Bahrain 2012: Al Fursan Knights stage Bahrain debut
The UAE Air Force and Air Defence's (UAE AF&AD) Al Fursan (Knights) formation aerobatic display team is displaying in Bahrain in the aftermath of a triumphant public debut at the Dubai Airshow in November.
The UAEAF&AD decided to form its own formation team after witnessing the success of the Saudi Hawks and the long-established Royal Jordanian Falcons teams. It hoped that by doing so it would be able to demonstrate the skills of its pilots, to show the proficiency of the Air Force and armed forces and to ‘fly the flag’ for the Emirates.
The team initially consisted of six pilots from the Flying Instructors’ School at Al Ain, flying four or six MB339s in standard camouflage. The team made its debut in January 2010 with a four-aircraft fly-by at the graduation ceremony for pilots and air-traffic control students at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Air College, timed as a marching band passed the assembled dignitaries.
The team later participated in the Al Ain Airshow.
From July 2010 to January 2011 a group of eight pilots underwent a dedicated training course at Udine-Rivolto air base in Italy, under the supervision of the Italian Air Force’s Frecce Tricolore team. The Al Fursan pilots included a new leader, a solo, five regular team pilots and a supernumerary.
Though the Al Fursan pilots were all experienced instructors and fighter pilots, none had any experience of formation aerobatics. The training began with familiarisation with low-flying aerobatics and gradually built up the number of aircraft being flown together, initially with two, then three, and finally four aircraft, before moving to full team training.
The team then undertook further training at Minhad, Dubai, with six senior ex-Frecce Tricolore pilots attached to the Emirati team. The Italian training team was led by Colonel Paolo Tarantino, former commander of the Frecce.
This definitive team was sized to fly with seven aircraft, with one acting as a solo. The significance of the seven aircraft was that each represented one of the seven individual Emirates (Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Fujairah, Ras Al Khaimah, Umm Al Quwwain and Ajman), that form the UAE.
To equip the new team, two contracts were placed with Alenia Aermacchi. The first of these, finalised in July 2010, covered the upgrade and supply of six MB-339A aircraft, already in the UAE inventory, to the National Aerobatic Team (NAT) configuration.
This upgrade brought the aircraft to a similar standard to the MB-339(PAN) aircraft used by the Frecce Tricolore, and the work was undertaken in the UAE, and (in the case of the four ex-AMI aircraft) at Aermacchi’s Venegono factory. The second contract covered the acquisition of four additional ex-Italian air force MB-339As, again upgraded to the same standard.
The update to MB339NAT standards includes modifications to the fuel system, with removal of the wing tip tanks, as well as the installation of smoke generators and under-wing dye tanks, which allow the aircraft to produce smoke trails in the red, white, green and black colours of the UAE flag.
An elegant and exclusive black and gold livery was designed for the Al Fursan Display Team, with a smart black and gold colour scheme on the upper surface and the UAE’s national colours on the undersurfaces of the wings.
These were applied in the form of black white and green chevrons across the wing, with red leading edges, wingtips and intakes. The colour scheme was designed to represent the UAE’s golden sand, and the ‘black gold’ that lies beneath it.
Each aircraft has its single-digit team number painted in gold on the rear fuselage. The team’s pilots wear a matching black flying suit.