THE AA YEARS
From 1999-2016 I had the opportunity to be the company photographer for American Airlines. I had an office and photography studio located on the AA maintenance base in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is the largest commercial airline base in the world.
THESE PHOTOS I SHOT REPRESENT SOME OF MY FAVORITE MEMORIES FROM THE AA YEARS.
This Boeing 737 was the very first airplane to be painted with the new AA color scheme (called a 'livery'). This photo shows the very first time the plane arrived in Tulsa, 9:08am, January 22, 2013.
AA changed from the traditional silver jets to this metallic gray paint because the newest airplanes will be made with new, space-age components that are not silver, like all the older planes. Therefore they must be painted to protect them from the elements.
Al Blackman (right), celebrating his 70th anniversary with AA . Yes, 70 years. AA flew me to New York City in 2012 to photograph the company celebration of this event in the maintenance hangar where he worked as a supervisor. He holds the Guiness World Record as the longest career as an airline mechanic.
He and his family boarded this historic AA DC3 for a special flight around the city. (2017 update...still works at AA.)
AA decaled this modern day Boeing 737 with the AA AstroJet livery used back in the 1960's. This was always a popular plane when it showed up on the Tulsa base.
AA has been involved in the Tulsa Martin Luther KIng parade for a long time. I covered 15 MLK parades during my AA years. This photo is from 2006.
Parade weather in January can be real nice, but sometimes it can be brutally cold. I will always remember the year it was 16 degrees with blowing wind. A lot of the marching bands horns froze up and couldn't play. But, even with the cold weather, AA still had a great turnout of volunteers for the parade.
I photographed a lot of groups touring the base while I was there. One of my favorite times was this group of middle school students from France.
Probably the best, and least publicised, thing AA does is the mAAgicflight program. Each year, AA and Disney World Orlando partner to fly childen with incurable diseases, and their families, for a week vacation in Disney World.
On a special day, scenes like this one at the Tulsa AA gate happen all over the AA system. Gates and airplanes are decorated, and the families are given the total 'red carpet' treatment by AA and Disney.
When all the families arrive together at Disney World, they are met by Mickey and gang and given the royal once-in-a-lifetime treatment. This whole event is sponsored by the national Make-A-Wish foundation.This event is guaranteed to give goosebumps.
A big THANK YOU to all the AA volunteers who help make this event so special!
You never knew what special guest might show up on the Tulsa base for some maintenance. Like for instance, the Seattle Seahawks airplane. The AA maintenance base has the best mechanics and tech people in the world.
I overheard another company's pilot once say that when AA finished with their planes, the planes felt like they were brand new.
Speaking of special guests on the Tulsa Base, Mr Joe Montana throwing some passes to lucky receivers in the audience. You could tell your grandkids you once caught a pass from one of the greatest NFL quarterbacks in history!
Every year, AA has a great turnout of volunteers for the United Way Day Of Caring.
My first helicopter ride. Gotta admit, I was a little nervous leading up to that day. Then, that morning, when they told me the doors would be removed so I could have a better view to take pictures, I got a 'lot' nervous. But, once the chopper was about 50 feet off the ground, I was loving it, and shooting those photos of the Tulsa base was one of the coolest things I had ever done in my life.
AA Youth Days. The days when employees' kids and grandkids got to come to the base to tour and see where their parents and grandparents worked.
Another special guest on base. The B-29 WWII bomber "FIFI". Only 2 B-29s are still flying in the world.
We created this photo in celebration of AA involvement with the Susan G Komen foundation.
This Boeing 757 was decorated with the pink ribbon in honor of AA involvement with the Komen Foundation.
This was the first airplane photo session I did where they actually asked me 'Where would you like for us to park the plane?'. Usually you just shoot the planes where they are already parked and move around to find the best angles. I had gone out at sunup the previous morning to find a good location where the sunrise would be behind the airplane.
The decals had just been freshly applied, here, in one of the Tulsa hangars. I photographed that whole process, too.
A Boeing 757 cockpit. Also called a 'flight deck'. There are just as many controls and knobs, maybe even more, overhead and behind the pilot seats. The captain (pilot) always sits on the left side of the photo. The first officer (co-pilot) on the right.
See the little t-shaped handle on the left side, by the pilot's seat? That's how they steer the plane when it's on the ground.
For a retirement gift, a lot of departments would ask me take a portrait style photo of their retiree at some location on base; either out by an airplane, in their work area, or a maybe even a group photo with friends. These photos were often then given as a framed enlargement, going-away gift to the retiree.
