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Farnborough : The Airshow Reborn...

The "Big" Story

If ever one company dominated a particular Farnborough, then Airbus at Farnborough International 2006 was it. It may not have been their biggest ever attendance, but the impact of their latest offering was one of the most highly anticipated debuts yet! From the moment you entered the airfield, the A380's tail towered over everything else. Everybody was taking pictures of the great aircraft while it stayed in the static. In the air, it was perhaps a little less impresive that it's extra long stable mate, the A340-600 but neverless, it's grace defied it's size. Only when in formation with the Red Arrows did the A380 really steal the show. The formation literally brought everyone outside to watch the spectacle.

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Business Aircraft Park
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Military Matters
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Pure Entertainment
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Farnborough International 2006 was a very different show compared to previous events. 2004 saw a number of complaints from exhibitors and visitors alike. Since then, Farnborough is organised by a dedicated company formed by the SBAC and many of the difficulties addressed. One major area of improvement was the slashing of the cost to exhibit an aircraft in the Flying display, thus insuring that this part of the show was greatly improved. Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. All photography copyright of Author.

The barmy weather of RIAT continued into Farnborough week. Infact, it just got even hotter so much so that it simply started to become uncomfortable and even started to damage the exhibition. A couple of chalets and exhibition areas suffered shattering windows and there was so much demand for electrical power so power air conditioning a few generators failed and caught fire!!!! Then the weather took a final twist for the two public days. The weeks of hot weather induced some quite bad thunderstorms that arrived on Saturday and Sunday causing a little disruption to the flying displays.

Trade Winds
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On the Ground....

One of the main attractions for anyone interested in aviation is of course the exhibtion halls and those aircraft that simply don't appear anywhere else. The exhibition halls haven't really changed much in format for many years, though the facilities have improved greatly to such an extent that the stand alone site such as the Gripen or Lockheed Martin can now be offered as permanent sites for the various aerospaces companies to buy and rent out for other exhibtions in the two years between Farnboroughs! The improved conditions for exhibitors almost meant that some companies return to Farnborough after several years absence, the most prolific of which was Bell Helicopter Textron who had their own "hall" right next to pedestrian entrance!

The draw of the Big Airbus A380 and Red Arrows formation brought everyone out to watch

Aircraft wise, there's no doubt the participation was greatly improved over previous years. The return of the Business Aircraft Park (BAP) was well received. This year the park occupied some temporary hard standing nearer to the main exhibtion rather than the far end of the showground. With types such as EMBRAER Legacy, Antonov An-140, Gulfstreams, Beechcraft King Airs and the odd Boeing 727 and MD-82, it certainly attracts some varied types. Sadly for the public however, "BAP" closes on Wednesday. Despite some aircraft remaining on show, many depart as their target clients only come for BAP. Outside of BAP, a british based entry onto the light business jet market made it's debut - the beautiful Sino-Swearingen SJ-30 which looked very modern amongst the line-up of more familiar types. Of course, larger airliners were also included in the static. Perhaps largest non-Airbus was the Boeing 777-300ER while much smaller European efforts came in the form of the ATR-42 from Air Madagascar. Airbus, not to be out sone on sales to far east showed off one of the new A320 aircraft bought by Indian Airline Kingfisher.

Military participation was very impressive. Much of the exhibition was dominated by the growth in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) but there's still quite a demand for more traditional aircraft. The United States Depeartment of Defence always dominates the central area of the showground with an impressive line up of hardware that is equal to, if not better than that seen at traditional military shows around the UK. Static examples of several front line fast jets such as F-15C, F-15E, F-16CJ and F/A-18F displayed alongside weapomry were present behind the now usual security. Towering over the fighters were examples of the C-17A Globemaster III and C-130J Hercules while combat helicopters were represented by a UH-60 Blackhawk. Jet trainers are quite a talking point at the moment. BAE Systems had the Hawk 128 on display which enter service with the RAF in a few years. Next to the Hawk was the Czech Republics offering, the Aero Vodochody L-159B while Pilatus missed a trick and only displayed the PC-21 in the static park. An interesting  participant was the SAAB JAS-39B Gripen wearing special markings to mark the assoication with QinteQ and the Empire Test Pilots School at Boscombe Down. ETPS is currently running a test flying course on the Gripen in Sweden. Another interesting jet hiding in amongst the Finnemeccia area was an Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon. This surely must be the UK airshow debut of an italian Typhoon - just a shame it was crowded in with all the clutter.

AgustaWestland has a good showing in the military helicopter world with several exotic participants. The most eye catch was a Swedish Armed Forces Agusta A109 in the attractive splinter camoflage often worn by swedish aircraft. Another Scandinavian was the EH101 Merlin in the colours of the Royal Danish Air Force. Also on show was an aggressive A129 Mangusta looking to catch potential customers while Europcopter Tiger remained absent. But prize for most exotic helicopter has to go to the Super Lynx bound for the South African Navy. The presence of such a Lynx was well receieved following news earlier in the year that AgustaWestland would be supplying the Royal Navy and Army with the Future Lynx in the utlity and attack roles.

In the air...

The reduced rates for air display aircraft helped bring back some of the more special items that often adorned Farnborough line-ups of the past. One thing that can't be brought back are the more normal display rules enjoyed at other shows. Farnborough's higher and further minima for displays as well as rules on just how fast jets can go makes for distant displays that lose some of that impact they get at other venues.

