Analysis: Leonardo M-345 as next jet for UAE's Al Fursan aerobatic team

Leonardo M345 UAE Al Fursan
Aermacchi M-345 trainer jet. It will most likely equip the United Arab Emirates' Al Fursan
aerobatic team.

The ten black-gold MB-339 aircraft of the United Arab Emirates aerobatic team, the Al Fursan (The Knights), are coming to the end of their operational life, they will have to be replaced within a few years.

The Al Fursan are the result of the UAE's desire to have their own aerobatic team with which to color the skies of the nation during the annual Abu Dhabi Air Show, as well as represent the nation and the abilities of UAE Air Force pilots around the world.

In order to complete their project, ten years ago the Emirates turned to Italy to obtain the same jets and training of the Italian aerobatic team Frecce Tricolori. Italy provided them with the aircraft (some of them had already been delivered in the mid-eighties), two years of training and the on-site detachment of a former Frecce Tricolori pilot with the task of supervising the training of the team.

However, the Al Fursan aircraft, as well as those of the Frecce Tricolori, are becoming obsolete and need to be replaced by 2030 [This replacement may be required even sooner if they are not upgraded]. Considering the origins of the team and the continuous support provided to them by the Italian Air Force, the new aircraft will most likely come from Italy.

Following in the footsteps of the Frecce Tricolori, Abu Dhabi could select the new Aermacchi M-345, the same one that will equip the Italian aerobatic team starting from the next few years (around 2024), developed by Leonardo to replace the MB-339. We do not exclude a future deal between the UAE government and Italy for a dozen M-345 jets in the same variant as that supplied to the Frecce Tricolori (mainly modified for smoke release). Presumably an order could be placed after the jet's entry into the Frecce Tricolori fleet so that the Emirati pilots can benefit from the experience of the Italian ones.

Looking at the data sheet on Leonardo website, the M-345 has all the right features to join the aerobatic teams of the future. It is powered by the efficient and reliable Williams FJ-44 engine which guarantees a life cycle cost similar to that of a turboprop trainer, but with better overall performance. Being a jet, the M-345 boasts a superior top speed; Highest Climb Speed ​​and Highest Sustained Load Factor at sea level - all parameters relevant to any aerobatic display. These are the reasons why it could also become the next jet of Canada's Snowbirds demo team.

However, this deal could be hampered by the ongoing tensions between Rome and Abu Dhabi. The relationship between the two countries cracked at the beginning of the year when the previous Italian head of state placed a ban on the sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates due to the nation's involvement in the war in Yemen. It was a serious mistake as Abu Dhabi had already been disengaged from military operations in Yemen for several months. An agreement on the M-345 will depend on Italy's willingness to re-establish good relations with the capital of UAE.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Photo Credit: Leonardo

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