The eighth and largest Al Ain Aerobatic Show took place at Al Ain International Airport from the 27th – 30th January 2010. Duncan Monk went along to witness this unique event for AeroResource.
Sat on the outskirts of the oasis city of Al Ain, and with a dramatic backdrop of the sprawling red sand dunes of the UAE desert, is the International Airport of Al Ain. It is the setting of the annual Al Ain Aerobatic show, which this year was the largest yet, encompassing 22 teams from 14 countries, with 70% of the teams taking part for the first time.
Teams from across the Globe, including Italy, South Africa, USA, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Croatia, France and the United Kingdom flew daily in the crystal clear blue skies over the sun drenched desert to entertain a highly appreciative audience, who attended in their thousands during Friday and Saturday, the Arabic weekend.
Held under the patronage of HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, the Al Ain Aerobatic Show is organised by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority and the UAE Air Force. An impressive list of sponsors include Etihad, Pilatus, Al Ain Water, Mubadala Aerospace, and Panasonic.
Some of the highlights of the four day show included: The South African Goodyear Eagles Aerobatic team, flying 3 Pitts Specials, who successfully achieved a never-before-seen triple synchronised inverted parachute drop, whilst three aircraft perform a formation loop.
There was also a round of the Aero GP featuring 6 aircraft taking part in dogfights, aerobatics and finally a race. As well as a unique display by the Italian Wefly team, flying 3 specially adapted Texan Club lightweight 80hp aircraft. The team are made up of disabled pilots, and are the only disabled aerobatic team in the world. The pilots pre-flight, embark, fly and disembark the aircraft alone. A truly remarkable team and an excellent display, which would be a great addition to any airshow.
The pre airshow line up looked impressive with a Bahrain Air Force F-16 and UAEAF AH-64D due to fly daily. As it turned out, both flew briefly on the first day, and never returned! There was a good presence from the UK with Team Viper flying 4 Strikemasters, Jonathon Whaley flying his colourful Hunter F58A, named Miss Demeanour, and Folland Gnat XR538 from North Weald.
The static line up was more impressive than years gone by, with a good selection of rarely seen UAE aircraft including: Mirage 2000C, F-16 Desert Eagle, PC-7, Hawk and AH-64D, whilst an Abu Dhabi Police helicopter was also on display. The promise of a UAE Army Chinook unfortunately failed to materialise.
The Aero GP International Air Racing series took place during the event with 6 pilots fighting it out to be king of the skies flying various high performance aircraft.
In addition to the 10 lap race flown around a tight course, the pilots engage in air combat where two pilots engage in a 1 v 1 challenge for air supremacy. The final discipline is aerobatics, where the pilots show off their individual aerobatic skills, whilst trying to be in time to the music that they have chosen. The pilots taking part this year were Andy Bickmore and Gerald Cooper from England, Castor Fantoba frorm Spain, Nigel Hopkins from South Africa, Smokey Young from the USA and Zoltan Veres from Hungary.
It would be the Hungarian who would come out the victor flying his MSX. The Hungarian is a Boeing 737 Captain and inspector for the Hungarian Civil Aviation Authority. He also holds every possible type of licence in aviation and is one of the few pilots authorised to fly surface level aerobatics. A truly gifted pilot, he managed to lap the entire field during the 10 lap race!
The Saudi Hawks display team were a welcome addition to the line up and produced a more polished tighter routine than the author had seen a week prior in Bahrain, during the BIAS. The team have an RAF Liaison officer, and they have a lot of Red Arrows traits including some original manoeuvres which are a breath of fresh air, and will be enjoyed throughout the UK this summer, if the rumoured tour comes to fruition.
To ensure a female touch on proceedings, Jacquie Warda from the United States of America impressed the crowds displaying her unique ‘Red Eagle’ Pitts S-1T. Jacquie is a remarkable lady who didn’t pick up her PPL until 1986 and then decided aerobatics flying was her destiny. At the age of 50 she entered her first aerobatic club competition and has progressed rapidly to advanced aerobatics.
Team Viper managed to fly all four Strikemasters by the end of the week, after a few problems, including a burst tyre with one aircraft on the first day, closing the main runway for while. The Team had arrived from Bahrain, where two aircraft performed flawlessly. Team Viper had an epic three day journey to Bahrain, which included stops in France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The highlight of the display was a low flypast simulating a bombing run and explosion from the pyrotechnic guys.
The Breitling Jet Team from France, the only professional civilian flight team performing with jets, flies the L-39C Albatross. This powerful jet was used by all former soviet bloc countries and represents an excellent compromise between performance, reliability and operating costs. The team performed their routine with precision and sophistication as you would expect from a team with a title sponsor as Glamorous as theirs. The crowd were hugely impressed with plenty of applause and lots of gasps of breathe as they performed overhead.
The rest of the show comprised of: Ali Ozturk flying his Purple Violet Pitts Special; Pilatus displaying their PC-21; Draz – A Croatian whose display involves him jumping out of a microlight from 5000’ wearing a wingsuit, which he then uses to fly down to around 100m before popping his one main chute as he can’t carry a spare!
The highlight of the event every day was Miss Demeanour, flown by Jonathon ‘Flapjack’ Whaley. The Hunter F58A as it is now, built in 1956, was thrown around the sky with gay abandon by ‘Flapjack’, skipping over the sand dunes one minute, then soaring up into the deep blue yonder before pouring on the coals and diving down to the desert floor to simulate a bombing run.
Jonathon began his flying career with the Royal navy in 1965 gaining flying experience on Tiger Moths! He then went on to fly Jet Provost Mk3’s and 4’s with No.1 FTS. After gaining his wings he carried out advanced flying training on the Hunter at RAF Brawdy, and so his passion began. Jonathon took up competition aerobatics in 1973, when he left the Royal Navy. In 1997 he took over jet Heritage at Bournemouth and during his time there acquired ex Swiss Air Force Hunter J-4104. The aircraft was originally built as an F.4, serial XF947 and eventually entered service with 3(F) Squadron at RAF GeilenKirchen, Germany. The aircraft was turned out in the exotic colour scheme she wears today in January 1999 and now resides at Exeter Airport.
The organisers managed to set up a unique formation with the Gnat being tail chased in close formation by the Hunter. It was a truly exceptional sight to watch these colourful ex military aircraft performing so tightly together. The aircraft eventually splitting and carrying out a mock dog fight, which then quickly leads to yet another bombing run with a suitable explosion to follow.
The Al Ain Aerobatic show had new show directors running the display this year, and it was clear to see they made a huge difference. The displays ran smoothly, there were no significant gaps and the commentary in both English and Arabic was informative, to the point and a pleasure to listen to.
Last years show was slated for the lack of static, star flying items, huge gaps in the flying display and lack of information forthcoming as to what was going on. It seems in 2010 someone has gripped the show and dragged it back from the brink. It was without doubt a huge success judging by the amount of people that flocked to the show over the weekend and the compliments that were forthcoming from Families, participants and Media alike.
The Author would like to thank Dina Fouad and the rest of the PR Team for their assistance and guidance.