An Italian aerospace company is fitting out the UAE's first aerobatic team to create a troupe of flying aces similar to Britain's Red Arrows, the US Blue Angels and Italy's Frecce Tricolori.
Alenia Aermacchi, a unit of the Italian defence giant Finmeccanica, has retrofitted 10 jets, with features such as dye and smoke tanks, for the Emirates to launch its aerobatics team. Emirati pilots are also being trained in Italy through a joint programme with the Italian air force's Frecce Tricolori.
The work comes as the UAE seeks to boost the flying abilities of its air force pilots and have its team, called Al Fursan, or The Knights, serve as unofficial country ambassadors. The team is expected to become operational this summer.
With black and gold livery featuring red leading edges and green, black, red and white chevrons under the wings, the 10 Alenia MB-339As were upgraded at the company's factory in Venegono, Italy. They include six planes that were already in the UAE Air Force and Air Defence fleet, and four jets that used to be owned by the Italian Air Force.
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Alenia announced on December 21 the last four of the jets were leaving Venegono bound for the Emirates.
"With the delivery of these aircraft, the Al Fursan UAE national acrobatic team will have 10 aircraft at its disposal, the remaining six already in-service MB-339A were upgraded by Alenia Aermacchi in the Emirates one year ago," Alenia said.
The modifications bring the aircraft to the same standard used by the Frecce Tricolori, including replacing wing-tip fuel tanks with dye tanks and smoke generators, so the team will be able to produce smoke trails in the UAE's colours of red, white, green and black.
The Al Fursan made its debut with a fly-by at the graduation event at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College last year. In addition, it had one of its jets parked at the static display at the Al Ain Aerobatic Show last week. They will be expected to feature as the top billing at the annual air show held at Al Ain International Airport, which has featured national flying teams such as the Turkish Stars and the Saudi Hawks.
Last month, the Al Fursan pilots completed a flight training programme at Udine-Rivolto air base in Italy that began last summer under the supervision of the Italian flying display team. The pilots are now slated for more training in the UAE, and are expected to fly in a seven-member configuration, with one jet acting as a solo, according to Arabian Aerospace magazine.
Alenia's relationship with the UAE dates back to the purchase of the MB-339As by Dubai when it operated its own air force until 1999. The company is also hoping to sell the Emirates up to 48 M-346 jet trainers and light attack aircraft in a proposed deal first announced at the 2009 IDEX defence exhibition in Abu Dhabi. That deal is thought to be worth more than US$1 billion (Dh3.67bn).