DUBAI // Daredevil Jonathon Whaley is promising sky-high thrills when he pilots his jet above the sand dunes of Al Ain for the final time later this month.
This year’s Al Ain Aerobatic Show will mark the last time thrill seekers will get the chance to see Mr Whaley perform his trademark stunts before the former pilot for the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm “eases back on the throttle a bit”.
Mr Whaley, 67, better known as Flapjack in aviation circles, hopes he can fly his red and yellow Hawker Hunter aircraft at speeds of more than 1,100kph at his swansong show in the UAE.
“The Hunter has a distinctive sound and it is called a blue note, which is a low whistle. It is heard after speeds touch 500 knots (926kph). I am legally not allowed to go faster than 600 knots,” said Mr Whaley from his office in southern England. “My speed at Al Ain varies from 180 knots to 600 knots.
“Al Ain organisers usually let me go to 10,000 feet (3,000 metres). I would actually request 16,000 feet, although 20,000 feet would be nice. It really depends on what is happening in the airspace at that time.”
The 10th Al Ain Aerobatic Show will run from November 30 to December 2 to coincide with the 42nd National Day celebrations. This will be Mr Whaley’s third visit to the air show piloting his customised 57-year-old jet, nicknamed Miss Demeanour.
“My trademark routine is that I come past the crowds at 180 knots with the canopy open, waving at the crowds and see them waving back at me,” said Mr Whaley. “No other jet fighter can do that.”
His show from take-off to landing usually lasts about 12 minutes, but it is his finale that really makes his display memorable.
“I can go low over the sand dunes and see the shadow of the aeroplane on the dunes. The crowds can also see that. One of the things that people go away from my show liking is my departure. What I do towards the end is a slow pass then climb away and then come back in high speed and do a vertical, rolling departure.”
The pilot, who has more than 43 years of flying experience including 15 years in the cockpit of his own jet, said he will miss soaring over the sand dunes of the UAE.
“In all the air shows I have been to in 15 years, the sheer fact that I won’t go back to Al Ain makes me very sad,” said Mr Whaley.
“It is a completely different environment. In Europe, I am either over the sea or over air fields. Whereas Al Ain has spectacular deserts all over. There is this sort of oasis just sitting there. It is a tremendous trail. If I can find a way to come back, I’ll do it.”
Even if he isn’t able to return in person, Mr Whaley hopes his vintage plane – which he intends to sell – will one day come back to the Al Ain Aerobatic Show with a new owner and pilot.
“Miss Demeanour has always enthralled visitors at the show with its manoeuvres,” said Sultan Al Muhairi, general co-ordinator for Al Ain Aerobatic Show 2013. “The bright colour scheme that accentuates her shape is a work of art and kids absolutely love her performance.”
Last year’s air show was postponed for a review to enhance and develop the event. Organisers promise this year will be a bigger affair.
Four elite military teams, seven daredevil pilots, wing-walkers, parachutists and an aircraft that has never been seen in the region will wow visitors. There will be a seven-hour aerial programme each day, and a 60,000 square metre interactive spectator zone.
This year’s show will also pay tribute to the country’s culture and heritage with a series of UAE-themed aerial displays and static attractions, performances and activities.
* This article was amnended to correct that Mr Whaley actually served in the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm, and not the Royal Air Force