Happy National Aviation Day from the Windy City

If ever a day was made for me, today is that day: National Aviation Day. The holiday—established in 1939 by President Roosevelt—is celebrated each year on August 19 to commemorate Orville Wright’s birthday and to promote interest in all things flight.

Some people (like me) don’t need a holiday to up our interest in aviation. Others (like the rest of the population) come out to air shows and stare up at the sky, jaws dropped and eyes wide, as though they’ve never seen an airplane before.

The 79th National Aviation Day fell on day two of the 2018 Chicago Air and Water Show—an event that draws roughly 2 million people to the Windy City over the course of two days. This year—as both a Chicagoan and an employee of The Boeing Company—was the first time I attended the event.

Now, I’ve been to airshows, but this… this took the cake.

Saturday, my husband, father-in-law, step-mother-in-law and I biked up to North Avenue Beach to take in the five-hour show. It was hot and it was crowded, but it was an absolute blast. I was completely in my element and it meant so much to me to share that time with people whom I care so deeply about.

Sunday, my husband Scott and I were fortunate enough to have “VIP” passes to the Boeing tent. Those little orange tags hanging from lanyards around our necks were our passes to free food, free beer, a set of two heavy-duty Boeing lawn chairs and (best of all) front row seats to all the action.

My heart beats fast and my mind strays each time I do so much as think of what I saw over the last two days… I know the pictures won’t do it justice, but at the very least they’ll help paint a picture of what the show is all about.

We saw military parachute teams, both the U.S. Navy Leap Frogs and the U.S. Army Golden Knights.

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We also saw a LOT of aerobatics… the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team and the Firebirds Delta Team among other teams and solo acts.

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We saw crazy awesome military aircraft, including the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II and the Boeing KC-135 Stratotanker (a modified 707).

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And, aside from airplanes, we saw plenty of helicopters and boats… photos that I’m not going to spend the time sifting through and posting. Sorry, I like airplanes, and that’s what you’re going to see here.

However, I will say that this event was completely eye-opening… not because fighter jets were zipping past at 600 miles-per-hour; not because aerobatics teams were crisscrossing, zigzagging and doing anything and everything that we thought they shouldn’t be able to do; and not because parachutists were floating down from two miles above Earth while gracefully making multicolored curlicues.

No, that’s not why.

This event was eye-opening because people from literally all walks of life came out to the shores of Lake Michigan to turn their eyes to the sky and tune their ears to the buzzes, hums and sometimes downright scary roars of the planes flying overhead. It didn’t matter if you were homeless or a millionaire with a lakefront condo… every single person oohed and aahed, pointed toward the sky and had goofy grins plastered on their faces as they watched the miracle of flight unfurl before their very eyes.

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There’s nothing left to say, except thank you Boeing and thank you Chicago for one heck of a weekend.

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.

This is me.

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be — this is me.

Once again, watching “The Voice” inspired me to write because Kyla Jade just knocked it out of the park with “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman soundtrack.

That song carries a lot of weight and sort of speaks to me. I mean, all in all, I’ve lived an amazingly fortunate and happy life. However, we all have to deal with not-so-easy stuff from time to time, whether we bring it on ourselves, or it’s just in the cards we’ve been dealt.

This blog is supposed to be about planes, so I’m not going to ramble about any of the so-called “struggles” I’ve had in my nearly 31 years on Earth, but I will say this much: sometimes following your heart isn’t easy.

I followed my plane-shaped heart to Chicago nearly six months ago. I knew it was the right thing to do to pursue my passion for aviation, but it sure was hard leaving my husband back in Minnesota. I’m lucky enough to have a job that keeps my heart overly full, but spending my nights and weekends without my other half has caused many a tearful night.

I’m so over-the-moon to say that, despite having two more semesters left at the University of Minnesota, my husband Scott will be moving down here for the summer this Saturday. I felt like I’ve waited so, so long for this… words can’t describe the sheer joy I’m feeling.

