Held bi-annually, Farnborough International Air Show is one of the world’s largest exhibitions and air displays, with billions in trade deals struck and new conceptsexhibited during the five-day trade show – followed by two days of public air shows. Adam Chittenden reports for AeroResource after a scorching week in Hampshire.
Farnborough Air Show 2014 was held between 14th and 20th of July. It boasted the potential first display of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II after it’s cancellation at RIAT due to investigation into an engine fire aboard an F-35A model. Unfortunately despite the F-35 being cleared to fly on the Tuesday of the trade days to many people’s excitement, the restrictions imposed on thePentagon’s most expensive weapons program ever (engine inspections every 3 hours of flying time) meant a trans-Atlantic crossing was impossible and the visit was cancelled.
The cancellation of the F-35 didn’t do much to deter the crowds with the Friday ‘Enthusiasts Day’ and both the Saturday and Sunday seeing large public attendance.
During the weekdays, the static included many varied and interesting items including the first UK show for the Airbus A350-900 and Boeing 787-900 series. As usual, Boeing and Airbus went head to head demonstrating the abilities of their new aircraft both on the ground and in the air. Other airliners on exhibition included the Sukhoi Superjet SSJ-100 and Embraer ERJ-190 in a stunning retro Belavia livery, Boeing 787-800 and Airbus 320 in Qatar Airlines colours. Qatar had intended to have their first A380 on display, but delays in the acceptance of the type with the airline meant that Airbus had to step in with their house prototype A380 (MSN1, F-WWOW).
The Airbus A350 XWB (eXtra Wide Body) is at the cutting edge of commercial aviation. Boasting an efficiency of 25% less fuel burn of it’s nearest rival and made of no less than 53% composite materials, it’s the latest offering from the Toulouse based powerhouse. The aircraft at Farnborough, a 900 series has a range in excess of 14,000 KM and has a typical seating for 315 passengers. Sporting two made-to-measure Rolls Royce Trent XWB can reach the Northern tip of Australia from the UK non-stop. Currently there are 742 orders across 39 carrier from Aer Lingus to Yemenia with the largest purchaser and initial launch customer Qatar Airways bagging 80 aircraft in three variants. There are doubts after the recent Russian sanctions that Airbus may not be able to source the titanium needed to build crucial parts for the jet, although this hasn’t swayed Airbus too much and they are still talking about a 2014 delivery.
Boeing were out in force this year and took great pride in presenting their new addition to the fleet, the Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner. Whilst the initial series, the 787-800 was delivered in September 2011 and entered commerical service in October of the same year, the 900 series have just been delivered to it’s launch customer, Air New Zealand. With a range of 15,372 KM exceeding the A350-900 and a seating of 280 passengers, which comes in slightly below the Airbus rival, there are 435 firm orders across 27 carriers. The 787-900 features a new boundary layer control system which sucks air away from the rear of the aircraft reducing drag.
Finmeccanica had their own enclosure displaying demo aircraft from their subsidiaries such as AgustaWestland (AW101, AW139, AW149 & AW159 Lynx Wildcat and the AW189), Alenia Aermacchi (C-27J Spartan & M346) and NHIndustries (Italian Navy NH90). Textron also had an enclosure for their Textron AirLand E330 Scorpion and other subsidiaries such as Beechcraft (AT6-C, AT-6, & 350 King Air) and Bell Helicopters (Bell 429 & 407). Business jets took a large proportion of the static parking areas. Companies throwing their hat into the ring included Gulfstream, Cessna, Embraer, Bombardier and Dassault, all showing off their luxury top-of-the-range models.
Whilst many of the civilian items departed on the Thursday and Friday of the week, the static display became more military-focused as a result. The Turkish Armed Forces brought a new exhibit for 2014, the TAI/AW ATAK T129 Attack Helicopter. Based on the Agusta A129 Mangusta, the T129 was jointly developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) and AgustaWestland. The ATAK programme was begun to meet the Turkish Armed Forces’ requirements for an attack and tactical reconnaissance helicopter. The T129 is the result of the integration of Turkish developed high-tech avionics and weapon systems onto the combat proven AgustaWestland A129 airframe, with upgraded engines, transmission and rotor blades. It is currently in use by the Turkish Army, with a total of 60 aircraft on order – whilst the intention is to export this type to other countries. It features a tri-barrel Gatling-esque 20mm cannon on the nose, with the potential to add Stinger Air-to-Air missile pods, additional gun pods or 12 UMTAS anti-tank missiles (are the Turkish indigenous version of the Hellfire 2) to stub wing pylons. The T129 is purported to be the largest commercial threat to the Bell AH-1Z Viper and Boeing AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.
