Farnborough International Airshow 2008 Review
Monday 14th July - Sunday 20th July
Farnborough International Airshow, held every two years is historically the shop window of the British aviation industry. It has become more recently the hub for international aviation trade and due to the demise of an independent UK industry has lost a lot of its home-grown charm. Many major airliner deals are now announced during the week, which has resulted in a corporate "arm wrestle" between Boeing and Airbus, with the air display side of things becoming almost coincidental.
reports for UK Airshow Review. All photography by the author.
The theme this year appeared to be who had the greenest airliners. Airbus with its claim that the A380 will be the first long-haul aircraft to consume less than three litres of fuel per passenger over 100 km, a rate that can be compared to an economical family car. Boeing for its part is using a bit of lateral thinking and looking at manufacturing bio fuels derived from algae, clearly trying to appear to be addressing the long term issues.
This year’s star performer was the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor making its single appearance on the opening day by operating from RAF Fairford. The decision not to display on the other trade and public days was a disappointment that raised the question "why bother for just one display?" Due to the weather, Paul "Max" Moga was able to perform just two displays, neither in front of the general public during the three ship's deployment to the UK.
The rest of the flying display was notable for its lack of support by BAE Systems with no Hawk or Nimrod MRA4 taking part. Historically Farnborough was always known for its military support in the form of "set pieces." The RAF and Royal Navy were present in the static display if you looked carefully, but the only flying participants were the 29(R)Sqn Typhoon display, the ever professional Red Arrows sporting their new corporate RAF identities, and from the Navy the Black Cats Lynx pair.
It was left to Boeing to flesh out the flying programme. Seemingly now a standard fixture, the F/A-18F Super Hornet put on a spirited display, piloted by the ever impressive Boeing company pilot Ricardo Traven. An F-16C from Spangdahlem was flown in a very impressive display, the pilot pushing the aging fighter around the sky very efficiently. The B-1B flypast on the Tuesday was a bit too spirited for the display committee's liking and as a result appeared to be rather "neutered" for the rest of the week. It appears the French have almost given up trying to sell the Rafale or Dassault have decided that Farnborough isn't the right showcase for its product. Similarly the Russian companies decided not to contribute to the flying programme.
The Airbus A380 took many by surprise during its take-off run, the proximity of the runway coupled with the sheer amount of wake turbulence long after it was airborne, covered everything with grass cuttings and separated almost anything loose from its owners. The grace of the display along with the very low noise levels was very apparent. An Airbus A310 tanker with its enormous boom was also flown during the week.
The Indian Air Force in the guise of HAL made a concerted effort to promote their Dhruvs, in spite of their being spelt incorrectly in every day's flying programme, with a solo display in a camouflaged variant, that demonstrated all the performance and agility of this helicopter to the best of its ability. The Sarang helicopter display team flew a display routine that managed to, in the words of their charismatic commentator, "take us to the next level of excitement." They did look very smart during their displays performed in sunshine. Sunday morning however saw them with their blades removed and bagged up ready for their long journey home.
The Italians had a very strong presence at the show with Finmeccanica having a large stand housing their own static park and a separate temporary hangar housing the Bell/Agusta BA-609 tilt rotor, which it remained hidden in when not flying. The display was not unlike watching a smaller version of the Osprey from two years ago. I can't help thinking these machines are a solution to a problem that doesn't really exist. If you need to get somewhere slightly quicker, why not leave a little bit earlier in a conventional helicopter?
The C-27J is now a familiar sight, but the amazing knife edge pass was a highlight of a very accomplished display, although not in the same league of G-222 displays previously seen. This is due no doubt to much stricter safety considerations imposed by the display committee resulting in many of the displays appearing to be more distant than previous years. The Aermacchi M-346 put in a spritely display showing this aircraft, a version of the Yak-130 to its full potential.
A star of the static was the Israeli Air Force Gulfstream G550 which to many visitors disappointment left before the public days. Sikorsky had the prototype S92 painted in a desert camouflage thinly disguising its intended target customers.
The show was saved from being extremely thin on the public days by the appearance of some very welcome historical participants. The most anticipated of these was the Vulcan, maintaining the massive interest in this ambitious project and stealing most of the limelight from the modern hardware. Almost overshadowed was the appearance of the replica Vickers Vimy after being fitted with new BMW engines, replacing the Chevrolets, at Kemble. It had a bit of struggle with the conditions but managed to display without major mishap. The Air Atlantic DC6 looked majestic in the skies, sporting its new "British Eagle" scheme. The Catalina also put in a very welcome appearance, as did the Grace Spitfire.
Despite the rather thin support from "Team GB" Farnborough still holds some interest for the enthusiast. A foretaste of the way airshows may be going in the future is the banning of windbreaks and tented structures on the crowd line. Unattended items such as chairs and cool boxes, positioned to "stake a claim" at the fence were searched or removed. The debate and controversy will run and run, but the rules seemed to be enforced rigorously by the security staff, much to some peoples dismay.