Farnborough International, 24 - 30 July
Gary Parsons reports
It was as though time had stood still - the twenty-two months since Farnborough '98 a mere blink of the eye. The flying display read just as it did then - C17, Typhoon DA1, Gripen, Airbus A340, Saab 340, F18 Hornet. True, the Hornet had morphed from a 'D model to the new 'F, bigger and beefier than before, but overall it was evident that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Farnborough is a very different experience to the normal airshow, especially on the trade days. Driven by big business, corporate hospitality is the name of the game to be in with the 'in' crowd. What was more apparent this year is the place the British aircraft industry has within the aviation world, that of component supplier and partner in some joint venture or collaboration; the lack of aircraft and expansion of the vast trade halls illustrating the point quite clearly. Many major international manufacturers could only be found within the cavernous exhibition - key names such as Mikoyan not bringing any aeroplanes to share with the crowds. Dassault declined to bring any military aircraft, not even Rafale. Indeed, the participation of Airbus and BAE Systems was only confirmed at the last minute, a worrying level of commitment to what used to be the major showcase for new aircraft in the UK.
Such is the lengthy development timescale of new aircraft today was one reason why little new could be seen - Eurofighter Typhoon has now been flying for six years, yet is still two years away from entering service with the RAF. Back in the sixties, an eight year life would see a prototype fly, full production and service entry and scrapping of airframes as they became redundant within seven years or so. This year's hot topic was the announcement of the Government's commitment to the Airbus A400M, or FLA as it was known, but again the mock-up has been kicking around since '94, with no sign yet of a prototype. Ironic too that one of the fighters displayed by the Americans looking for future sales was the venerable F16, now in its twenty-sixth year of manufacture!
So, although the SBAC's radio station referred to it as 'the world's greatest airshow', it is anything but. 'The world's greatest aviation trade fair' may be a better description, and justly so, many millions of dollars of business being done over the five days. Overshadowed by the crash of the Air France Concorde early in the week, confidence remained high, led by strong interest in Boeing's new Longer-Range 777 models. In all, airline customers wrapped up sales announcements with a cumulative order activity for 139 aeroplanes, totalling $15 billion, but when options and purchase rights are included, total activity rises to 208 aeroplanes valued at $20.7 billion. Included in the week's announcements were 63 Boeing 777 twinjets (plus an additional 17 options/purchase rights), which dominated the medium-sized jet transport category.
Boeing was certainly the manufacturer with the most hardware on view at FI2000, led by the F/A18E and the C17, plus a full-size mock-up of JSF. On the civil front, the newest member in the Boeing 767 Family the 767-400ER (extended range) jetliner - embarked on a month-long world tour on 10 July. Included are stops at 17 cities in Austria, Germany, Cyprus, The Czech Republic, Poland, China, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Singapore and Korea as well as the week's stay at Farnborough. The 767-400ER is sized between the 767-300ER and the 777-200, and features a lengthened fuselage, aerodynamic improvements, increased takeoff weight, a passenger pleasing 777-style interior, a new upgraded flight deck and an all-new main landing gear.
Also presented by the Secretary of State for Defence was the announcement in the House of Commons of the government's intention to procure the Maverick Missile System from Raytheon Company for the Harrier GR7, following the satisfactory conclusion of trials. Aimed at addressing the main equipment lessons learned from Kosovo, combat operations confirmed that precision guided munitions with low collateral damage are a key requirement in the missions that the RAF now undertake in support of peace-keeping operations. Maverick is a proven, off-the-shelf precision guided missile that greatly improves the pilot's capability and flexibility to attack both mobile and static targets by day and by night. Over 65,000 missiles have been produced to date with 14,000 launched including 5,300 in Desert Storm and 800 in Allied Force. During these conflicts, Maverick achieved a 93% success rate. It offers Lock-on before launch - launch and leave, proven performance against moving armour vehicles and ships, minimum collateral damage and proven performance against high value targets. Despite this news, and although BAE was out in force during the week, no Harrier was to be seen during the trade days, it only displaying on the two public days.
