What is life?

“What is life?”

That’s a phrase I often use to describe situations in which I find myself unable to comprehend how lucky I am.

There is so much bad in the world — bad people, bad places, bad situations — but in my 32 years of life, I’ve somehow managed to avoid most all of it. I don’t know how or why, but I’ve experienced so much of the good… so much that it sometimes feels unfair.

And today… today was yet another really good day.

It all starts with Chicago… a blustery, midwestern city that reeled me in a couple years back and helped me to blossom into the happiest “me” I’ve ever been. It was there that I began working for The Boeing Company, and it was there that I met some truly incredible people, two of whom I had the pleasure of traveling with today.

While I was living in The Windy City, I met a fellow Chicagoan named Stathis. He’s the founder and president of branding.aero — a brand experience management agency — and a marketing professor at SUNY Oswego. He’s good people, and he’s a fellow AV geek.

Through Stathis, I was introduced to Elliot, who had interned with United Airlines and now works for the company at its Chicago headquarters. He too, is good people, and (of course) a fellow AV geek.

A few weeks back, I had posted a photo of the new United CRJ-550 on Instagram — the first regional jet with a three-class configuration. I spotted the 50-seater out at STL, an airport that doesn’t typically offer much in the way of new, exciting airplanes (at least not compared to Chicago). And in the caption, I mentioned how much I’d like to try out first class on the 550 some day…

Shortly after posting the photo, Elliot reached out to me and asked if I’d be interested in coming out to Chicago to fly first class on the newly-configured airplane. My heart rate skyrocketed and I said to Scott, “Oh. My. Gosh.” I was so, so excited.

Before I knew it, Elliot and I were working out the details for what was sure to be an incredible day. Shortly thereafter, he had even more good news for me — Stathis would be joining us!

I waited and waited in anticipation. And before I knew it, the day had arrived. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. with a spring in my step, and headed to the airport for my first flight, which was to depart at 7:45. I flew from St. Louis to Chicago where the three of us met and boarded our first flight on United’s new jet. Next stop: Sioux Falls!

The three of us sat near one another in first class, and let me tell you… there was SO. MUCH. SPACE. Aside from my fluke-of-an-experience flying business class on Turkish Airlines, I’ve always flown economy, so this was quite a treat. After the initial cabin service, we were able to grab additional drinks and snacks from a self-serve bar area, which was super fun and unlike anything I had experienced before.

After landing in Sioux Falls, we had the chance to visit the flight deck, before stepping off the plane for just a few minutes, then getting right back on. Both flights were so smooth and so quiet. What made the trip so special, though, was the fact that I could enjoy it with two awesome people.

After we returned to O’Hare, we spent a bit of time in the United lounge, before Elliot and Stathis saw me off as I boarded my last flight of the day, back home to St. Louis.

Before today, I had never flown standby, and let me tell you… it’s really fun, albeit a little nerve-racking at times. Lucky for me, I live for this stuff and would have been perfectly content if I was “stranded” in Chicago. Alas, I was the very last passenger called to board the flight. I even got seat 1A — go figure!

So, there you have it… in exactly nine hours’ time I flew from St. Louis to Chicago, Chicago to Sioux Falls, Sioux Falls to Chicago, and Chicago back to St. Louis. Spending all day in airports and in the sky isn’t for everyone, but it IS for some folks… like me, Elliot and Stathis. And lucky for us, every now and again the stars align and we have the chance to take to the skies together… the three amigos!

Thank you, Elliot, for making today possible. It was an incredible adventure and I am so grateful for your generosity and thankful to have you as a friend.

And thank you Stathis, for being such a kind, selfless person. It was so great to be able to share in this experience with you!

So, what is life?

Well… simply put, life is good.

Here’s to friends, blue skies and tailwinds.

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…

Our Moon

I can tell just by looking out the window that the air outside is warmer than the air in my living room.

And no matter how hard I try — no matter how captivating the television dialogue is and no matter how loud my cats meow to try to get my attention — I can’t take my eyes off the Moon… our Moon. It feels like there’s a magnetic force between the two blue orbs protruding out of my head and that one massive, majestic orb hanging in the sky… and I don’t know why, but it’s so strong.

The sun shines on it and it glows golden and more vivid with each minute — but I know that without that massive ball of fire there to light it up, our Moon is just a gray, rocky, dusty satellite. That’s it.

Sometimes I wish we had more than one moon. I wonder what the sky would look like at night if we had two moons like Mars. I wonder what it would look like during the day if we had 60-some moons like Jupiter or Saturn. I know how excited I get when I notice mid-afternoon that the small, round, seemingly perfect cloud I’ve affixed my eyes to is actually our Moon. What if I saw dozens of them all at once?

But then, as night falls and the Moon gets higher and brighter — almost pure white against the dark blue sky — I realize just how much I love our one Moon. Of the eight planets that orbit our sun, there are two that don’t have any moons (Mercury and Venus), there’s one that has two moons (Mars), one that has 14 moons (Neptune) and one that has 27 moons (Uranus), there are two that have more than 60 moons (Saturn has 62, Jupiter has 67), but there’s just one planet that has only one moon… and that’s us: Earth.

How different would the space race have been if we had multiple moons? What would the space race have even been if we had no moons at all?

As the 50th anniversary of humankind’s first lunar landing approaches, I’m so thankful for Earth’s one and only satellite: our Moon. And knowing that 2022 will mark the 50th anniversary of the last human foot leaving that crater-filled ground… I’m so anxious and hopeful to see what the next generation of lunar exploration holds — for Americans and for the world.

Photo: NASA

“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.

Flying the Feathered Edge

R.A. “Bob” Hoover, as seen on the cover of the documentary detailing his astounding career.

“Each time I did see an airplane — and there weren’t too many flying back in those days — I’d stop whatever I was doing to watch it until it went out of sight. All I could think about or want to read about would be airplanes and aviation.”

Those words were spoken by R.A. “Bob” Hoover himself during an interview for Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project, a documentary highlighting the remarkable life and legacy of the man often called the greatest pilot of all time.

My favorite thing about Bob is that his friends and former military comrades say he was “always up to something.” Example: He was shot down in World War II, spent more than a year in a prison camp, escaped, stole a Focke-Wulf F190 (the very plane he was shot down by) and flew to safety in The Netherlands.

Years later, he worked as a test pilot for Boeing heritage company North American Aviation. From the FJ-2 Fury to the F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre… he flew ‘em all.

In the ‘60s, he began flying the can’t-be-stopped P-51 Mustang in airshows. Often called “a pilot’s pilot,” his post-war aerobatics career lasted almost 40 years.

In watching the movie, I of course was enlightened as to what a remarkable pilot and person Bob was (he unfortunately passed away in 2016), but I also realized how many museums are out there housing artifacts and relics from his and other notable pilots’ careers… museums I’ve never been to. From the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and its annex, the Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles, all the way across the country to the San Diego Air and Space Museum… heck, I’ve never even been to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila, Wash.

So, in summary: Annie has a lot of places she needs to go, and everyone needs to watch Flying the Feathered Edge.

And… Scene.

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.