Castor Fantoba, winner of FAI Championship Aeros is seen performing during the Al Ain Aerobatic show 2011 at Al Ain International Airport. Image Credit: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News

Al Ain: Spanish pilot Cástor Fantoba yesterday won the Desert Challenge air race at the Al Ain Aerobatic Show, followed by Gerald Cooper from the United Kingdom as the curtain came down on the weather-reduced two-day international event in the oasis city.

Flying a Sukhoi 26, the Spaniard recorded an overall score of 70.85 per cent, just 1.8 per cent ahead of Cooper who was flying a CAP 232 aircraft. Fantoba's triumph came after successfully completing three extremely demanding rounds, incorporating two compulsory sections and one free-style flight, which were marked by the international panel of judges.

In pictures: Al Ain Aerobatic Show 2011

Top pilot

Fantoba was among the six world's top pilots who participated in the competition, arranged by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI). The Spanish pilot had secured third place in last year's aerobatics competition here.

"Winning the first ever FAI Desert Challenge, and against such high quality competition, is a great personal achievement and one that I'm very proud of," said Fantoba. He said he had an excellent time visiting Al Ain and experiencing the country, both on the ground and in the sky. Winning this title rounded everything off perfectly.

During the main part of the Al Ain Aerobatic Show, pilots showed their skills in both classic and free-style displays. Flying CAP232, Sukhoi 26 and Xtreme aircraft, the pilots — all top ten FAI event rankers in the last two years — were expected to be the icing on the cake over two days of gravity-defying displays.

Fantoba's other competitors were Gerald Cooper (UK), François Le Vot (France), Philipp Steinbach (Germany), Hubie Tolson (USA), and Juan Velarde (Spain).

Tight competition

"It was a very tight competition between some of the world's best pilots, but Fantoba made the least errors and flew the second compulsory section particularly well, which gave him the edge," said John Gaillard, chief judge for the FAI at the show.

On the final day of the show some of the world's best stunt pilots continued to perform loops, aileron rolls and hammerhead displays.

Dozens of aircraft from different countries of the world, civil and military fighter jets, with solo and team formations, took part in the show that entertained thousands of spectators in the oasis city.

Clear skies and moderate winds offered good flying conditions for the participants of the event and the spectators enjoyed an uninterrupted display of aerobatic manoeuvres.

Abu Dhabi's Flying Falcon, Hannes Arch, fired up the crowds on the last day of the show with his dazzling new rhythm and air routine that made its global premiere.

The sunset act brought together live music, world-class dancers and eye-catching aerobatics in a breath-taking display themed around the four elements of fire, air, earth and water. And in a spectacular grand finale, Arch piloted his Abu Dhabi-branded Zivko Edge 540 aircraft across the runway and up onto the stage.


Fazza Sky Team, a celebrated skydiving and aerobatics team, displayed an outstanding performance at the show. The team display concluded with the unfurling of a massive banner of team sponsor Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai.