Farnborough International Airshow Report

Monday 19th July - Sunday 25th July 2010

Farnborough is always a show with many contrasts; the show where you can buy anything from an advanced Surface-to-Air missile system to a hot dog, or both if you’re feeling flush! Therefore it would be easy to say this show is unsure of its identity or at least of its priorities. Make no mistake about it Farnborough is a Trade Fair foremost and overwhelmingly. You don’t get the same friendly and welcoming atmosphere created by the staff, cadets and volunteers as you would at RIAT; Farnborough has an altogether more corporate feel, this is no more evident than in the looks of the grim faces of the contracted stewards and security personnel, whose laboured grimaces seemed to indicate that they would rather be anywhere else than at an airshow. The flip side of Farnborough is that they always seem to get rare items not seen at other UK shows, many of the more exciting RIAT participants only fly at Fairford as they are also attending Farnborough.

Trev Collins reports from Hampshire. Russell Collins, Nick Challoner, Phil Whalley and Michael Hall provide additional illustrations.

This year the biannual event returned with several notable debuts and firsts. Arguably headlined by the Boeing 787 which sadly had departed before the public airshow had begun on the Saturday. Other headliners which didn’t last until the weekend were the A400M and the F-22 Raptor, both of which had put on sparkling displays at RIAT the previous weekend. With these three 'would be'highlights leaving before the show had started for the public one could possibly expect a slightly hollow show.

A major, and not uncommon airshow gripe, came in the form of the toilet facilities where you could expect a queue of at least 30 minutes for the gents. Which meant missing a sizeable chunk of the show in Farnborough’s case; they MUST provide more toilets. This may well fall on deaf ears - as discussed earlier the public days are just an aside for Farnborough.

Second downside of the day was the car parking situation. Farnborough operate a Park and Ride system but the car parks themselves were incredibly congested - thousands of cars trying to exit from far too few exits was a recipe for congestion based disaster. Even people who left the show an hour early have described another 60 minutes wait just to leave the car park, again Farnborough would do well to look at this in future.

The flying display on the Sunday started very strongly with Red Arrows climbing into a beautiful azure blue canvas, as always they put on an extremely tight display that looks so much more vivid on such a beautiful Summer’s day.

After the Red Arrows recovered to the airfield we were greeted by a sight that only a show like Farnborough can attract; the Airbus A380. This display is simply incredible and it really has to be seen to be believed. Over the past fortnight we had been treated to gamut of fine large aircraft displays such as the A400M at RIAT which for most was topped by the white knuckle experience of the huge C-17 displayed by the USAF at the same show. Also one must consider the fine displays of the Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 again at RIAT and the C-130J at Farnborough, more about that later. However none of the previous were a scratch on the A380 display. Firstly the A380 is a very large aircraft weighing considerably more than the C-5B Galaxy; one would expect a somewhat sedate display from such a large aircraft, not a bit of it however. The display started with an incredible take off, featuring a very steep climb. Due to the huge power of this aerial giant, and the seeming proximity of the crowd line to Farnborough’s runway, the A380 created gusts of wind that blew up the dry soil and grass from beside the runway. The crowd were sand blasted by this for what seemed to be 10-15 seconds. They were then treated to a display of such quality, featuring extremely tight turns, where at points, the aircraft appeared to turn almost on its axis, a slow high alpha pass that we are more accustomed to see from the F-16 and other nimble fast jets, and an aggressive negative 'G'bunt as seen from the likes of the Super Hornet and F-22 Raptor. You really had to remind yourself that this aircraft is larger than a Boeing 747. Without question the A380 was the highlight of the flying display.

As the giant aircraft sat on the tarmac at the far end of the runway it was over flown by a B-52 of the USAF which performed a rather high flypast then seemingly used all of the airspace in Hampshire to turn and head back up to the north, highlighting the contrast in sheer manoeuvrability between two large aircraft.

Next up were the British Army's "Red Devils" Parachute Display team, who also performed in the fine early afternoon weather, one man was heard to shout "Oh no they’re going to die!" Such melodramatics were soon put bed when all the canopies opened; one "Red Devil" even sported a huge Roger Moore-esq Union Flag, after such comments emanating from the crowd we could have forgiven him a raised eyebrow too.

The crowd were probably the most openly appreciative I have experienced at an airshow, they cheered and clapped everything all day, even an ice cream van backing up got a hearty round of applause. The crowd seemed to favour one display above all others. This was met with rapturous applause: the Chinook display/ role demo. This was neat and tidy as always and was met by a crescendo of claps. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that this was as much a show of appreciation of the aircraft and servicemen and servicewomen currently engaged in the conflict in Afghanistan as it was for the display itself.

Award for the most pointless display of the day went to the EADS DA42, The light aircraft simply took off, made one flypast, then flew a circuit and landed: completely pointless.

Two other excellent displays of the day came in the form of the Lockheed Martin F-16 display and the C-130J display. The F-16 was much tighter and more aggressive than we have seen from US F-16 displays in the past. The C-130 routine was again another fine display in the ongoing theme of large-aircraft-displayed-well-at-UK-airshows this year. It was thrown around the sky reminding the crowd that, despite the appearance of the A400M, the new airlifter has a real pedigree to live up to.

The Farnborough static park was the now expected mixture of airliners, biz jets, military hardware and stealth mock ups. Finmeccanica products were once again displayed in their own enclosure and of note were a Nigerian ATR42, a New Zealand Air force A109 and a sandy looking Apache fresh from duty in Afghanistan. A smart looking Chilean Navy C295MP was a welcome addition for the enthusiast as was the sight of the brand new A400M. The Americans were represented in the now customary huddled selection of military hardware, including a very clean and aggressive looking MH-60, an equally clean looking F/A-18F Super Hornet a C-17A and a UH-1Y. A new Boeing B737 AEW&C Wedgetail of the Turkish Air Force was successfully hemmed in by some impressive barrier positioning for the early part of the week but this was apparently eased by the early departure of some of the other exhibits. The undoubted stars of the show were the pair of Pakistani Air Force JF-17s which remained in the static for the duration of the event - presumably they were being sold more on looks than performance? Another star of the show which did not remain grounded was the graceful new RR Trent powered B787-8 Dreamliner which was towed from the static on the first two trade days to partake in some token fly-bys before departing on Tuesday evening, immediately after formating with a pair of Rolls Royce Merlin powered Spitfires, which emphasized that company's involvement in the project. An unusual and surprising exhibit was the unique Grumman Turbo Goose. To sum up, an impressive line-up for a trade show but not many opportunities for the photographer-enthusiast.

All in all a good day’s entertainment underscored by some fine displays at Britain’s least friendly airshow.