My most interesting flights

“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”                - Leonardo Da Vinci

In my work over the decades, I have had to do quite a bit of flying. Some of my flights were more interesting than others for various reasons. Here is a sample of 45 flights that stick in my mind. I am deeply grateful to Airliners.net for the use of some images (www.airliners.net). Click any photo below for an enlargement.

My first flight,

A first flight is always memorable. Mine was on a TAA (Trans-Australia Airlines) Douglas DC-9 from Sydney to Canberra on 20th August 1975, a distance of just 236 kilometres.

My first international flight,

My first international flight was on my honeymoon on 12th Dec 1976 when we took a Qantas Douglas DC-4 from Sydney to Norfolk Island at Mach 0.28. At 1680km, it remains my longest flight in a propeller aircraft.

Used in a hijack - now in a museum!

I flew on this Chinese Air Force Vickers Viscount (50258) from Beijing to Shanghai on 12th May 1986. On 30th July 1982, it had been in an abortive hijack!

The oldest plane I have flown (by age),

Samoa Airways Twin Otter (5W-STF) was built in 1974, making it 45 years old when I flew in it in 2019 from Apia to Pago Pago. It took off at 7:45am on 13th Sept and landed 35 minutes later at 8:20am on the previous day (12th Sept) - a true time machine.

The oldest plane I have flown (by manufacture date),

The oldest plane I have flown in was this Masling Airlines Douglas DC-3, VH-MWQ, built in 1943, in which I flew on 16th May 1977 from Sydney to Canberra and back.

The newest plane I have flown in,

I flew on the first flight on the first day of service of the first Boeing 787 for United Airlines (N20904) from Houston to Chicago on 4th November 2012 . Use link in the footer for more images of the flight.

My longest flight,

My longest flight was on 17th October 2011 when I flew in this Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300 (9V-SWS) from Singapore to Houston via Moscow - 17947 km. This took precisely 24 hours and 1 minute.

“Wow - you’ve done that!”

I have had 18 flights with Air Koryo, the North Korean airline. My first Air Koryo flight was on 1st March 2005 when I flew from Beijing to Pyongyang in this immaculately maintained vintage Tupolev Tu-154, registration P-561, that was built in 1983.

The flight that took me to my 100th country

was on 30th June 2010 when I flew on this Royal Jordanian Airlines Embraer ERJ-195 (JY-EMF) from Amman (Jordan) to Damascus (Syria). Tragically, Syria was aflame with civil war less than a year later.

My shortest flight,

On 19th July 2014 I flew in this Vertical-T Mil Mi-8 (RA-24262) from Dolina Geyzerov across a high ridge to Uzon Caldera (on Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula), a distance of 11 kilometres. The flight took 5 minutes.

My slowest flight,

On 10th August 2002, I took 75 minutes to fly 16 kilometres from West Alice Springs to Ewaniga in this Kavanagh hot-air balloon, with good tail winds!

My longest non-stop flight,

was from Singapore to Newark on 16th January 2008 in this Singapore Airlines Airbus A340-500 (9V-SGD). The distance was 15345 km, taking 17 hours 20 minutes.

My shortest jet flight,

On 30 Sept 1991 my Aeroflot Ilyushin Il-62 (CCCP-86564), flying from Bangkok to Moscow via Dubai, landed at Moscow’s Bykovo Airport, and then flew 56 km across the city to Sheremetyevo Airport, our destination.

My shortest international flight,

On 28th June 1989, I flew from Vanimo in Papua New Guinea to Jayapura (Irian Jaya, Indonesia), a distance of 88 kilometres, in this Douglas Airways Britten-Norman Trislander (P2-DNP).

My longest domestic flight,

On 12th July 2014, I flew from Moscow to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, a distance of 6765 kilometres, all within the borders of Russia, on this Aeroflot Boeing 777-300 (VP-BGB).

Yes, I flew in a plane that crashed #1

On 4th October 1996 I flew from Harbin to Beijing on this China Northern Airlines MD-82 (B-2138). On 7th May 2002 it crashed with an inflight fire near Dalian killing all 112 on board.

Yes, I flew in a plane that crashed #2

On 24th July 2006 I flew from Tashkent to Tehran on this Iran Air Boeing 727-200 (EP-IRP). On 9th January 2011 it crashed in bad weather near Urmieh (Iran) killing 77 of 105 on board.

Yes, I flew in a plane that crashed #3

On 11th August 2016 I flew from Port Moresby to Brisbane on this Air Niugini Boeing 737-800 (P2-PXE). On 28th September 2018 it crashed on approach to Chuuk Island (FSM). There was one fatality and the plane was a write-off.

A plane used for illegal arms dealing,

I flew in this Daallo Airlines Kazakh-registered Boeing 727-200 (UN-B2703) on 3rd July 2008 from Dubai to Djibouti. Until his arrest in March 2008 it was used by “Merchant of Death” Viktor Bout for illegal arms dealing.

The rarest plane I have flown in,

A leading candidate for this honour is this Ilyushin Il-114 of Uzbekistan Airlines (UK-91102) that I flew in from Tashkent to Urgench on 8th July 2006; only 5 were built.

The smallest airline I have flown with

I flew on this Swaziland Airlink Jetstream 41 from Manzini to Johannesburg on 27th February 2009. Swaziland Airlink had only one aircraft - this one - which it did not even own; it was leased from South African Airlink.

The highest airport I’ve visited,

La Paz Airport in Bolivia is situated at an altitude of 4061 metres, or 13,325 feet. I have passed through 4 times, most recently as seen here on 29th June 2015 in this LAN Airlines Airbus A320-200 (CC-BFX).

