Al Fursan (full name: Fursan al Emarat; English: The Knights/Knights of the Emirates) is the aerobatic team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force. They fly seven MB-339As painted in black and gold, to symbolise the seven emirates of the UAE, with the colours denoting the desert sand and the riches of the oil hidden beneath it. The team is famous for their exceptional smoke generators, which produce thick plumes of black, white, red and green.
Country: United Arab Emirates
Home base: Minhad Air Base
Operator: Air Force
Size: 7 aircraft (7 in display)
The UAE Air Force decided to establish an aerobatic team in the late 2000s, and looked to existing well-established teams in Europe. They eventually entered into a deal with Italy, purchasing a fleet of second-hand MB-339s to equip the team, which was established in 2010. Team members were trained by the Frecce Tricolori, who fly the same aircraft type, at their home base in Rivolto, Italy. Al Fursan then returned to the UAE for further training and made their debut display at the Dubai Airshow 2011. Unusually, the MB-339 has no other roles within the UAE Air Force and is used exclusively for airshow duties.
Al Fursan made their international debut in 2012, flying at the Royal International Air Tattoo in the UK. They have since returned to Europe on several occasions, including to Switzerland in 2014 for the Swiss Air Force’s 100th anniversary show in Payerne and to Slovakia (the Slovak International Air Fest) and Russia (MAKS) in 2017. The team has also visited Asia and Africa, flying in Morocco (Marrakech Airshow 2015), China (Airshow China 2014) and Malaysia (LIMA ’15 and ’23).
More recently, Al Fursan has received guidance and oversight from former members of the Patrouille de France. The two teams performed a short combined display at the Dubai Airshow 2019.
The UAE Air Force has expressed the intent to replace the MB-339 in the mid-2020s, before it reaches the end of its useful life in 2030. The frontrunner to replace the MB-339 is widely thought to be the Hongdu J-15 Falcon, a twin-engine, afterburning, supersonic lead-in fighter-trainer developed in China. In 2023, the UAE ordered a small fleet of L-15s, and it is widely anticipated that these jets are intended to serve with Al Fursan from around 2027.
The display begins with all seven aircraft flying in formation, before breaking down into smaller elements in the second half. This includes dynamic manoeuvring by the team’s solo pilot, much of which is inspired by the Frecce Tricolori’s solo routine. The manoeuvre also includes several prominant examples of symbolism referencing UAE landmarks, culture and motifs – most notably, the Palm Split and the Flag Cross.
Unlike the Frecce Tricolori, Al Fursan has generally steered clear of large multi-aircraft crossovers. The synchro pair perform a relatively conventional one vs. one cross, following which both aircraft pull up into synchronised lomcevaks. They are the only jet aerobatic team in the world to perform synchronised lomcevaks with multiple aircraft.
Al Fursan’s signature manoeuvre, which closes the show, sees two aircraft barrel rolling around the rest of the formation, with landing gear extended.
Thick white, red, black and green smoke is used throughout the display. Al Fursan is the only jet aerobatic team to intentionally use black smoke in its display, and the only jet aerobatic team to regularly use four different smoke colours in a single performance (although two Chinese teams also do this on occasion).