In the military static enclosure, visiting airframes included a US Army Sikorsky UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter, the Lockheed Martin F-16CM Fighting Falcon from the 480th FS, Spangdahlem AFB, a Boeing F-15E Strike Eagle from the 494th FS, RAF Lakenheath, and a Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet from VFA106, NAS Oceana, Virginia (although a US Navy aircraft, this was exhibited by Boeing as part of a European sales tour). The F/A-18F wasn’t the only US Navy representative at the show however with another crowd-puller, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon, taking up a prominent position at the end of the static. The Poseidon also flew a display demonstrating the 737-8 based airframe to the public and potential buyers. The Boeing P-8A is a anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) platform also providing shipping interdiction and electronic signals intelligence (ELINT) too. The P-3 Orion replacement is expected to have a 25 year lifespan and has now entered full-rate production.
The air displays on both public show days started at 12:30. The first display, the classic Gloster Meteor and De Havilland Vampire reminded us of the ‘Vintage Pair’ display of the 1980s. It served as a good tribute to the fateful day in 1986 when the Meteor and Vampire collided in mid-air killing both Flt Lt Potter and Cpl Kevin Turnerat in the Meteor at RAF Mildenhall.
The second display, which has become an institution at UK air shows was the Breitling Wingwalkers. Showing a full 4-ship display, they performed their acrobatic routine with the girls fixed atop of their Boeing Stearman Model-75 biplanes. Unfortunately due to the wind direction on the Sunday, most of their display was partially concealed by their own smoke which hung in the air. The team, first founded in 1989 have been known as Team Guinot, Utterly Butterly and the Crunchie Wing-walking Display Team over the years depending on their sponsors at the time.
From the North of the airfield, the Great War Display Team flew into their routine. Their WW1-era replica aircraft including a Sopwith Triplane, two Fokker DR1 triplanes, a Royal Aircraft Factory BE2c, three Royal Aircraft Factory SE5As and two Junkers CL1s. The GDWT always captivate the crowd and serve to remind everyone of the First World War fought between 1914 and 1918 – particularly poignant in this, the 100th anniversary of the start of the War. The team can trace its roots back to 1988, originally called The Wombats comprising of 8 aircraft. The last two original members of the team retired only a couple of years ago. The team nowadays can fly a 9-ship display at events in the Midlands and the South of England, only limited by the range of their aircraft. One member of the team, Bruce Dickinson, best known as frontman of Iron Maiden, also displayed the Eclipse Aerospace EA500 business jet at Farnborough Air Show.
Next up was a novel and potentially groundbreaking leap in aviation technology. The Airbus E-Fan, a prototype electric aircraft only undertook its first flight in March this year. Being demonstrated for the first time in the UK at FIA 2014, it uses two rechargeable lithium batteries and features a twin-engined low-wing monoplane of composite structure. With a tandem wheel arrangement similar to the Lockheed U-2, it uses outriggers to keep the weight down. Two variants are planned to be produced, a two seater in side-by-side seating arrangement and a 4-seater which will also include a hybrid-electric system which will have a small engine to power the battery. Whilst it only has a maximum flight duration of 1 hour, the hybrid system will extend that to 3-4 hours.
Whilst the E-Fan displayed, the behemoth of modern commercial aviation was pushed from the static area onto the runway. The gigantic Airbus A380 began its takeoff run once the E-Fan had cleared. The largest passenger airliner in existence (with the capacity to hold 525 people in a typical three-class arrangement, 850+ in an all-economy seating plan) undertook a fairly energetic display given its potential 575 metric ton maximum takeoff weight. Now with 11 carriers, and deliveries breaking the 100-airframe mark in 2013, there are over 300 firm orders for this giant of the skies. As the A380 began its turn onto finals, another relatively new product of Airbus took off to display, the Airbus Military A400M.
Sporting four Europrop TP400s with eight 5.3 metre propellers on each engine, the A400M is a tactical airlifter with a strategic capability. With a wingspan only 10 metres less than the C-17, the maneuverability of the aircraft is outstanding. The pilot performed wingovers which looked effortless and a tactical takeoff which demonstrated the impressive climb rate of the future RAF airlifter. The A400M can carry a payload in excess of 30 tonnes with a range of 4,540 kilometres or 2,450 nautical miles.
