Dubai Airshow Report

Monday 18th November - Thursday 21st November 2013

In recent years the Dubai Airshow has made its mark on the international aviation scene, becoming one of the most important trade events in the world, rivalling even Paris & Farnborough. The 2013 show was promised to be even bigger with over 1000 exhibitors from across the globe, and intense battles for both military and civilian aircraft orders in the Middle East.

With the promise of exotic aircraft on display and brilliant weather, Peter Reoch reports for UKAR with additional photography from Charles Cunliffe.

The 2013 Dubai Airshow was the first edition of the event to be held at it's new purpose built facility at the Dubai World Central aerotropolis (Al Maktoum International Airport). The airshow exhibition hall and apron is just one of many areas under development at the site, which when completed will cover around 220 square kilometres, have five operational runways with a passenger capacity of 160 million per annum. Dubai World Central will also be the site of the World Expo in 2020 and the facilities on offer to the airshow are certainly world class.

The show is primarily a trade event, and with the aviation industry in the Middle East growing at such a high rate it's unsurprising that Dubai airshow this year broke the record for the largest order book for any airshow in history, with a staggering $206.1 Billion being committed at the show. Major orders included Emirates ordering an extra 50 Airbus A380, the 1000th Boeing B787 order and the launch of the Boeing B777X.

The flying display was similar each day, with a number of items common to other trade airshows such as the Airbus A380, Airbus Military A400M, Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, French Air Force Rafale & RAF Typhoon. The Typhoon and Rafale are both in competition as the UAE Air Force look to order around 60 new fighter aircraft, and Jamie Norris did an excellent job of putting the Typhoon though its paces as part of the aircraft's Middle Eastern display tour with the Red Arrows, who also performed daily at the airshow.

Some of the more unusual aircraft in the flying display included the JF-17 Thunder & Super Mushshak from the Pakistani Air Force. The Super Mushshak is an upgraded version of the MFI-17 Mushshak which the Pakistanis are keen to export, and it put on a surprisingly impressive display. Antontov flew their new An-148 in the display on the third day of the show, the only Russian participation in the flying display after the previous listed MiG-29 did not appear at the show. Sikorsky Poland demonstrated their upgraded version of the M28 Bryza, another surprisingly good display item with extreme slow speed performance similar to the AN-2, aswell as excellent turning ability and an extremely steep “Khe Sanh” approach to end the display.

Static display highlights included Boeing 787 Dreamliners from both Qatar and Royal Brunei, Airbus A380 from Emirates, Sukhoi Superjet from Moskovia Airlines, the full Gulfstream family including the new G650 and Airbus Military CN295 from the Royal Air Force of Oman. A large number of rotary assets were also on show, including the newly upgrade Bell 412 EPI and Eurocopter (soon to be known as 'Airbus Helicopter') EC175. Alenia also displayed their MC-27J Pretorian prototype in a new paint scheme, as part of their sales push for their first export customer after the Italian Air Force committed to buying six of the type.

After a year of sequestration cuts the US Military were back in force at Dubai Airshow, a welcome sign for airshows globally. Locally deployed B-1B Lancer & F-22A Raptor aircraft both took part in the flying display daily, with the B-1B performing two flypasts in differing configurations and the F-22A performing a short sequence of flypasts and turns. The Raptor's aerial performance was noticeably different to the stunning displays we've been used to from the type in recent years, this was due to the fact there isn't currently a USAF ACC demonstration pilot or display approval for the type and therefore only standard manoeuvres could be performed. However it should be remembered Dubai was the only venue to have a Raptor on show in 2013, a coup indeed. For many the star American participant of the flying display was the P-8A Poseidon, which was flown by a Boeing crew. The short but expertly flown display included an extremely spirited departure, minimum radius turns showing the internal weapons bays and a sweeping topside pass, showing off the colourful markings of US Navy's VX-1 'Pioneers' squadron beautifully.