Airbus of course were the big talking point with displays from the A340-600 and A380 super jumbo. Though A380 orders have slowed down, Airbus has great faith in the comcept are are pushing the aircraft to a number of airlines. The star act from the military point of view was the incredible MiG-29M OVT Fulcrum from MIG. The aircraft's main features are 3D thrust vectoring nozzles meaning the aircraft has better agility at high and low speeds than any other fighter. While the use of the manoeuvres displayed by the MiG is the subject of much debate, there is no denying that it makes for an awesome spectacle at an airshow. Another aircraft that put on a memorable display was the F/A-18F Super Hornet in the hands of Ricardo Traven. Though the aircraft was displayed clean the noise and slow speed agility of the type gets the aircraft noticed. Sadly, the same could not be said of the F-16CJ Fighting Falcon. Many years of displaying and simply being out performed meant it's display it now just too familiar. Other heavy metal included the dynamic SAAB JAS-39C Gripen and a surprisingly good display by the Italian Air Force Tornado IDS Mid Life Update.

Year of the Typhoon

One airvraft not overshadowed by the MiG-29M was the Eurofighter Typhoon. Sqn Ldr Matt Elliot displayed most days in a RAF Typhoon F2 but for the first two days BAE Systems had IPA2 in the flying display will a full war load of Paveway II, Sidewinder missles and a centre line fuel tank for a dramatic display of the aircraft at operational weights

From a little further east came a pair of smaller aircraft. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) made it's Farnborough debut with it's ALH Dhruv utliity helicopter and HJT-36 Trainer basic jet training aircraft. The ALH Dhruv came to Farnborough in the colours of the "Sarangs" Display Team, the national Helicopter Display Team of the Indian Air Force. Sadly, they were unable to attend as the complete team but the single aircraft put on a creditable performance complete with display smoke. The HJT-36 by contrast was a little dissappointing in it's display. While the aircraft from the outset was designed to be fuel efficent and low cost, it seems woefully underpowered compare to it's rivals - Even the elderly Fouga Magister is a better performer! It's display too was very basic and very distant. Sunsequent versions should be re-engined, we hope with a little extra oomph!! That said, it was great to see the Indians at a UK show, we hope it 's not too long before they return.

The only other helicopter in the trade display was the AH-64D Longbow Apache. Joining the Apache was Boeing's major debut, the MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor. While for those at RIAT the previous week it was perhaps too familiar, there's no doubt the tiltrotor display caught many eyes during the Farnborough week. There were very few military "heavies" in the flying. Just qualifying was the C-27J Spartan wearing markings to signify it's entry into the Joint Cargo Aircraft program for the USAF and US Army. However, much more significant were the flypasts performed by the Nimrod MRA4. This contraversal aircraft is now well into flight testing by BAE Systems with a couple of aircraft already flying. The aircraft made flypasts on the Tuesday and Saturday of Farnborough on routine test flights. Loudest flypast had to from the USAF B-1B Lancer operating from RAF Fairford following RIAT. FRA Aviation also contributed their pair of Falcon 20ECM aircraft highlighting the roles they can offer air forces in combat training. Likewise, Babcock HCS supplied their T67M Firefly expertly flown by Capt Alan Wade highlighting their role in elementary flying for the Army Air Corps and Royal Navy. With RAF training being the subject of another bidding war, mainly to replace the Tucano fleet, two contenders took to the air in the trade programme. The Aermacchi M-346 may have missed out to the Hawk, but is still a viable option for an air force looking for potent jet trainer. It is unlikely the RAF would get the type following the choice of Hawk Mk128 but there is interest throughout the rest of the world. An aircraft aiming itself will an truly at the MFTS program is the Raytheon T-6 Texan II. The variant on show at Farnborough was the T-6B, a weapons capable aircraft offered an an aircraft to fill the basic training and counter insurgency role - particular in anti drugs operations in South America. As at FI2004 it was demonstated by US aerobatics ace and celebrity, Patty Wagstaff. As ever, nine Red Hawks were present for much of the week in the guise of the Red Arrows who had a number of important duties to perform. The opening day saw a flypast was a Bahraini Air Force Hawk Mk129 to mark the handing over of the type. Later in the week, the Reds formed up with the Airbus A380 for surely the formation of the year.

As ever, the weekend public days saw the flying display boosted by several acts from the "normal" display circuit. Much of the boost came coutesy of the Royal Air Force who had pretty well all their display teams persent at some point over the weekend. Both the Chinook HC2 and Merlin HC3 teams put on excellent displays despite interference from the display rules meaning they were further away than usual. Talking all things vertical, the Harrier GR7 made a spirit attempt to dry out the soaked runway on Saturday. Saturday saw the weather prevent a display by the Tucano T1 but he was able to complete his other displays. Meanwhile the RAF Tornado GR4 shook off the unservicabilities experienced at Fairford to make all his alotted slots during the display week. The Army Air Corps were well represented in the air by the Blue Eagles and on the ground by the Historic Aircraft Flight. Dropping in for a rare Farnborough appearance were the Falcons Parachute Display Team. Historic types were well represented too. The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight were present as they usually are for FI. Further Spitfires came in the form of Carolyn Grace and her Spitfire IXT and the Rolls Royce Spitfire PRXIX. A complete contrast was Plane Sailing's Catalina which looked at home in the wet conditions.

There were only two civilian performer this year both giving displays of unlimited aerobatics in their respective disciplines. John Taylor gave his polished routine in Ultimate High's Extra 300 in it's striking paint scheme.  Guy Westgate once again performed the his eye-cathcing routine with another Extra as his tug before releasing into a display of glider unlimited aerobatics. Being a glider meant that Guy's display didn't get as badly affected as his powered counterparts.

There's no doubt Farnborough 2006 was a great improvement all round on previous years. As an airshow, it still has it's faults as the display rules do seem the limit the spectacle. However, it remains a unique airshow on the UK calendar and it's clear there has been plenty of thought on how to improve both the trade and public days which shome through this year. Keep up the good work Farnborough International Ltd!!

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