Finmeccanica S.p.A. of Italy and GKN plc of the UK announced that subject to regulatory approval, they have finalised their agreement to merge their helicopter businesses, the new company being known as AgustaWestland. Finmeccanica and GKN will each own 50% of the joint venture post completion, and with combined 1999 revenues of more than $2.1 billion and a civil and defence order book of $8 billion, it will be a powerful force in the world helicopter industry. Agusta will contribute its interests in the NH90 joint venture, NH Industries, whose other partners are Eurocopter and Fokker as well as Agusta's share of the joint venture with Bell Helicopter Textron of the US, which includes the new medium twin, the AB139 and the BA609 tilt rotor aircraft development. Subject to approval of the EU competition authorities Finmeccanica and GKN expect that the new company will become fully operational in the Autumn. Westland is, of course, heavily committed to two major UK military developments in the next few years with the RAF/RN Merlin and AAC Apache programmes, and it is expected that this merger will give the company the security it needs to develop markets in other areas.
And what of the flying displays? To be honest, Farnborough always serves up a very enjoyable three hours of concentrated action. Always slickly organised, barely a gap separates one landing from the next take-off, with the display slots themselves being reasonably short and not too long-winded. The public days offer the best of the trade days, mixed with some historic and modern-day RAF display routines, but it is the bespoke displays by the manufacturer's fleets that is the character and attraction of Farnborough. Although the display line is too far back for photography, it gives a chance to actually watch the display without the distraction of getting that vital shot.
Chris Worning and Keith Hartley rotated the display responsibility for Eurofighter Typhoon during the week, and easily came away with the most impressive routine of the week. Another notch up from the '98 display, when we first saw the potential, there is apparently still more to come, thrust-vectoring or not. Keeping up hard was the Lockheed Martin demonstration pilot in the latest F16C, but it was quite obvious that the airframe was being worked very hard, in contrast with the effortless moves of both Typhoon and the Super Hornet. The latter, looking almost indistinguishable from the 'C or 'D in the air, moved in a more aggressive manner with the power to turn at will. Even more impressive than the sole Russian representative, the Sukhoi Su32, which seemed very tame after the thrust-vectoring antics of his stablemate two years ago. But where was the Berkut?
Always impressive is the Airbus A340, but didn't we see it all last time? Same with the C17, direct from Cottesmore, one of the two aeroplanes eventually shared by the two airshows. The other was the C27J Spartan, competing aggressively for the honour of best air transport display with the C17 and C130J. Gripen tried hard as well, as did an AMX, but in amongst Typhoon and the F/A18 would always come away looking diminutive and second-best, maybe showing their earlier development and hence rather elderly designs...
A sparkling display was put on by three Embraer prop-liners, a quite remarkable sight in itself as the three machines performed opposition passes and formation fly-bys. I'll have some of what they were taking, please. Also amongst the displaying airliners was a Fairchild 328Jet, and of a similar ilk was Saab's 340 Erieye, which performed a sedate routine, as did Westland's Apache Longbow demonstrator, always too high and too far away. Apache is all about tree-top surprising the enemy, just a shame that the display restrictions don't allow such a sight.
One thing that always disappoints at Farnborough is the layout of the static display, with little thought given to displaying the aircraft to their advantage. All the interesting military pieces were crammed in the circular dispersal behind the crowdline, while the Su32 sat all alone on the lazy runway with acres on unused space all around it. A few years ago would have seen this space filled with exotic machinery from behind the Iron Curtain, but this year the Russians stayed away, save the Su32 - also the runway would be full of aircraft due to take their part in the flying display later on, but this year there were but three. It was as if the SBAC had been expecting many more, as the helicopters were crammed in a small compound to the rear of the Beluga. A photographer's nightmare, such positioning does little to show the aircraft off to their best advantage. When space is available, such as in the Historic aircraft park, better use needs to be made of the entire show layout. Hidden were the colours of the CAG-bird E2 Hawkeye and F/A18F in amongst the ludicrously tight parking.
At £20 per head, it is difficult to say this airshow offers value for money compared to RIAT, held just the week before. With all the big business of the preceding days, maybe it should be up to the aircraft industry to offer the public an airshow of its wares at a much reduced cost; make it ticket only if necessary, to keep the numbers down to a manageable level. It seems Farnborough is at a crossroads; does it concentrate on business, and become the biggest trade fair in the world without aeroplanes, or does it look to its past and get back to being the 'world's greatest airshow'? It could be done, given the will of the aerospace industry, but then why would they want to?