The static part also had a large segment of American military hardware, many of which are types that have been recently upgraded and offered for export sales to allies in the Middle East including the E-2C Hawkeye, AH-1Z Viper, UH-1Y Venom, MV-22B Osprey, C-130J Hercules, F/A-18E Super Hornet and F-15E Strike Eagle. Visitors were also privileged to see possibly the most interesting/acclaimed F-15 in existence at the show. AF89-0497 is the commander's aircraft of the 335th Fighter Squadron based at Seymour Johnson AFB and is currently deployed on operations to the region. It is the Strike Eagle with the most flying hours in the USAF (It flew it's 10,000th hour in January 2012) and also the only Strike Eagle to claim an air-to-air kill, which is scored during Operation Desert Storm using a GBU-10 Paveway to destroy a hovering Iraqi Mil-24 Hind helicopter!

Some of the more exotic types in the static park came from the UAE Air Force, with most types currently operated in the fleet on show. These included rotary assets such as the UH-60M Blackhawk, CH-47F Chinook, AH-64D Apache, AS565 Panther and AS550 Fennec which were neatly lined up together in the static display, with training aircraft such as the Pilatus PC-21 & PC-7, Hawk Mk 102 and front line types such as the F-16E & Mirage 2000-9 also on show across the static area. Two of the most exciting types on show for many (surprisingly) were the AT-802 Air Tractor & Cessna AC-208 Combat Caravan operated by the UAE Air Force Special Operations Command as light attack aircraft. Both aircraft were displayed with dummy weapons and their various sensors, they certainly looked impressive. The types demonstrate the growing market for light attack aircraft, as did the AT-6B Attack Texan which was on static display with Beechcraft at the show.

Examples of the UAE Air Force's newest and largest types - the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and Airbus Military A330MRTT were also on display in the static park though these did not remain for the full duration of the airshow. The UAE Air Force provided a large portion of the flying display with solo displays from the F-16E Fighting Falcon and Mirage 2000-9 as well as the national aerobatic team, Al Fursan. Both the UAE Air Force solo displays were exceptionally flown, with the F-16E display as impressive (or possibly more-so) than the F-16 routines performed by the Belgian, Dutch or even Turkish, which are regular sights on the European airshow scene. The Mirage 2000-9 display was a highlight for many visitors to the show, a much loved aircraft type flown aggressively in beautiful camouflage and complemented by smoke winders will be a winning combination in any airshow display. Al Fursan have certainly improved since their European debut at RIAT 2012, with much tighter formations and better timed manoeuvres however their sequence is certainly not as polished and flowing as the established European display teams, as highlighted when comparing their displays to the flawless daily displays by the RAF Red Arrows at Dubai. Al Fursan also formatted with an Airbus A380 from Emirates for a one-off flypast, with the MB-339NAT aircraft smoking the colours of the United Arab Emirates national flag behind the mighty A380, a stunning sight made even more spectacular by the fact they flew the formation at low level over the crowd.

Even with an almost perfect geographic location for ideal airshow weather, Dubai Airshow still suffered at the fate of Mother Nature. The opening day of the airshow was plagued with high winds and a sandstorm engulfed the site during the afternoon leading to the cancellation of the flying display. Although sandstorms are a common occurrence in the desert, the author didn't expect to be sheltering inside a C-17 to escape the elements while in Dubai - that kind of thing is usually reserved for Fairford! The effects of nature didn't end there however, as on the final day of the airshow (Thursday) the whole show site was closed due to heavy rain during the morning, which left roads to the site impassable and parts of the main exhibition hall to flood... yes, flooding in a desert!

Overall Dubai Airshow was a huge success for the organisers and many exhibitors, as shown by the massive order book from the show. From the visitors point of view the show was pleasing too, with a number of exotic aircraft on display and a quality air display, even if weather conditions weren't as perfect as expected in the Middle East. The new show site at Dubai will provide the airshow excellent facilities for the future and the cheap airfares on offer from the UK to the UAE make the show easily accessible to most. Dubai Airshow returns 8-12 November 2015.