And, to add to the excitement, today I received an invitation to my dear friend Branden’s wedding. Branden is one of many people I’ve connected with through our mutual love of planes, but one of only very few I’ve been fortunate enough to actually meet in person. Scott and I are delighted to be able to be there to watch he and his awesome wife-to-be Cortney tie the knot this July.

It might sound too simple to be true, but no matter how “perfect” life may seem… there will always be *something* working against you. In my case, I found my dream job in a city that I’m madly in love with, but sustaining a long-distance relationship hasn’t exactly been “easy.”

What I’ve learned, is that you always have to be looking for the light at the end of the tunnel (Scott and I WILL reunite) and find joy in little every day bursts of sunshine (a wedding invitation from a new friend, a good laugh at work, late night snuggles with feline friends, you get the idea…).

I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be — this is me.

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

Whoever said, “Never meet your hero,” clearly never met Benét Wilson.

Honestly, I feel like it was in the stars for her to be my mentor. It was December 2016 when a little light bulb turned on in my head… “Maybe I can combine my love of planes with my passion for writing,” I thought. I needed to find a professional, someone who was actually doing what I hoped to do… and a few simple Google searches led me to the Aviation Queen website.

I reached out to Benét via email, and before I knew it we were talking on the phone and she gave me some crazy awesome news: she wanted me to contribute to her blog. A few posts in, she saw enough potential in me to recommend me to Airways Magazine’s Chris Sloan, who promptly brought me on as a contributing author. I wrote on a variety of topics and even got to take some pretty awesome trips—I was having the time of my life and was so incredibly gracious (and still am) for the complete and utter selflessness that both Benét and Chris showed in taking me under their wings and helping me as I learned to fly (no pun intended).

You all know how this story ends… I left the nest. Just a few months after this journey began, I was offered a job with the greatest aerospace company in the world: Boeing. My husband Scott is finishing up his last two semesters at the University of Minnesota, so for now it’s just me and our two cats down in Chitown. It is certainly hard to move to a new, big city by yourself… but I wouldn’t trade what I have now for anything.

Each morning I bid farewell to my sweet, fuzzy friends, and I begin my one-mile walk to work. And each and every time I approach my office building, I stop briefly to look up at the big Boeing logo amidst all the other skyscrapers, and each and every time I just can’t help but crack a smile. I do the same each evening as I head home, except the sun is usually setting and the big logo is glowing against the dusky sky. Now I truly feel like I have more than just aviation in my blood—I have Boeing in my blood. I am proud, honored and humbled to say that I bleed Boeing blue.

Meeting Benét couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time either, as just yesterday FIRST—an international nonprofit that inspires K-12 students to develop STEM skills—announced that Boeing had donated $1.5 million to support young innovators. Another thing that makes FIRST awesome? Their focus on mentorship… showcasing firsthand the important role mentors play in learning, dreaming and doing. It wasn’t until my own journey began almost a year-and-a-half ago that I realized what a crucial role a mentor could play in my own life… Benét helped me to learn, she supported my dream and she cheered me on as I chased that dream.

Lucky for me, Benét is still on my team today—she is someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on and someone who supports me. I am so proud to call her my friend.

So here’s to you, Benét. You are an amazing person. Your smile is infectious. You make me want to be a better person. And as I hard as I try, I could never truly repay you for the ways in which you’ve helped me. In my opinion, no one deserves a lifetime full of blue skies and tailwinds more than you do.

This big beautiful machine… my only high

07CF82BE-A145-4B2C-964D-3DE8F34C5AEE.jpeg“It’s like I’ve never seen the sky before,
It’s like I never knew that we could fly.
Now all I want to do is spread my wings and soar,
This big, beautiful machine… my only high.”

Those are words I wrote some time ago as a sort of love letter to my so-called “flying friends” and the magic that they’re made of.

Right now I’m writing this from 37,000 feet, just south of Spokane, Wash. Merely two months into my new job with Boeing, I was fortunate enough to travel to Seattle to support the all-manager and executive webcast that our CEO hosted.

