it symbolized. It was the third of three keys that now hang together on the same keyring… jingling in my purse while I am out and about each day, and hanging on the wall silent and still each night while I sleep. By themselves, each one means something, but collectively they represent a sense of fulfillment in my life, and for that I am truly grateful.

Standing on top of “Red” to photograph a Boeing 727 coming into Seattle’s Boeing Field.

1. November 2020: The key to our first new car

For the majority of our first 10 years together, Scott and I had just one car between the two of us: a bright red 2008 Toyota Yaris that I bought used in 2010. Her name was “Littler” (for “Littler Red”) as she followed “Little Red” — a 1998 Ford Escort that was unfortunately totaled in 2010. The accident wasn’t my fault, and I suffered only minor injuries, but it was traumatic nonetheless. Also, it meant that I needed to find a new set of wheels, and that for the first time in my life I would be taking on a car payment (yikes!). Littler had no bells and whistles… She didn’t have cruise control or a sunroof, there were no powered windows and no automatic locks — she was as basic as they come. But she was special to me and to us. 

In fall 2020, Scott and I came to the difficult realization that we seriously needed to consider buying a new car. Littler had been in and out of the shop, and it was no longer practical to keep fixing the seemingly endless issues that were popping up. In choosing our next vehicle, I had only one requirement: it had to be bright red to carry on the legacy of Little Red and Littler. We found a 2021 Subaru Crosstrek as bright as a brand new fire engine, and immediately knew it was the one. This car was the biggest of the three, so naturally, we just called her, “Red.” I love that car to pieces as it was our first “big purchase” as a couple and it is such a big part of our lives today — I drive it to and from work, Scott drives it all over the state to go hiking, and I climb atop it to get the best vantage point when taking photos at local airports.

Me and my Boeing Archives teammates prior to our flight on B-29 “Doc.”

2. May 2021: The key to the Boeing Archives

When I started The Great Planes almost six years ago, I really didn’t know how big a part of my life aviation would become. I’m a natural storyteller (at least I like to think I am) and I went to journalism school to build on those skills and that passion. So when I discovered my love of airplanes, I figured aviation communications was the way to go. Until that point, I had been job hopping like crazy. I felt like I had no “calling” and started to feel a bit hopeless. But aviation changed all of that… I suddenly felt hopeful. Just about the same time I started my blog, I found an industry mentor (thank you Benét!) and soon started picking up freelance writing gigs. Eventually, I began applying like mad to full-time communications positions with airlines and manufacturers.

I got my first job with Boeing in 2017, and after only a year of working in executive communications in our Chicago office, I was fortunate enough to snag a position on our Historical Services team in St. Louis. Even though Scott and I didn’t necessarily see ourselves staying in St. Louis long term, I loved my job so much that the location didn’t matter all that much. But then, after a couple years, we got our long-awaited opportunity to move to Seattle — the Mecca of commercial aviation and the home of the Boeing Archives. I’ll add that we do have three archives locations, one of which is in St. Louis, but the Seattle collection is by and large the biggest (and in my opinion, the best). I can’t explain the feeling I had when I took possession of the key to our collection… I guard it with my life!

Scott and I the day we received the keys to our first house.

3. October 2022: The key to our first house

To say the last two months were a whirlwind would be an understatement. Scott and I, along with our good friend Jiho, took a 2-week trip to South Korea in early September. A few days after returning home, Scott and I went to see a couple houses. We had been looking casually for a few months, but hadn’t seen anything that was “just right.” After living in Seattle for just over a year, we realized we couldn’t afford to rent much longer — if we were going to be spending this much on housing, it had to be going toward something.

When we stepped into the small single-family home that we now call ours, we knew it was the one. We put in an offer, took part in a small (but still stressful!) bidding war, and ultimately got the email from our realtors we had so longed to receive, “Congratulations! You got the house!” That set into motion weeks upon weeks of doing “all the things” that new homeowners do: selling old furniture that was too big, visiting the new house to take measurements, buying new (smaller) furniture, listing and showing our apartment, canceling and setting up utilities, yada yada yada. We talked with our realtors or the credit union almost daily before signing what felt like 75,000-pages worth of closing documents. But the moment we got our keys, we breathed huge sighs of relief. We knew we had done it, and we couldn’t be happier.

So… will there ever be a fourth key? Maybe a fifth? Who knows. For know, I’m happy with the ones I have. Besides, great things come in threes!

On to the Emerald City…

Aviation enthusiast.

Storyteller.

Adventure seeker.

Those are the phrases I use to describe myself across my social media pages, and I do my best to live up to each one of them on a daily basis.

For the first, I usually find myself out at a St. Louis-area airport three-to-four times a week, and I love documenting those experiences and sharing them with others on Instagram who share my love for airplanes.

For the second, that’s where my day job comes in. As a historian at Boeing, I’m fortunate to be able to spend my time researching and writing about the company’s past. There’s a lot we can learn from history, and it’s my job to tell those stories and make them meaningful and relevant today.

