2018 in Review: Looking Back at My Highlights of Last Year

2018 in Review: Looking Back at My Highlights of Last Year

With January coming to an end, I decided to look back at last year, and write up my third “annual report.”

While I posted I posted a brief post listing five of my favorite flights of 2018 on New Year’s Day, last year was interesting enough for me aviation-wise (perhaps the most interesting year to date) to deserve a full review article like I wrote in 2016 and 2017.

Before continuing, though, I’d like to thank you for reading this blog, as well as my girlfriend, family & friends for supporting me (not only) in building this site.

Now, let’s travel back into 2018!

Miles, Types, Airlines

In 2018, I took 64 flights totaling just under 115,000 miles. That makes it my second best year to date in terms of distance flown, just after 2016 when I flew over 130,000 miles.

The two aircraft types I flew on the most were Boeing 737-800 (9 flights) and Boeing 777-300/300ER (14 flights across the two sub-variants). The airline I flew the most was, with 11 flights, Japan Airlines.

JAL Japan Airlines Boeing 777-300
Japan Airlines 777-300.

In spite of many of the flights I took being with airlines and on aircraft types I’d flown before, I also managed to log 4 new aircraft types and 11 new airlines (operators) last year. Namely, they were:

  • New aircraft types: Airbus A321neo, Cessna Caravan, de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter, Lisunov Li-2
  • New airlines (operators): Air Canada, Cathay Dragon, Goldtimer Foundation, Harbour Air, Iberia, JAC Japan Air Commuter, NASA/DLR, Qantas, Seair Seaplanes, Thai Airways, Xiamen Airlines

The Highlight of the Year: Flying on NASA’s SOFIA

June 2018 was, without a doubt, the best month of 2018 for me. In fact, it was the best month of my 10+ year aviation enthusiast “career.” After all, I got to fly on NASA’s flying telescope, SOFIA.

While getting a chance to fly on a Boeing 747SP for the second (and likely the last) time in my life was great, it was even better getting to watch people from NASA (and related organizations) in action.

Oh, and seeing the Aurora Australis was an unforgettable experience as well!

You can read complete report of my SOFIA flight with dozens of pictures here.

NASA Boeing 747SP SOFIA N747NA at Christchurch Airport
SOFIA at Christchurch airport.
NASA Mission Director
Mission Director in action.
Aurora Australis
Aurora Australis.


New Flying Experiences: Seaplanes and Lisunov Li-2

Besides the above which was about as unique as a flying experience can get, I also had a chance to try two other types of flights for the first time.

The first of those were two flights on seaplanes in the Vancouver area during a review trip I did together with my friend Philippe. During our stay in Vancouver, we did a side trip to Vancouver Island, flying with Seair Seaplanes from Vancouver International Airport to Nanaimo, and then back with Harbour Air from Victoria to Vancouver Harbour.

We were both surprised by how smooth the water take-offs and landings were.

Approaching Vancouver Harbour Airport
Approaching Vancouver Harbour seaplane base.

The second of those was my first flight on a radial engine-powered aircraft. During a trip to Europe, I was able to take a scenic flight over Budapest on the last airworthy Lisunov Li-2 – the Soviet version of the DC-3.

The flight was organized as part of celebrating the 50th birthday of Tupolev Tu-154.

You can read in detail about that experience here.

Goldtimer Foundation Lisunov Li-2 Wingview
Flying over Budapest on the Lisunov Li-2.
Malev Lisunov Li-2, Ikarus 55 and Tupolev Tu-154
While it might not seem so at first glance, this photo was taken in 2018.

Reviewing Products I Haven’t Flown Before

The rest of my flying for the year could be summarized as “reviewing products I haven’t flown before” and the positioning flights related to that.

As usual, I had a chance to try several economy class products I haven’t flown on (or I haven’t reviewed on this site) before. Those included Qantas which I used to position for the SOFIA flight mentioned earlier, Cathay Dragon, Air Canada, Lufthansa, Aeroflot, and Xiamen Airlines among others.

Lufthansa Boeing 747-400 at Frankfurt Airport
It was great to fly on the Lufthansa 747 again, this time in economy.
Xiamen 787-8 Cabin
Xiamen Air 787-8 economy class.
Qantas Economy Class Cabin
Qantas 747-400 economy class.

I also tried several business class products thanks to Qatar Airways’ extremely cheap fare (which I thought was insane until I took advantage of Cathay Pacific’s even crazier first class error fare at the beginning of this year) and by using miles.

With Qatar Airways, I was able to experience all three of its long-haul business class products – the old full flat seat without direct aisle access, the newer reverse herringbone seat, and the newest QSuite, the last of which was an unforgettable experience.

Qatar Airways QSuite Quad Suite
The excellent Qatar Airways QSuites.

