Dubai and Abu Dhabi have undoubtedly two of the best airports and airlines in the world. So, it might come as a surprise for some that the country's aviation history actually began in Sharjah.

On October 5, 1932, the first-ever airplane to touch down in the UAE was a British-made, four propellers Handley Page HP42, nicknamed 'Hanno'.

Operated by British Imperial Airways, this historic flight marked the beginning of an era for aviation in the country.

Departing from Gwadar, which was then a part of India (now Pakistan), 'Hanno' landed on a narrow strip of tarmac in Sharjah. In those days, flights from India to London made a stopover in Sharjah, making it an essential hub in international travel, with journeys typically spanning about five days.

This new air route provided a fast communication link for senior government officials and for mail at that time. The airport was also a night stop for Imperial Airways flights to India and Australia.

The first airport in the region has now been converted into a museum that highlights the history of aviation in the UAE. It is an important landmark because of its unique collections that tell the history of aviation in the region.

How did the airport come up in Sharjah?

In 1932, a three-year agreement between Britain and Persia allowing the use of landing grounds along the Persian coast was due to end. The British Government urgently needed an alternative along the Arabian coast.

After months of negotiations, the Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Sultan bin Saqr Al Qasimi II, signed an agreement for an overnight rest house and landing strip on July 22, 1932. The agreement included rent for a rest house and aerodrome of 800 rupees per month, wages for the guards, and a landing fee of 5 rupees for every civil aircraft.

What can you see at the museum?

For those looking out to see what the planes looked like, Al Mahatta museum is a treasure trove of historical aircraft and flying machines, which is intact, offering visitors a glimpse into the past.

Among its remarkable exhibits is the miniature model of the iconic 'Hanno'. The airport is preserved intact, the way it was built in the early days of aviation from the arrivals to the departures. Walking through the museum's halls is like stepping back in time, with each aircraft on display telling a story of the country’s remarkable journey in aviation.

Visitors can explore a wide range of aircraft, from vintage planes and engines to early communication systems. One of the highlights of the museum is the De Havilland DH 104 DOVE SRS 1G AJPR, which was built in 1947 and belonged to the Gulf Aviation Company Limited.

Another aircraft that visitors can see is the US-made Douglas DC. It was operated by Eagle Air Services, Kuwait Air and Gulf Aviation Ltd.

These artefacts not only showcase the technological evolution of aviation but also the cultural significance of this mode of transport in the UAE's history.

One of the highlights of the museum is the chance to step inside the cockpits and fuselages of an ancient aircraft, providing a unique experience. It shows the remarkable evolution of aviation technology.

Beyond aircraft, the museum also has an impressive collection of aviation memorabilia, like the engines, equipment, documents and photographs.

It’s not just a museum. It takes visitors through a captivating journey through time. For residents and tourists, it’s a must visit place which celebrates the legacy of ancient aircraft and flying machines.

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