Sue Woods loves nothing more than hanging out the back of a Jabiru 430 aircraft to photograph the ultralight aeroplane that follows behind. “Flying is like nothing else. It’s a three-dimensional world up there,” she said.
But it wasn’t always the case. When her father Rodney Stiff and his former business partner Phil Ainsworth started Jabiru in 1988, Sue was raising her children and studying a Bachelor of Business while working in her husband’s pharmacy in Oakey. She knew nothing of the aviation industry when Rod asked her to move back to Bundaberg and join the business.
“Dad was practising retirement while I was practising being CEO,” Sue laughed. “It’s been good to keep Dad’s legacy going.” Tears of pride well in Sue’s eyes as she talks about Rod’s “passion, positivity and determination”.
“He and some mates decided to pool their funds to buy a new Cessna. At the time, the only affordable aircraft on the market was a rag and tube type thing. There was nothing with an enclosed fuselage, so he set to work designing an aircraft that had a higher degree of safety and was affordable.”
With everything on the line, it was a race against the clock to meet shifting goal posts set by the Civil Aviation Authority (CASA). At the last minute, Rod had to design and manufacture their own engine after their Italian supplier ceased production.
With a swag of pre-orders, they excitedly headed to their first aviation show at Holbrook in New South Wales.
“The first aircraft handed over at the show took off and collided with a horse with all these people watching. It was a terrible start, but the occupants stepped out, totally uninjured. It was testament to the strength of Jabiru aircraft and the orders came in. Today, our aircraft continue to have a great reputation amongst recreational flyers because of their durability.”
Jabiru has sold more than 2000 aircraft, between kits and fully completed aircraft, into 16 countries and represents 40 per cent of the recreational market in Australia. Their engines and aircraft have been sold in 31 countries.
Jabiru aircraft and engines are owned by recreational pilots, grey nomads and graziers. They’re used in flight training schools and for the surveillance of rhinoceros in Africa. They’re also ambulances in remote African areas that can’t be accessed quickly by road.
“It’s great to see something that’s come out of Bundaberg could have such wide global applications,” Sue said.