x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Maiden fly-past for UAE's new Knights of the sky

The nation's elite team of aerobatic Air Force pilots makes a strong first impression on students and dignitaries during its debut.

The Knights streak red smoke through the air during their performance in Al Ain.
The Knights streak red smoke through the air during their performance in Al Ain.

Trailing plumes of red smoke, four fighter jets blasted past graduates at the air college in Al Ain yesterday, giving the public its first glance of Al Fursan — The Knights.

The UAE's aerobatic team, made up of six of the most experienced and skilled pilots in the Air Force, made its debut with a fly-by at the graduation ceremony for pilots and air-traffic control students at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College. From the UK's Red Arrows to the US's Blue Angels and the Saudi Hawks, national aerobatic teams give air forces a chance to show off their pilots' prowess. "The objective is to raise the UAE flag. It shows the proficiency of the Air Force and armed forces," said Lt Col Abdulla al Amimi, the squadron commander who led yesterday's formation.

The pilots, all Emiratis, have been training together for a year, and need about eight more months before they perform full aerobatic displays. "This was our first display, us saying 'OK guys, we're here, we're starting, and expect more from us in the future,'" Lt Col al Amimi said. "We didn't do much, but it's a start." The fly-by was timed to take place as a marching band passed assembled dignitaries, including Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Lt Gen Hamad Mohammed al Rumaithi, the Chief of Staff of the UAE Armed Forces.

"We were very calm and happy to show ourselves to the public, and from what I've heard and the messages I've received, everyone is very proud," Lt Col al Amimi said. Aerobatics require a range of skills and lightning-fast reactions. The pilots went through a rigorous selection process. In accordance with international guidelines, the pilots must have at least 1,000 flying hours, and the squadron leader must have 1,500 hours.

With planes in tight formation performing synchronised loops and twists, there is no room for error. "Safety is paramount, so we don't want to push the limits too much yet," said Lt Col al Amimi, who has been in the Air Force for 20 years. He hopes the team's displays will encourage young people to become pilots. "It's also a tool to talk to the kids, to say to them maybe they should be involved in something to do with aviation," he said.

The team flies the MB 339 Aermacchi, an agile Italian light attack aircraft with fine handling that makes it ideal for aerobatics. Though their formation normally includes six planes, only four flew yesterday. One was on the ground for a display, and the team always takes to the air in even numbers. The public may have another chance to view the team at the Al Ain Aerobatic Show, which is scheduled for January 27-30.

"It's not confirmed yet, but they might do a pass-by. They're not 100 per cent ready to fully participate," said Col Hassan al Attar, military co-ordinator for the show, which combines military and civil aircraft, stunts, displays and competitions. lmorris@thenational.ae