x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Airshow takes wing in Al Ain

The peaceful blue skies over Al Ain will be riven this week as the Aero GP comes to the Middle East for the first time.

An aerobatic display team from Italy performs for the media yesterday ahead of the Al Ain Aerobatic Show.
An aerobatic display team from Italy performs for the media yesterday ahead of the Al Ain Aerobatic Show.

The peaceful blue skies over Al Ain will be riven this week by the high-octane roar of the aeronautical equivalent of Formula One as the Aero GP comes to the Middle East for the first time. The new event, which runs from Wednesday to Saturday and is expected to attract 130,000 spectators, raises the curtain on an international aerobatic calendar that is celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Aero GP, which consists of three events, brings together some of the world's best pilots for tests of precision flying. Zoltan Veres, 46, one of the favourites to win the GP, described it as the ultimate test of flying. "The Aero GP is unique because pilots race against each other rather than a clock," he said. "The first discipline is the pylon race. This is an air race around a marked course where the winner is the first to cross the line. "It's like a road race except we fly at over 500kph - at times only five metres above the ground." The second part, called barnstorming, involves various aerial challenges, including aerobatics, low-level obstacle courses, and target bombing, among other aerial stunts. The final segment is a dogfight. Most popular with spectators, it recreates the duels of the Second World War. The planes track each other and get in position to fire. The umpire then judges whether a strike has been made and, if it has, a smoke trail is emitted from the shot plane. Three strikes and a plane is out. Jeff Zaltman, the founder of Aero GP, said the Al Ain airshow was the ideal venue for the new sport becaause of the dune landscape. "Al Ain has established a worldwide reputation since it established its airshow six years ago," said Zaltman. "It has brought new audiences and a new demographic to aerobatics and I think Aero GP will be popular. We are looking for pilots from the region and are seeking to carry out some pilot training in the UAE in the future." As well as the Aero GP, 15 stunt and aerobatic teams will be performing, including a glider team from Britain and a wing-walking acrobatic team from Scandinavia called the Skycats. Planes on display range from one-quarter scale models that have miniature jet engines and cost around ?30,000 (Dh141,000) and vintage Russian bi-planes to full-scale transcontinental airliners. Other entertainment includes a heritage village, paintball, a Mercedes test track and go-karting. The event is co-sponsored by the UAE Air Force, which will display two fighters, including an F-16. Tubo Didi, 42, a German who is flying his radio-controlled jet at the show, said he had seen how it encouraged people to take up flying. "Every year I come I see more spectators and more people wanting to become involved in flying themselves. When the airshow started six years ago there were three jet pilots in the UAE, now there are around 15. It is becoming a centre for the sport." Khaled al Hashemi, the director of the administration division of the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, said the event was not intended to make a profit but to develop tourism. "The airshow will demonstrate that Al Ain has the infrastructure and facilities to host international events. It will have a worldwide audience who will hear of Al Ain and see that the emirate of Abu Dhabi has a range of tourist attractions and locations. "The addition of the Aero GP this year demonstrates our ambition to make the Al Ain show the world's most sought after aerobatic event." A shuttle bus will be provided to take people to the site from Al Ain civic centre. It will depart every 20 minutes from 3pm to 7.30pm throughout the duration of the show. tbrooks@thenational.ae