To say that a lot of work went into that event is an understatement, but the experience in its entirety was a great one. Watching my team’s hard work come to fruition this morning was so satisfying, and the trip as a whole was so much fun.

Yesterday afternoon I was extremely lucky to have the chance to visit our Everett factory with one of my teammates, Brittany. To be completely frank, I can’t find the words to describe how awe-inspiring that building is and how remarkable the facility’s operations truly are. We’re talking the world’s largest building by volume—it’s absolutely monstrous.

Upon our arrival, I nearly lost it as the huge building came into view and I saw the artwork that adorned the exterior, depicting different aircraft in vibrant colors. I had seen that wall hundreds of times in photos… I just couldn’t believe I was actually there.

When we first entered the building, the door shut behind us, I looked up and my eyes immediately glued themselves to a nearly-complete 747-800F being built for UPS. I was overcome with a feeling unlike any other… I felt like I was home. My eyes and my mouth were in a viscious battle with one another… would I burst out crying? Or would I smile big enough to cause stretch marks on my cheeks? Lucky for me, it was the latter.

Throughout our time there we saw a number of 747s—my favorite—and a slew of 767s, 777s and, of course, the ever-beautiful 787 Dreamliners all lined up and ready to go.

I touched landing gear that was ready to begin its life inside the belly of a 747-8—the gear standing nearly as tall as me. I saw the very first 777X wing and it’s folding wingtip… innovation at its finest. I saw an incredibly intricate “saddle” laying atop a 777-300ER, a mind-boggling structure that allows those who work atop the plane to do so much more easily.

We drove down the indoor streets aboard our little cart—the longest uninterrupted stretch of “road” spanning nearly a mile. We’d cruise past the lined up aircraft as I proudly named the airline each plane was being built for by looking at the paint on its tail—sometimes with only a slight sliver of paint down the middle. I was having the time of my life. I was in MY heaven.

The best way to describe the atmosphere inside Everett is that it’s essentially a city… an indoor city. Folks ride bicycles to get from one place to another, there are multiple cafeterias and it’s always bustling… much like New York City, it’s a “city” that truly never sleeps.

As I imagined it would be, leaving was hard. Just in the way I had always dreamed of working for Boeing, I had always dreamed of visiting Everett. It was a shame that it had to end.

When we pulled out of the parking lot, I heard a rumbling… I knew something was taking off from Paine Field next door, but I didn’t see anything. I quickly whipped out my phone and opened my flight radar app. I clicked on the nearest yellow airplane icon, its four engines let me know it was her royalty—the Queen of the Skies. However, once the aircraft information displayed, I realized that it wasn’t just the Queen… I shouted, “OH MY GOSH IT’S A DREAMLIFTER!”

I literally screamed, my heart rate skyrocketed and at the same time, Brittany shouted, “Oh my gosh there it is!” I looked up ahead just in time to see it soar off into the low clouds. The Dreamlifters are so magical… they’re specially modified 747-400s used to transport parts of the Dreamliner—only four of the massive, somewhat odd looking planes even exist.

And now I sit here at 37,000 feet, cruising above only-God-knows-where, Montana, reminiscing on these amazing memories so fresh in my mind. The air is smooth and the ground beneath looks grey, mountainous and snowy. On the northern horizon I see a sliver of soft yellow sky fading into blue. I see night ahead of us, and daytime behind us. I am tired, but so, so happy. My heart is full.

I really can’t explain it, but these airborne metal tubes mean the world to me, and that’s an understatement. I feel something huge going on inside my heart when I look up at an airplane, and that feeling is amplified when I’m actually in the sky.

Flight is magic in its purest form, and I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to work for a company that makes this magic happen, one that embraces new ideas and helps dreamers become doers. I am so incredibly humbled and honored to work for Boeing, and I just can’t wait to see where this adventure takes me… both physically and emotionally.

I truly appreciate the love and support of my family and friends who embrace and respect my childlike wonder. Now I’m positive that anything—and I mean ANYTHING—is possible.