x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Model planes vie for bragging rights at Al Ain air show

Dubai model plane hobbyist prepares for this month's Al Ain Aerobatics Show, where the creations can be nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

A remote control model aircraft at last year's Al Ain air show was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
A remote control model aircraft at last year's Al Ain air show was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.

ABU DHABI // If Rashed al Muhairi's models are as convincing as he thinks they are, not even the UAE Air Force will be able to distinguish between a radio-controlled Hawker Hunter and a real military fighter jet when his aeroplanes soar at this month's Al Ain Aerobatic Show. "I'm telling you, you will see it in the sky but you will not know. Is it real, or is it the model?" said Mr al Muhairi, the leader of the Jet Masters aeronautical model hobbyists team. "Only if I stand next to it, you can tell it's not the real one. When it's flying, it does all the manoeuvres of the real jet."

Building the models is not child's play. Mr al Muhairi, who works for the Dubai Police, spent more than three months sanding and gluing together a Dh120,000 (US$32,700) kit in his Jumeirah home. The model weighs 20 kilograms and is roughly three metres long. His team of 30 hobbyists from Italy, Germany, France, the UK and the UAE are rushing to complete several models of UAE Air Force fighters before the show.

"We still have to programme and install all the electronics," he said. The models include a Mirage 2000, an F-16 and an MB-339. They are roughly a third of the size of the originals and can fly as fast as 480 kph. "We need to finish our models before the show or we cannot sleep," he said. "We are building and working until 4am all the time." It is the second year that Mr al Muhairi, 36, will display his models at the show.

Last year's exhibit was popular, he said. "A lot of people enjoyed our section and it made me so happy." This year, he hopes that a free workshop on flying model aircraft, during which people will be able to experience flying one on a computer simulator, will help inspire a love of model aeronautics among a new generation. "It's the first time we're having this, and it will be a very good chance for people to try what it's like to fly the models," Mr al Muhairi said.

"There is an instructor who sits next to you. He will show you the controls and the commands and what happens when you push the buttons," he said. "It's going to be fun." Mr al Muhairi, who has more than 20 model aeroplanes in his collection, said the Al Ain air show was the best opportunity for him to showcase his hobby. "There's a lot of marketing for the radio-controlled aeroplanes in Al Ain and this part of the world," he said.

The show runs for three days starting on Jan 28 at Al Ain International Airport. Aerobatic teams from around the world will perform, and the Aero GP racing circuit will make its Middle East debut. The Aero GP event will include three main competitions: a simulated dogfight, target practice and aerobatics. It will also feature a race pitting at least six aircraft against one another. Among the pilots scheduled to compete in the Aero GP event are Britons Mark Jefferies, Andy Bickmore and Will Curtis.

"People don't normally get to see five to seven aeroplanes together, jostling for a position, so it's definitely going to become a bit of a spectacle," Mr Bickmore said. "The real pleasure is actually going to be out there, being able to fly in this region, because it's got some good natural wonders, and that's something I've always wanted to do. It's going to be fantastic."