2021 in general was a recovery year for commercial aviation, normality has returned to some degree and many of us has started flying again.

I flew 150,000 miles in total, which is still half of what I used to fly pre-pandemic. These were mainly pilot training flights and some long-haul flights between U.S. and Dubai. Out of 104 flights I flew, I have shortlisted my top 5 flights of 2021.

1. My Own Flights as Pilot

In July, I finally passed my Private Pilot checkride!

I never believed I could become a pilot! As I am not a technical person, just the thought of piloting a plane always seemed way beyond me; I had very little confidence in my physical ability to fly a plane plus I was way too content with flying as a backseat passenger.

Since then, I have gained an enormous amount of satisfaction throughout my pilot journey. Once you make a good landing or break through a mental wall, the confidence will surge and every step you make is one closer to success! If I can do it, you can too!

In this video, I am sharing with you my experience on these pilot exams and some useful tips to help you. Further, I discuss the cost of getting a private pilot license, getting the right instructor, and several key factors to help you throughout the training.

2. 40 Hours inside a B747 Cargo Plane

I was on a humanitarian mission inside a National Airlines B747-400BCF, delivering medical cargo aids.

I flew from Frankfurt Hahn to Islamabad, Pakistan and over the Himalayas to Kathmandu, Nepal. The flight originated from the USA carrying nearly 80 tons of USAid, destined for Pakistan and Nepal.

Our B747 landing into Kathmandu was a thriller! After passing through the last clouds, the entire Kathmandu valley came into sight. Our descent was much steeper than the usual 3 degrees glideslope; it required all the breaks we had to come to a full stop at the end of the runway in Kathmandu, due to high altitude.

What a great privilege to be part of the team to send these much-needed supplies around the world, also to be able to document behind the scenes of such a mission! I felt like “an airplane man” staying inside the B747 for 40 hours, from dark to light to dark again! That’s just 2 days in the life of a charter cargo crew! Certainly very different to the passenger airlines.

3. Saudia B777/B787 AirShow Formation Flight - How 4 Airliners Flew Within 200 Feet?

I was flying inside two of the four Saudi commercial airliners that participated in the Saudi 91st National Day Airshow 2021.

The four Saudi Airliners involved in the formation are:

  • Saudia B787-9 (Call sign: Falcon 1)
  • Saudia B777-300/ER in Retro Livery (Call sign: Falcon 2)
  • Flyadeal A320neo (Call sign: Falcon 3)
  • Flynas A320 (Call sign: Falcon 4).

On day 1 of the rehearsal, I flew inside a Saudia B777-300/ER Retro 75th anniversary special livery (registration HZ-AK28). The pilots explained the special flying procedure of the formation. The 4 airliners were flying with just 200 feet separation, which requires precision planning and discipline.

On day 2 I flew inside a Flyadeal new A320neo, to film the other formation aircraft. I was treated to some amazing and incredible air-to-air flying footage of Saudia B777 and B787.

4. Onboard An-32 Firefighting Plane

I was in Dalaman, Turkey in the summer to fly inside an Antonov An-32P "Fire Killer".

The pilot and crew demonstrated how aerial firefighting works. The Antonov An-32P has 2 large and powerful Ivchenko Progress AI-20DM turboprop engines and can hold 8,000 Litres of water, contained in 2 external tanks.

We departed Dalaman Airport on a training flight. The pilot released the water just 40 meters over the target. It was a precision operation to release the water. Dropping water too high above the target would have resulted in water evaporations.

The An-32 did some excellent maneuvering during the flight. It was loud and very hot inside the cargo hold. After the flight, pilot Arytem explained the challenges and dangerous nature of aerial firefighting operations.

5. Flying into One of Europe's Most Challenging Airport - Funchal, Madeira

I have been wanting to go to Funchal, Madeira airport in Portugal for a long time, as I have heard so much about the scary and challenging landing there. I flew on a TAP Air Portugal A319 from Lisbon to Madeira in the morning. The pilot explained why Funchal, Madeira is a difficult airport to land. The variable wind on the final approach and the draft from the mountain has created tough conditions for planes to land.

Share with me your top flights of 2021 in the comment section!