by Guest Writer Helmut “RS Colonel_131st” Skrdla
I guess it’s safe to assume that most of our readers are familiar with the many air shows during the summer season here in the western world. Oceana, Oskosh, Edwards in the States and Farnborough, Duxford, Airpower and similar in Europe each year draw a large crowd of visitors.
But what do you do when it’s mid-January, damn cold outside, no air shows scheduled anywhere near you, and you’re getting bored of the usual Tornados, Hornets and Eagles anyway?
Simple. You board a plane to Dubai International Airport and quickly enter a world which is quite different to anything you’ve seen at home. Welcome to the United Arab Emirates!
Some Facts and Figures
The UAE are comprised of seven Emirates: Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Dubai, Fujairah, Ras al-Khaimah, Sharjah and Umm Al Quwain. Abu Dhabi is the geographically largest area and includes the capitol city named likewise. Of course, recently the city of Dubai has become a better-known name, especially for it’s luxurious holiday facilities and the tremendously growing economy there.
The country borders on Saudi Arabia and Oman which can be considered to be peaceful neighbors. But to the north just across the Strait of Hormuz lies the Iranian military airport of Bandar Abbas, and that may be one reason why the Emirates take their national defense seriously, spending around 3.0% of their GDP on their military.
The UAE Armed Forces consist of about 65.000 troops mostly made up of people from Pakistan, India and other Arab countries (which also represent the majority of the civil workforce in a country where only about 18% of the population are natives). But the Officer’s Corps is almost entirely made up of locals.
The Air Force has always been very well equipped, with French Dassault Mirage 3s, Mirage Vs and Mirage 2000s as well as Hawk, Aeromacchi and Pilatus Trainers and mostly French helicopters.
But the biggest addition to their fleet recently were 80 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 60, of which 55 are the single-seat E version and 25 are double-seat F version. They represent the first sale of the Block 60 worldwide. The contract was signed in March 2000 and delivery finally began in May 2005. So far, the Emirates have received 12 airframes. They already lost one during display rehearsals for Al Ain 2006 just a day before I left for the show. The plane was actually flown by a USAF Pilot who ejected safely.
Hitting the Road
The garden city of Al Ain, built around an oasis and full of artificially maintained greenery, lies in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, about a two hour’s drive from Dubai. Al Ain International Airport is, like most airports in the country, dual-use military and civil, normally home to the UAE Air Force Flight Academy operating BAe Hawks. But for the duration of the air show it finds itself transformed into one huge air base hosting as much as 100 airplanes and more than 500 pilots and technical personnel.
Al Ain 06 marks the 4th happening of this annual show and is also an official part of the FAI World Grand Prix. Like most things in the Emirates, entry fees are very affordable – about 4 EUR for a standard day ticket and 20EUR for a VIP seat.
Interesting enough the VIP grandstand isn’t as usually located near the runway, but facing away from it at the edge of a parking ramp. While this means that takeoff and landing shots are right out, it keeps the sun behind the observer for the whole duration of the flight displays, which makes for some excellent photographic opportunities.