The Aerostars returned to FIA for this year. The display team comprising of 6 Yak-50 aircraft put the classic Russian hardware through its paces with formations loops and turns and solo/pairs routines. The privately owned display team are not only a UK-based display, and since 2000, they have displayed at events in Ireland, France, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Latvia, Poland and Portugal.
When people talk about Avro, the first aircraft that come to mind are usually the Lancaster or the Vulcan. Undeservedly in the shadow of these two aircraft stands an unsung hero of WW2 and the years that followed. The Avro Anson, a twin engined multirole British aircraft that first flew in 1935 served 34 different air forces and airlines. A British exportation success story, the Anson had 20 different variants planned – although not all of these were built. Originally developed for maritime reconnaissance from the civilian Avro 652 model, it was quickly found to be obsolete in that role and was developed into a trainer, mainly to prepare airmen to fly the Anson’s bigger brother, the Avro Lancaster. With production finishing in 1952 (one of the longest production runs in existence) several examples have lived on to be displayed and are in service with some classic airlines such as Air Atlantique. This aircraft, G-AHKX is a Mk19 based at Old Warden. It was restored by BAE apprentices at Woodford and now displays up and down the country.
Mark Jefferies is a well known international display pilot with the Extra 330SC. He has travelled the world to display at international air shows. Based at Little Gransden in Bedfordshire, Mark displayed at FIA 2014 with a slick and dynamic performance demonstrating why he has won so many awards as a display pilot during his career.
Sadly there was no BBMF display per se but a solo flypast by the Avro Lancaster. The sound of 4 Merlins information is always an airshow favourite. Soon the RAF Lancaster will be joined by the only other airworthy example in the world from the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in August for a 2 month UK tour.
The last Avro of the day and the newest at Farnborough Air Show was towed from the West end static area. XH558, the sole airworthy Vulcan left in the world began its takeoff roll with its famous “Vulcan howl” lifting off and climbing demonstrating the raw power of those four Olympus turbojets. Sadly, due to having to nurse her over her last seasons and keep stress on the airframe to a minimum, the display does always seem noticeably toned down compared to those a few years ago. In retrospect, it’s better to have her flying than a ground attraction so it’s a necessary evil.
From a classic jet to one of the newest kids on the block, the Boeing P-8A Poseidon displayed next showing all of the angles of the US Navy’s latest addition. The display included passes with the weapons bay open – illustrating the offensive capability of this new Maritime Patrol/Multi-Mission aircraft. Whilst it would have made good sense to display the Boeings together, the F/A-18F Super Hornet displayed after the Trescal Starduster. It would have been a nice touch if Boeing had organised a formation pass with both of their naval offerings, a formation you wouldn’t see anywhere else!
As previously mentioned, the Trescal Starduster displayed after the P-8A and performed an entertaining routine. It’s difficult to display a small aircraft such as the Starduster to a 1.4 kilometre long crowdline but the pilot covered as much air as he could. The Stolp-Adams SA-100 Starduster is an American built biplane, designed to be built in kit form. First flown in 1957, it rivals the Pitts Special.
The last Boeing offering of the day came in the form of the F/A-18F and was one of two current fast jet solo displays at FIA. It was a decent display with plenty of afterburner. Boeing have been offering the F/A-18E/F for international sale since the 90s, with production beginning in 1997. Whilst only in operation with the United States Navy and the Royal Australian Air Force, the Super Hornet is the epitome of a 4th generational multirole fighter. It has an internal 20 mm M61 rotary cannon and has the ability to carry both air-to-air missiles and air-to-surface weapons. Additional fuel can be carried in up to five external fuel tanks and the aircraft can be configured as an airborne tanker by adding an external air refueling system.
The last propeller-driven fighter to serve the Royal Navy displayed next. From the Royal Navy Historic Flight in her 802 NAS markings as VX281, the Hawker Sea Fury provided an entertaining routine. The aircraft, another British export success was operated by 10 different countries. Operating in the Korean War, the Sea Fury piloted by British Pilot Lieutenant Peter “Hoagy” Carmichael successfully shot down a Chinese MiG-15 making him one of the very few pilots who have shot down a jet aircraft with a propeller driven fighter.
One of the shining stars of the display performed its signature rolling takeoff and took to the air next, the Boeing EAV-8B Matador II+ from the Spanish Navy brought back memories of air shows of the past here in the UK. Hovering in front of the crowd towards the end of the display showed why for some air arms around the world, the Harrier is still a formidable, versatile aircraft.