For the third, I haven’t quite lived up to my own expectations over the last year or two, but that’s largely due to the pandemic, which wreaked havoc on the world and hit the travel industry particularly hard. However, I have had one BIG adventure in the works for awhile now, and it’s finally time to share that with you, my fellow aviation enthusiasts and travel lovers.

I’ve been with Boeing for about three-and-a-half years. I started in Chicago where I worked in executive communications for just over a year. The Windy City is, of course, the company’s headquarters, but nestled on the 30th floor of a downtown skyscraper, I didn’t really feel like I was working for an airplane manufacturer. A new opportunity to work in Historical Services led me to St. Louis at the end of 2018, and while I’m not nearly as passionate about military aircraft as I am about commercial, this has been an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.

For the last two years, I’ve worked just steps from where the Mercury and Gemini spacecraft were built in the 1960s, and a stone’s throw from where Boeing builds the F-15, F/A-18 and T-7A today. Living in downtown St. Louis, I’m situated almost perfectly in between a number of airports where I’ve managed to photograph some incredible airplanes… from an OC-135B at MidAmerica (BLV) or a DC-3 downtown (CPS), to N757A — the first 757 built, which today is used as a testbed for the F-22 Raptor — at Lambert (STL) or a DC-9 at Spirit of St. Louis (SUS). This city is an aviation mecca.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. And as the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” Since I first started applying to jobs with Boeing half-a-decade ago, I’ve had my sights set on one city. Lucky for me, my husband Scott was just as interested in moving to this particular place. Over the last few months, planning has been in full swing, and today… well, today is the day.

Cruising above Missouri on a one-way flight to Seattle.

I’m sitting on an Alaska 737-900ER, cruising at 34,000 feet, on a one-way flight to Seattle. Our two cats, Penelope (aka Beans) and Luka (aka Buddy), are in the cargo hold, experiencing life in the sky for the first time. Scott, his dad and brother, are about to hit the road… driving our car and a truck 2,000 miles cross-country. I’ll land at my new home airport in about four hours. The guys will arrive in about four days. I feel like I’ve been waiting forever for this day to come, and in many ways I feel like we’re finally “going home.”

Buddy, Beans and I checking in for our big adventure!

Scott and I will always trace our roots back to Minnesota… that’s where we met in 2010 and where most of our family still resides. And since then, we’ve been on an incredible journey with some awesome “layovers” — first in Kansas City, then back to Minneapolis, on to Chicago and now here in St. Louis. It’s been fun, but we’re both very ready to land at our final destination: Seattle.

Stay tuned for new airplanes, new stories and new adventures. I consider myself very fortunate to be able to share this particular adventure with all of you, and am eternally grateful for your support.

To blue skies and tailwinds.

A perfect end to a less-than-perfect year

I can hardly believe New Year’s Eve is just one week away. Of course, nothing will change overnight… but this year especially, I think the new year will bring a sense of renewal we’ve all been seeking for a long, long time.

For me, 2020 hasn’t been all that bad. Despite contracting COVID-19 in October, I’ve remained safe and healthy. I have a job that I absolutely love, and have continued to pursue my passion in one way or another nearly every day. I’ve been able to safely visit with friends and family fairly often, and have actually been able to fly a decent amount as well.

With that — and as many of you are well aware — I wanted to do something to give back. I sold 2021 calendars featuring my photography, with 100 percent of profits being donated to Wings of Hope — an incredible St. Louis-based nonprofit. Right off the bat, I set a goal to sell 50 calendars.

Well folks, the numbers are in.

Through your kindness and generosity, we sold 55 calendars and raised $850! Additionally, Scott and I decided to donate $150 of our own money to bring the grand total to $1,000. To those who ordered a calendar, or even helped to spread the word, I cannot thank you enough!

Yesterday I made a trip to Wings of Hope — located at Spirit of St. Louis Airport — to check out their operations and make the donation in person. It was a great experience and something I won’t soon forget. To be able to share my passion with others while simultaneously supporting a local organization like Wings of Hope is truly the bees knees. It made for a perfect end to a less-than-perfect year, and I’m so thankful to be able to share my joy with you, my fellow AV geeks.

Wishing you all a very happy holiday season, and a year ahead filled with blue skies and tailwinds.

Show Me: A flight to remember

The formidable B-25 Mitchell: a truly great plane and perhaps the most versatile aircraft of World War II.

The B-25 is the only U.S. military plane to be named after a specific person: Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell, the “Father of the U.S. Air Force.”

Built by Boeing heritage company North American Aviation, the B-25 first flew Aug. 19, 1940. Not only was it used for high and low level bombing, submarine patrol, photo reconnaissance and strafing, the heavily-armed aircraft even operated as a fighter. It was regarded as reliable and forgiving by the pilots who flew it.

The B-25 was used in every theater of the war, flown by American, Dutch, British, Chinese, Russian and Australian pilots. It’s perhaps best known for its role in the famous “Doolittle Raid” — the first air strike by the U.S. against Japan. On April 18, 1942, Lt. Col. James “Jimmy” Doolittle led 16 B-25Bs from the USS Hornet to bomb military targets in and around Tokyo. The mission was a resounding success, boosting American spirits and proving Japan’s vulnerability to air attacks.

