When UAE started taking to skies...

When UAE started taking to skies...

Aircraft and a cockpit as old as Sharjah’s first airport stand proudly on a hangar at Al Mahatta Museum as living testimonies to the UAE’s first emirate to have its own aviation industry as early as 1930s.



By a quirk of fate, Sharjah became the choice of the British Imperial Airways’ long journey from London to the Far East for refuelling stop in 1920. This prompted late Shaikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi, then Ruler of Sharjah, to set aside an area of salt flats near the seaside, where the Al Mahatta Museum stands today, for use as an airfield.

Some of the old gulf aviation planes displayed at Al Mahatta museum -- Kt photo by M.sajjad

Sharjah’s golden year in aviation came on October 5, 1932 when the first passenger flight from Croydan Airport in East London landed in Sharjah. With four passengers on board, the first west-bound plane, Hanno (Hannibal class) built by Handley Page and piloted by Captain

Horsey landed at 16.00 hours.

Tangible proofs of this historic landing are photos of the arrival now on display at the museum. Seventy years after these photos were taken,

Sharjah became a multicultural society and continued to receive thousands of visitors. The UAE, in general, is now an international aviation hub servicing hundreds of flights daily in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. But, 75 years back, aircraft could only land in a single place in UAE — Sharjah.

The airfield in Sharjah became a major one used by the Imperial Airways to service between Bahrain, Muscat and Sharjah. Later, it further served as a night stop for its flights to India and Australia, which carried over 70,000 passengers and flew over six million miles in 1937.

At a hangar in Al Mahatta Museum, visitors find such aircraft as the 1937 AVRO Anson IG AKVW-UK from the Royal Air Force (RAF) used for the RAF Flying Training School and then the Air Observer Navigation School. It later changed hands to Gulf Aviation Ltd. in 1950, and to Aden Airways in Yemen before it found its way to Al Mahatta Museum between 2004 and 2005.

A World War vintage, 1945 Douglas DC 3/C-474-AM22 S/No. 33340 built in Oklahoma City in the USA used as a C474 for the US Army and Air Force and later leased to the UK’s RAF as a Dakota MKIV is among the precious collections at the flight museum. Two other aircraft on display are the DH114 Heron 1B-6 ANFE S/14034 Heron built in 1953 at Chester, England, and the De Havilland Comet2 G-AMXA. The Heron joined the fleets of Doves of Gulf Aviation Service in 1956, regularly flying the longest scheduled return journey every Monday to Bahrain, Doha, Sharjah and Muscat. Comet2 used to fly from London to Khartoum, Sudan, and held the record for speed and distance and the world’s first commercial jet plane. The De Havilland Comet2 was used by the RAF between 1958 and 1974 and flew in and out of Sharjah for refuelling.

At the Flight Gallery, collections include the antique part of an aircraft’s wing, old binoculars, black box invented by Dr Warren of

Aeronautical Research Laboratory in Melbourne, Australia, old types of aircraft, navigation and radio equipment used in World War II and manufactured in The Netherlands in 1915, an engine presented to the Ruler of Sharjah by A. Henningsen, a Pratt and Whitney piston engine used by Lufthansa Technic and presented to the Ruler of Sharjah in 2003, old propellers, a cockpit and control, and meteorological instruments.

Khawla Abdullah Abushulaibi, curator of Al Mahatta Museum, said the exhibits all weave into a fascinating story of the development of the aviation industry in Sharjah and the UAE as a whole. “The runway is now the busy King Abdul Aziz Street. The original airport is now the site of the Al Mahatta Museum. In 1956, a new Control Tower was opened, which operated until the new Sharjah International Airport opened in 1977.

“After this, buildings were used less. By mid-1990s, it was in a state of disrepair. In 1998, following the restoration of the buildings, this Al Mahatta Museum started.”

The last sets of exhibits show the history of flight when insects became the first creatures to take to the air, about 350 million years ago to the modern age of aviation. It also demonstrates the attempts of men to fly, which ended in many deaths, up to the invention of parachute, kites, and airplanes. Air Arabia Gallery exhibits all about Sharjah’s airline, and the facts and figures about aviation.

lily@khaleejtimes.com


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