Finmeccanica’s rotary offering for the display was the AgustaWestland AW159 Wildcat (replaced on the Sunday display by the Army Air Corps Lynx AH.7). The improved version of the Westland Super Lynx is the latest addition to the Royal Navy’s helicopter fleet. Making it’s first flight at Yeovil in 2009, the Wildcat is currently being produced for the Royal Navy and the British Army. Orders have also been placed for the Republic of Korea’s Navy where it will be used for search-and-rescue missions, anti-submarine warfare and surveillance.
The jewel in the crown of the Royal Air Force, the Red Arrows displayed next. Celebrating their 50th display season, their polished and varied display is internationally renowned. As the public face of the RAF, they serve a valuable purpose promoting the skill and professionalism of our forces. Their dedication and hundreds of hours of practice is evident from their slick and coordinated display.
Another vintage jet, the Canberra PR9 also attended FIA 2014. Since coming out of a two-year restoration by C2 Aviation at Cotswold Airport at Kemble, Midair Squadron display team’s Canberra XH134 has been up and down the country displaying all season. Without the accompanying Hawker Hunters, the PR9 still provided an entertaining display with its striking silver colour scheme and classic jet noise.
Historical transport aircraft filled the next two display slots. The first, the Lockheed Super Constellation was designed by the legend that was Clarence “Kelly” Johnson. Being one of most important and most influential personalities in the first century of aerospace, he created a stretched version of the Constellation in what was to be Lockheed’s response to the Douglas DC-6 airliner. Serving in both civilian and military arenas, it’s unique sound and futuristic-looking shape was a hit in the 1950s – fortunately re-lived today thanks to the Breitling Super Constellation Flyers Association. The display itself is somewhat tame, with three very similar level runs along the crowdline.
The second display of the vintage transport aircraft were three DC-3 Dakotas. The workhorse of the second world war still lives on today for small carriers around the world. With a total of 16,079 built, it was most significant transport aircraft ever produced and some are still being converted into a modern aircraft with upgraded avionics and engines by companies such as Basler at Oshkosh in Wisconsin.
The penultimate display was performed by Flt Lt Noel Rees with his Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4. A performance takeoff started the display in style and with the symphony of car alarms in the distance, Noel began what is arguably one of the best display routines in the 2014 circuit.
The duty of FIA 2014 finale act was bestowed upon the two-seat Vickers Supermarine Spitfire TR.9 of Boultbee Flight Academy. Sporting the Rolls-Royce Merlin 266 engine singing the “theme tune” of the Battle of Britain, it was a nice end to a great day of flying. This aircraft whilst in a two-seater format, started its life in 1944 as a single seat Mk H.F.IXe high level fighter for the South African Air Force. It suffered an accident and then subsequently languished in a Cape Town scrap metals yard until it was rescued by Spitfire historian Peter Arnold. It was finally restored in 2002 as a TR9 trainer by Paul Portelli. Completion of its display brought FIA 2014 to a close.
As a regular at Farnborough for the Air Show for many years, this year was exceptional with the fortunate weather. As you would expect from these modern times, military attendance was sparse – notably from the United States, with only manufacturer sponsored and local airframes present – but with aircraft such as the 737, A330, SAAB 2000 even the Piaggio P180 Avanti being converted for military applications, it heralds a new era for armed forces around the world. It’s clear that for many roles within an air force, navy or army the benefit of ‘off the shelf’ replacement parts and using already established Maintenance and Repair Organisations (MROs) is key to keeping costs down in these frugal times.
The air display itself was good despite large gaps between acts. The restrictions imposed on the pilots by Farnborough regulations was very noticeable however. The minimum display altitude was high at 1500ft and that made it difficult for the pilots to display the aircraft properly. Aircraft such as the Trescal Starduster and the Great War Team seemed distant and despite their best efforts to make the most of their display restrictions, it was unfortunately noticeable. The F-35can now only be hoped to make it to a UK airshow next year – although Paris 2015 or Farnborough 2016 are more likely from a commercial perspective. The decision to ground and then subsequently release the type with heavy restrictions was made with safety first in mind, which nobody can or should argue with. Is it a shame? Certainly, but fortunately it didn’t hurt the flying display too badly at Farnborough this year for what was otherwise an excellent week of cutting edge, current and historical aircraft.