The most northern airport I visited,

Murmansk Airport in Russia is located at 68°46’52”N, i.e. north of the Arctic Circle. I took off from there on 1st August 2013 in this Rossiya Airlines Airbus A319 a few minutes after I took this photo.

The most southern airport I visited,

Invercargill Airport in New Zealand is located at 46°24’54”S. I took off from there on 8th July 2001 in this Air Nelson (Air New Zealand Link) Saab 340.

My most unanticipated flight,

On 24th September 1999 I watched my incoming Qantas Boeing 747 (VH-OJH) crash on landing at Bangkok. I flew to London on this Thai Boeing 747 (HS-TGK) instead.

The largest plane I have flown in,

I have had 30 flights on double-deck Airbus A380 aircraft. The exciting experience of my first A380 flight was on 3rd April 2008 when I flew from Singapore to Sydney in this Singapore Airlines A380, 9V-SKC.

The plane I have flown in most often,

I have had 11 take-offs and landings in this Qantas Boeing 747-400, registration VH-OJD, all between 1991 to 2001. My last flight in VH-OJD was on 8th January 2001 when I flew from Melbourne to London with a short transit stop in Singapore.

My least comfortable flight,

On my 6-hour flight from Mirny to Moscow on 11th July 2014, I had a dog with bad breath seated beside me, a boy in front ramming his seat back on me through the whole flight, crushingly tight leg room with no seat recline, and my luggage was lost.

The longest gap between flights on the same type of aircraft,

I flew in this Air Tanzania Twin Otter on 29th January 1991 from Dodoma to Kilimanjaro. It was almost 29 years before my next Twin Otter flight on 13th Sept 2019 with Air Samoa from Apia to Pago Pago.

My longest helicopter flight,

was on 18th July 2014 when I flew from Yelizovo to Kuril Lake in this Sokol Aviakompaniya Mil Mi-8 (RA-22916), a distance of 208 kilometres. The flight took one hour and ten minutes.

My worst landing of any flight,

on 18th April 1982 my CAAC Trident (B-261) screamed to a stop just 1 metre short of the end off the end of the runway when landing at Xian, luggage falling from the open overhead shelves on passengers, scattering the peasants lining the runway.

My first flight in a Soviet jet,

on 16th August 1984 I flew from foggy London to foggy Prague in this Tupolev Tu-134 (OK-AFA) operated by Ceskoslovenske Aerolinie (CSA), truly a trip behind the Iron Curtain in those days.

My most interesting passenger cabin

was in this CAAC Ilyushin Il-14 that I flew from Yichang to Wuhan on 13th April 1982, featuring a clock, altimeter and oil pressure gauge for inflight entertainment!

My 100th flight,

The memorable experience of my 100th flight was from Jayapura to Wamena (in Irian Jaya) on 29th June 1989 in this Merpati Nusantara Fokker Friendship.

My 1000th flight,

The even more memorable experience of my 1000th flight was from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on 19th December 2006 in this Bangkok Airways ATR-72 (HS-PGG).

My 2000th flight,

My 2000th flight on 17th March 2020 was unplanned. I was in Thailand when all Australians were ordered home due to the pandemic. This Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-800 (9M-MXI) carried me from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur on the first leg back.

In and out of Yemen

Commercial flights in and out of Yemen have been suspended for years. I flew in and out of the capital, Sana’a in 2008. My flight out of Sana’a was to Asmara (Eritrea) on 27th June 2008 in this extremely crowded Yemenia Airbus A310.

My best ever flight

On 30th September 2018 I flew from Bangkok to Sydney on this Emirates Airbus A380. I paid for the flight using points and the only seat available was in First Class. This included an in-flight shower – I have never arrived feeling more refreshed!

Antarctic sightseeing

On 17th November 2019, I flew on a Boeing 747-400 (VH-OEG, Qantas), a 11,604 km sightseeing flight over Antarctica, focussing on the Ross Sea coastline from Cape Adare to Mount Erebus. A fabulous photo taking opportunity, it was my 199th 747-400 flight.

My last Boeing 747 flight

I had more flights on Boeing 747-400s than any other plane. My last (the 202nd flight) was on 17th February 2020 when I flew from Melbourne to Sydney on VH-OEH, the last Qantas Boeing 747 flight ever to fly out from Melbourne.

A very rare double diversion

My flight from New York to Nashville on 4th August 2017 was diverted twice because of severe storms, landing in Chattanooga and then in Louisville before finally flying into Nashville. This changed a scheduled 1 hour 38 minute flight into 6 hours 57 minutes.

My students flew the plane

I was leading a group of students on a trip through Burma (now Myanmar), and on 1st May 1984 we flew from Rangoon (now Yangon) to Heho in this Burma Airways Fokker Friendship. The pilot let each of my students in turn take the controls.

The last Fokker

On 7th June 2008 I flew in this Ethiopian Airlines Fokker 50 from Axum to Addis Ababa via Gonder. ET-AKS was the last plane produced by Fokker, which had built aircraft from 1912 to 1997. What a pity Ethiopian Airlines just left the plane white.

My fastest flight,

On 21st January 2002 I flew on this Boeing 777 (9V-SQA) from Beijing to Singapore. At one point, the display screen said the speed was 1290 kmh, faster than sound!

George Bush’s other plane ;-)

Weirdest registration of a plane I have flown in was G-BUSH, a British Airways Airbus A320 I flew in from Copenhagen to London on 25th August 1996.

27 images of the first commercial flight of the first United Airlines Boeing 787 on 4th November 2012

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