Between 1939 and 1945, North American built a total of 9,816 B-25s at its Ingelwood, California, and Kansas City, Kansas, plants. In fact, due in large part to the firm leadership of James “Dutch” Kindelberger, North American built more aircraft during World War II than any other manufacturer, simultaneously building bombers, fighters and trainers — an industry first.

Today, eight decades after the B-25 first took to the skies, 34 are still flying. Among them, a B-25J named “Show Me,” which found its home at the Missouri Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) in 1982. This particular aircraft — SN 44-31385 — was first delivered to the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1945, where it served as a trainer for 13 years.

When I heard that “Show Me” would be flying this year on Halloween, I knew I had to be there. Working as a historian for Boeing, I’ve learned so much about the incredible array of warbirds we built in the 1940s — and that includes those built by our many heritage companies, North American Aviation among them. But I’ve not had the chance to see many in person, and up until Saturday, that was the case with the B-25.

I reached out to the Missouri Wing a few weeks in advance to let them know I planned to be there, and to see if I might be able to take a quick peek inside the aircraft. It was as if I said “Show Me,” and they said “We will!” I arrived bright and early to meet with some of the wing’s members, including its leader, and they were (unsurprisingly) some of the nicest, most passionate people I’ve met in the industry.

There were about 40-50 folks out at St. Charles County Smartt Airport that morning, all for the same reason: to see “Show Me” take to the skies. For those unfamiliar with CAF, they keep these flying monuments airborne by selling seats on the various aircraft. And what better way to support their incredible mission, than to take a flight on one of these beautiful and beastly legends.

The plan that day was to send two flights up, one right after the other. Before the first flight, I had the chance to hop aboard the aircraft to take some photos. Getting on the aircraft was an adventure in and of itself, as was getting around once I made it inside.

There are two entrances: one to the front and one to the rear — both involve climbing up a ladder through a fairly narrow passage. The front entrance was mainly used by the bombardier/navigator, the pilots and the upper turret gunner. The rear entrance was primarily for the radio operator/waist gunner and tail gunner. Despite the two separate entrances, however, it wasn’t unheard of for the crew to crawl on top of the bomb bay to get to the other end of the aircraft during flight.

To get back to the tail gunner’s compartment, I crawled through a seriously narrow passageway known as the “tail tunnel.” To get up to the bombardier’s compartment, I pulled myself through the “bombardier’s crawlway” directly underneath the left side of the cockpit. Getting around was not easy. It was not comfortable. Exploring the inside of the “Show Me” left me with that much more respect for the crew members who flew in B-25s day in and day out during less than ideal conditions.

Shortly after touring the airplane, it was time to see her fly. The first group of passengers boarded, along with the pilot, copilot and safety officer. The rest of us stood in awe, watching the big, beautiful machine fire up. The two sputtering Wright Cyclone piston engines were loud and smoky, and before we knew it, the plane was making its way down to the end of runway 18. It sat idly for a few minutes, before turning due south, speeding down the runway and lifting off the ground.

Once the plane disappeared into the late morning sky, I decided I needed more caffeine, so my husband and I headed to a local coffee shop. What happened when we returned to the airfield was something neither of us could have ever expected. We were greeted by several of the CAF members we had been chatting with earlier, who informed us we (yes, my husband Scott and I) were going to be on the next flight.

Words can’t express the sheer joy I felt upon hearing that news. It was completely unexpected but so very much appreciated. And just like that, Scott and I, along with three other passengers, were sitting inside “Show Me,” preparing to take to the skies. I sat up front and had the opportunity to spend roughly half of the 45-minute flight up in the bombardier’s compartment. Scott was in the back, and spent most of the flight in the tail gunner’s compartment. We flew along the Mississippi River where we got stunning views of the fall foliage and flew just past downtown St. Louis, making two low passes over the renowned Gateway Arch.

After we landed and deplaned, I was smiling so hard — I mean SO hard — that it hurt. I can’t speak highly enough of the CAF Missouri Wing and feel so honored to have been afforded such a unique experience. I know I’ll be spending plenty of time out at Smartt Field in the future, and I strongly encourage all you AV geeks and/or history buffs to check out your local CAF unit to find out how you can support the great work they do. And yes, I already became a proud member myself!

In addition to “Show Me,” the Missouri Wing maintains a TBM-3E Avenger, built in 1945 by General Motors, and an L-3 Grasshopper, built in 1941 by Aeronca. The Missouri Wing is just one of more than 70 CAF units across the globe. Founded in 1961, the CAF boasts roughly 13,000 members and operates more than 170 aircraft representing more than 60 different types. This unique fleet, known as the CAF Ghost Squadron, is the world’s largest flying museum and just so happens to rank as one of the largest air forces in existence today.

The CAF’s mission is simple: to educate, inspire, and honor through flight and living history experiences. The nonprofit organization prides itself on its volunteers, who work to protect these rare, historic warbirds, and relies on donations and memberships to continue its preservation efforts.

Learn more about the ways in which you can support the CAF: https://commemorativeairforce.org/