I shot approximately 850 retiree portraits during my AA years.
For this retiree portrait, I photoshopped it to make it look like she was flying the plane.
As part of AA community involvement, here an AA employee gives a lecture to Lee Elementary school children about how an airplane works. The kids had very interesting questions.
Since Boeing aircraft had used so many of my airplane photos, they invited me to be an 'Honorary Member' of the new 787 'Dreamliner' aircraft design team. After seeing it in drawings and mockups for years, it was quite a thrill to see a real one actually sitting in front of me.
This photo of the very first Dreamliner AA received was taken at the Tulsa International Airport.
This is a photo of the AA DC-3 'Flagship Detroit'. This airplane was originally put in service by AA in 1937. It now makes special appearances at air shows and other special events.
It shows up on the Tulsa base occasionally where actual AA mechanics and tech people volunteer their time to keep it clean and running smoothly. A real piece of history. The sound of those radial engines starting up is quite a treat.
I shot a lot of group photos. All kinds of groups in all kinds of locations; on base and off base. Here is one of the last Boeing 727 to receive maintenance on the Tulsa Base. I shot over 950 group photos during my AA years.
One of the activities to raise money for charity was the popular 'Plane Pull' competition. Different AA department teams would compete against one another.
Another popular event I covered was the Tulsa Air and Space Museum's Aviator Ball, held in one of AA's hangars.
AA donated an MD80 to the Tulsa Air and Space Museum. I will always remember the weekend it was moved from the Tulsa base to its new permanent location outside the museum.
Here is something the traveling public may never get a chance to see. A 'closeup' of the new AA livery. This one on a Boeing 767.
Being located on a maintenance base, I shot a lot of mechanic photos. Here is one of a mechanic working on a Boeing 757 engine.
Another great event AA sponsored while I was there was the yearly 'Snowball Express'. Childen of 'Fallen Military Heroes' were treated to 3 days of fun at a nationally known amausement park, or some other exciting location.
Since I left the company, AA has partnered with the Gary Sinise Foundation for this yearly event.
Here is a photo of another event at the airport. The 'Honor Flight'. A group of military veterans, and their escorts, is flown to Washington DC to spend a day touring and viewing monuments that have been built in their honor. They leave and come back in the same day.
This photo is of the celebration of their return that evening to Tulsa. A brass band playing, people waving signs and cheering, and great time for all. Another big goosebump event. The general public is invited to this return celebration at the airport, so you should check one out sometime.
'Safety Rosie'. A photo and poster I created for an AA Tulsa Base safety campaign.
Rosie has been updated with the safety equipment now required in work areas on the base.....glasses, ear plugs, and proper gloves.
Seeing one of my photos used in a publication was always exciting. My photos were used on over 30 magazine covers during my AA years.
One of the most fascinating evenings I have spent in my entire life. Me, with General Chuck Yeager, Mr. 'Right Stuff' himself.
(a Special Thank You to Fred Cleveland, ex U.S. Navy 'Blue Angels' flight team member, for taking this photo, using my camera!)
VERY FIRST ASSIGNMENT AT AA - On my second day, arrive at a hangar at 6:00am, and take several indoor group photos of mechanics, from different shifts, around an airplane.
VERY LAST ASSIGNMENT AT AA - On my last day, fulfilled a request by Boeing headquarters for some of my new livery airplane photographs.
I took photos of...........
Buildings, Hangars, Work Areas And Off Base Operations - AA had 5 addditional locations in Tulsa beside their main base.
AA Airport Terminal Operations
Specialty Tools and Tooling Operations
AA Vehicles - Airplane Tow Trucks and various maintenance-related work vehicles.
People - Executive and management personnel, mechanics, office workers, tour groups, VIP guests and guest speakers, and lots of AA worker groups. This included both studio and environmental professional portraits.
Special Events (on base and off base) - News conferences, dedications, special award presentations, community involvement events (MLK parades, Day of Caring), banquets, conventions, museum events, air shows, work anniversaries, and more.
Also: For Outside News Agencies And Publications - Industry magazines, news sources (CNN, USA Today, local newpaper, etc.), and also shooting photos for both magazine covers and articles
Graphics Production - created posters, website banners and graphics, web-based photo galleries, technical graphic illustrations, powerpoint slides and backgrounds, wall murals, award graphics, video graphics, and Flash animations.