Other than that, I tried and wrote about three different Thai Airways business class products (staggered business class, angled business class, and first class sold as business class), as well as ANA’s 777-300ER and Asiana Airlines’ A380 business class products.

Thai Airways Boeing 747-400 First Class Cabin
Thai Airways 747-400 first class cabin that I got to fly on a business class ticket from Bangkok to Phuket.
Asiana Airlines Ssambap Business Class Lunch
Asiana Airlines short-haul business class meal.
ANA 777-300ER Business Class Seat
ANA 777-300ER business class seat.

While doing the above flying, I was able to visit and review about 40 new lounges at various airport. Some of my favorites of those include:

The Qantas London Lounge Staircase
The Qantas London Lounge.

Plane Spotting in Japan

Over the last couple of years, the amount of plane spotting I do went down a fair bit. I still enjoy a good spotting session, though, and so I am glad to have been able to spend at least a few days at various airports around the world photographing aircraft.

Of course, I did some spotting at what I consider to be my “home airports” – Tokyo Haneda and Tokyo Narita.

Besides taking some photos before taking flights out of Narita, I visited the airport during sakura (cherry) blossom season which was a beautiful sight.

As for Haneda, I visited the airport a couple of times both to just enjoy being at the airport and watching aircraft, as well as to photograph specific aircraft such as a Kuwaiti Government A340-500, China Eastern’s A330 in the Toy Story livery, and an Abu Dhabi Amiri Flight 777 operating for Jordanian Government.

China Eastern A330 Toy Story
China Airlines A330 in the Toy Story livery.
Abu Dhabi 777
Abu Dhabi 777 operating for Jordanian Government.
Air Do 767 Bear Do
Air Do’s “Bear Do” 767 departing Haneda.
Korean Air Cargo 747-8F Tokyo Narita
Korean Air Cargo 747-8F with cherry blossoms.

Outside of Tokyo, I visited Aichi Museum of Flight in Nagoya which houses a YS-11 among other aircraft, and Sapporo New Chitose airport twice to photograph the soon-to-be-retired Japan Air Self Defense Force 747s.

The first of the two times was in winter to capture it with snow, and the other time was during Chitose Air Festival where both of the 747s made an appearance. The photo of the two 747s with hundreds of people taking photos of them has to be one of my favorite photos of the year.

YS-11 at Aichi Museum of Flight.
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747-400
Japan Air Self Defense Force 747s getting a rockstar treatment at Chitose Air Festival.
Korean Air 747 Arriving at Sapporo Airport
Korean Air 747 landing at Sapporo airport during a snowstorm.

I also spend an hour or two plane spotting at Kagoshima airport while making my way back from Yakushima to Tokyo.

Japan Air Commuter ATR at Kagoshima Airport
Japan Air Commuter ATR at Kagoshima airport.

Plane Spotting Outside of Japan

In addition to plane spotting in Japan, I also took photos at a couple of airports abroad – mainly during the review trips I did.

The three highlights of spotting abroad were seeing a Thai Airways 747-400 departing Phuket airport, an Air Intuit 737-200 departing Montreal, and photographing the diverse seaplane traffic at Vancouver Harbour seaplane base.

Thai Airways 747-400 at Phuket Airport
Thai Airways 747-400 departing Phuket after bringing me in from Bangkok.
Air Intuit Boeing 737-200
Air Intuit 737-200 departing Montreal. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on my side.
Harbour Air de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter
Harbour Air Twin Otter landing at Vancouver Harbour seaplane base.

Other than that, I also had a chance to photograph some interesting traffic during long layovers at Beijing and Sydney airports.

Tibet Airlines A330 at Beijing Airport
Tibet Airlines A330 taxiing at Beijing airport after arriving from Lhasa.
Qantas 717
QantasLink 717 taxiing at Sydney airport.

What Will 2019 Bring?

While 2018 will be tough to beat thanks to the SOFIA flight and Qatar Airways business class flight, I should be able to bring you plenty of (hopefully) interesting content in 2019 as well.

In fact, as you might have noticed, I already wrote about a little trip I did while staying in Europe to fly the Brussels Airlines Sukhoi Superjet which has been retired since then.

On my way back to Japan, I also flew a couple of different business class products – LOT’s EMB-195 and 787-8, KLM’s 777-200ER, and Garuda Indonesia’s A330-300 – that I will be posting reviews of soon.

As for the flights that I have booked for later in this year, the three most interesting things I have booked right now are ANA 787-9 business class flights to and from Singapore in March, the very first flight to the newly reopened Shimojishima airport at the end of March, and my first long-haul first class flights thanks to Cathay Pacific’s crazy New Year fare.

I also have a couple of other trips in mind, but none of those are set in stone yet, so I will update you later.

Until then, stay tuned, and enjoy the upcoming reviews!

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