AL AIN // After watching air shows devotedly on television, Asela Pushpakumara finally got his chance yesterday to watch the spectacle live, and it was the smell of jet fuel that left the greatest impression.
The 35-year-old security officer, who lives in Al Ain, arrived at Al Ain International Airport early to make sure he got a good view of the 25 planes soaring over Al Ain yesterday.
"I have never been to an air show before in my life," he said. "The fighter jet displays were the best."
He was joined by thousands of spectators who came from across the country for the show, which had been delayed for two days by bad weather. They all got the chance to watch F-16 fighter jets, jet powered trucks, parachutists and wing-walkers put on a performance in the skies.
Families were covering their ears as jet fighters roared overhead. Almost all the spectators were startled when a series of explosions went off simulating bombs being dropped from a plane that exploded in front of the crowd in black puffs of smoke.
"It was awesome especially when the pilots blow off the different coloured smoke. The contrast with the sky was amazing and the weather was great," said Florence Sarcon, 30, a Filipina intensive care nurse at an Al Ain hospital.
Children as young as four were dressed in Emirati Air Force uniforms and drawing crayon pictures of aeroplanes.
"I saw everyone together with their family and I felt sad for a few minutes," Mr Pushpakumara said. "But I called my wife and daughter in Sri Lanka and told them I was here thinking about them. I went to the Meet The Pilots tent and got my daughter an autograph from Castor Fantoba. Although she doesn't know who Castor Fantoba is, she will be happy that I got her something from here and that I was thinking about her today."
People poured through the gates from 9am, and stayed until after sunset as the hours had been extended to make up for the two days lost to the weather.
Those who could afford the Dh40 tickets made their way onto the grandstand and enjoyed the on-the-ground activities. Those who could not afford the ticket enjoyed the show from the airport's car park.
"My wife and four children and myself would have had to pay more than Dh200 to get in," said Iftikhar Muneeb, 36, a Pakistani lorry driver. "We would prefer to save that amount and watch from the parking lot. Everything is happening in the sky so we don't need to be inside the airport to watch."
Organisers were happy that the weather had finally cleared.
"The show got off to a flying start with astounding displays from many world-class teams and pilots taking part in what is the biggest and best edition yet," said Faisal Al Sheikh, an events manager with the Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, which organises the show in conjunction with the UAE Armed Forces.
"It is a powerful reflection on the importance of this show on the world stage that we have three national air forces represented this weekend. They'll be here all weekend, and with the longer daily show timings, there is ever more opportunity to see these daredevils."
Making the most of being on home territory, the UAE Air Force wowed fans of all ages with a display of its impressive hardware. The French-made Mirage 2000-9 fighter jet, the most advanced member of the Mirage 2000 family, formed the centrepiece of the air force's line-up, with both solo aerobatic displays and formation flying.
The Royal Saudi Air Force aerobatic team, the Saudi Hawks, started the day with a close formation in six BAE Hawk 65 trainer jets, impressing visitors with some of their newest routines, including the famous "emblem move" of two swords crossed over a palm tree - the Saudi flag insignia - which earned the team a place in the 2010 Guinness Book of World Records for the largest aerial drawing.
"This show is dear to the hearts of all the members of the Saudi Hawks team, as we have participated here since its inception in 2003," said Colonel Abdulla Al Ghamdi, Saudi Hawks manager. "We have shown excellence and professionalism throughout the years, and we are here today, to show just what the Saudi Air Force is capable of."
Completing the trio of national air forces were the Turkish Stars, one of the world's leading military air force display teams. Their formation of eight F-5 fighter jets, piloted by the Turkish Air Force's 134th Acroteam Squadron Command, has performed in hundreds of sensational displays around the world and wowed the Al Ain crowds with a stunning flying display that included delta and diamond formations as well as corkscrew manoeuvres.
The gates will again open today at 9am. Tickets are Dh40 per adult and Dh20 for children between three and 12 years old, while children under three enter free.