What a year 2021 was. It had so many ups and downs, it almost seemed as if 2020 never left. For me, it was a year of flying. When I got the Jabiru, Iaan guessed that we would fly around 100 hours per year. I thought he was nuts. I was wrong… I flew an incredible 135 hours in 2021! 101 of those hours were flown in the first 6 months of the year.

The number of hours flown per month

Our focus was on the World Rally Flying Championships that were set to take place in November 2021 in Stellenbosch. As the host country, the top 10 teams from South Africa would get a chance to compete. As a newbie team to the sport of rally flying, we would need to put in a lot of work to try and get into the top 10. This is reflected by a whopping 83 hours spent at competitions, practicing for competitions, or flying to and from competitions.

We flew in 6 competitions (11 flights), which included 2 Speed Rallies, the Spot Landing Nationals and 3 Rally Competitions. The Rally Competitions included the Rally Nationals in Stellenbosch and the second Qualifier held in Brits. These were both three-day competitions where you fly one rally route per day. Actual competitions totalled 16.6 hours, while practice totalled 36 hours. In addition, 31 hours were spent flying to and from competitions, and of these, 21 hours were spent flying to Stellenbosch (via Mossel Bay) and back for the Nationals in April.

A breakdown showing the types of flights we do plus a breakdown of the competition hours

The flight to Rally Nationals in Stellenbosch included my longest single flight of 3.3 hours (3 hours 18 minutes) from Brakpan to New Tempe just outside of Bloemfontein. This trip also included my longest ever flying day when we flew from Stellenbosch back to Brakpan in one day, totalling 9 hours flying time. When we aren’t doing crazy cross-country flights, my average flight time is 1.2 hours, with cross country flights and races tending to be longer, while practice sessions and fun flights with friends tend to be shorter.

An average rally competition takes 1.7 hours (1 hour 42 minutes), while a Speed Rally tends to be slightly longer at 1.9 hours (1 hour 54 minutes). Spot Landing competitions are short but intense and include two flights of around 30 minutes each.

Amazingly, we went from flying our first ever rally competition at the Rand Challenge in January 2021 to qualifying 9th in South Africa during the Brits Qualifier in July 2021. Unfortunately, the World Rally Championships were cancelled shortly after the Brits Qualifier. The cancellation combined with horrible weather from August to the end of the year decreased the numbers of hours flown every month substantially.

Competitions aside, I visited 17 different airfields and flew to 5 different provinces during 2021. This included fly-ins to EAA Taildraggers at Warmbaths, Aeroclub Air week in Middelburg, EAA Pancake Day at Silver Creek Gorge and the Great Train Race at Heidelburg. We also flew away for a relaxing but windswept weekend to Bona Bona.

A Strava heatmap showing all my flights for the year

One of the greatest advantages of owning my own plane is that I can share my love of flying with others. In 2021 I had a total of 21 different passengers, most of whom have never been in a small plane before. The absolute joy on some of their faces as we take off is something truly special. Some of my most memorable flights in the year include taking my nephew for a flight on his 6th birthday. He lit up on take-off! When he realised he could see peoples’ swimming pools, he couldn’t wait to go home for a swim! Taking my brother-in-law Ryan and my colleague Naledi on scenic flights brought about some of the biggest smiles I have ever seen, and I know both of them can’t wait to get another chance! Iaan is spoilt and flew 109 hours with me in 2021. He, my dad and my father-in-law absolutely love to fly and will jump at any opportunity to join me.

My nephew about to take to the skies for the first time

A question I often get asked is how much it costs to own a plane. As “Just Plane Silly” explains in his excellent YouTube video What does it cost to own your own airplane?, the formula is to log onto your bank account and total up all the money in all the accounts you have. That is how much it costs to own your own plane and a whole lot more!

Joking aside, we keep meticulous records of the costs, and in 2021 our average flying costs amounted to R612 /hour. This does not include the reserve for the inevitable engine overhaul, however, on the little 4-cylinder Jabiru, that will add less than R100 /hour. Our fixed costs were R1,964 /month including hangarage, insurance, licencing and club fees. We share a lovely, large hanger with four to five other aircraft at Brakpan Airfield. We are fortunate that even in our shared hangar, nobody really needs to move planes in and out, reducing our risk of hangar rash and the annoyance of moving everyone every time we want to fly. We also love the clubhouse and the atmosphere at Brakpan and highly recommend that everyone pop in for a toasted sandwich or a burger over the weekends.

Variable costs for fuel, maintenance and consumables were R438 per hour. Of that, fuel costs on average R255 per hour. Aviation fuel, called avgas, is not regulated like car fuel, which means that every airfield can charge a different amount for fuel. Avgas at Brakpan is relatively expensive compared to other airfields but being able to taxi up to the pump is very convenient and after being charged R30/l in Gariep in April, we don’t complain too much.

A breakdown of the average costs per hour

Maintenance for the year included a 100-hour service, an annual service, a 50-hour service and three oil services (every 25 hours). We typically do the oil services ourselves. All we need is an oil filter (that costs a whopping R45) two quarts of oil (around R400) and some locking wire. I enjoy doing the oil change as it is relatively simple, and I get the opportunity to really inspect the engine bay closely to identify any potential issues.

Doing an oil service

Other costs we don’t include in our flying costs are competition entry fees, as well as all the breakfasts, coffees, cold drinks, toasted sandwiches, and hamburgers we consume while hanging around airfields waiting for the weather to play along.

The Jabi has a relatively economical fuel consumption, and our average fuel burn was 12 l/hour. I covered about 20,000 km in 2021, which means I used about 8 l per 100 km. That is comparable to my car! In total, we converted 1,643 litres of fuel into speed and altitude during 2021. To put that into perspective, a Boeing 737/800 burns our year’s fuel consumption in 30 minutes!

Taildraggers at Warmbaths with Dad
Naledi about to become an aviation enthusiast
My brother in law getting ready to go
Mossel Bay with my aunt and uncle after spotting some whales in the bay