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2012 Airshows : REVIEW

Farnborough International Airshow 2012

‘Farnborough Airshow’ is one of the most iconic names in the airshow world and the most recognisable events held in the UK. As the major shop window for UK Aerospace and associated industry it nearly always hits the headlines and brings in visitors from around the world for the ‘Trade Week’ held between Monday to Thursday. From the Friday onwards the show goes through a major metamorphosis becoming much more of a family airshow containing more current military and civilian display acts as well as a few select items from the trade show.

Paul Johnson/Flightline reports. All photography copyright of the Author.

Quite rightly, Farnborough is one of the most corporate events on the UK airshow calendar. For the trade week the show is very much a place that business is done. Exhibition halls are full of companies from around the world showing off their latest wares and holding meetings with potential suppliers and clients. As such, the show is a very high profile event and has some very strict security arrangements; more so that even the Royal International Air Tattoo. While during the trade days this is not so much of a problem, at the public weekend it can make entry feel like more of an ordeal.

Exacerbating the problem this year was the unseasonable wet summer which had rendered Farnborough’s usual main car park, Queen’s Parade, too soft to use. Instead a number of back-up car parks had to be used further away from the show site resulting in everybody being forced to use the shuttle buses rather than being able walk to the show site. While people arrive over a period of time, they do tend to all want to leave at the same time towards the end of the flying which at the weekend led to some unfortunate chaotic queues of people waiting to get back to their cars.

2012 saw some major changes for Farnborough. Perhaps the biggest change was a much bigger difference from the trade and public days. The main exhibition halls were closed at the weekend although the Space Pavilion and some of the outer exhibits did remain open as did Virgin Galactic’s impressive display of SpaceShip Two.

The layout of the showground also changed significantly with a new base for Airbus’s enormous Airbus A380 which for 2012 was situated right in the middle of the static display rather than outside the exhibition halls as has been tradition at past events. Its place was taken by a variety of other ‘heavies’ including the Omega Air Tanker McDonnell Douglas KDC-10.

That meant the usual United States Department of Defense (sic) exhibition also moved with the smaller types based much higher up the slopes towards the chalets. The DoD participation was noticeable smaller this year reflecting the massive cuts the US military is currently undergoing. The main static lines saw examples of Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules II while smaller aircraft included examples of the F-15E Strike Eagle, F-16CJ Fighting Falcon, F/A-18F Super Hornet and for the first time at a UK show, the LUH-72A Lakota.

The DoD also made a contribution to Tuesday’s flying display with a single flypast by a USAF Reserve Command B-52H Stratofortress which had been on static display at the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford. Boeing bolstered the US military presence with a further example of the F/A-18F Super Hornet in the flying display flown by test pilots Riccardo Traven and Steve Schmitt who showed off the amazing performance of the aircraft in fine style.

Boeing was also represented by the MV-22B Osprey flown in the display by the US Marines. The MV-22B last visited Farnborough in 2006 when it was flown by test pilots and the aircraft came from one of the Marines testing and evaluation squadrons. Six years later four MV-22s arrived from an active front line Marines unit after gaining valuable operational experience in Afghanistan and Libya. Like the Hornet the Ospreys were seen giving regular demonstration flights to various military leaders and media through the week.

Overall, there were far fewer military types on show. SAAB contributed a JAS-39C Gripen for the flying display with their JAS-39NG Gripen Demo and SAAB 340MPA on static display during the trade week, though they all departed on before the main public days. BAE Systems were also still pushing the new generation of the BAE Systems Hawk with an RAF Hawk T2 hidden behind their exhibition hall parked next to a replica Spitfire. In the air, the sole BAE Systems related product in the flying display for trade purposes was the Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4 from the Royal Air Force. Sqn Ldr Scott Loughran had a busy week displaying on most show days representing Eurofighter and the RAF’s latest fighter aircraft at the show.

Airbus showed off two of their military types. The Airbus A400M Atlas was on static display all week as was a Portuguese example of their CN235MPA. Finnimeccia are another European aviation giant looking after the products of Alenia, AgustaWestland and NH Industries. Hidden amongst their impressive stand were examples of a RAF Merlin HC3A, Royal Netherlands Navy NH-90, Italian Army AW159 and a C-27J Spartan showing off their new MC-27J gunship and special-forces concept. In the flying display AgustaWestland displayed a rare three-ship of its rotary products in the flying during the early part of the trade week with the AW139, AW169 and AW189. Eurocopter also participated in the trade day flying displays with the impressive SAR configured EC725 performing a tight and at times near aerobatic routine.

Pilatus are regulars too with the PC-21 and PC-12 as are Diamond with their various examples of Diamond Star and Twin Stars equipped for surveillance. Sikorsky were a noticeable participant in the static display with a Polish registered S-70i Black Hawk equipped for special missions.

There had been hopes of some significant Russian and East European participation, but alas it didn't really happen. While Irkut has their Yakovlev Yak-130 on static display all week, it only participated in the trade day flying displays which was perhaps a little disappointing for some attending at the weekend, particularly in light of the late cancellation of the Russian Knights’ Sukhoi Su-27 solo display due to paperwork issues.

Equally important to Farnborough is the commercial and business aviation sector. Various manufacturers such as Bell, Dassault and Bombardier had aircraft on show. Airbus also display a variety of different aircraft including the Airbus A320 fitted with ‘Sharklets’ and an A319 business jet. Dominating the static display was the A380. Airbus infact displayed two A380s during the Farnborough week. The first three days of the show saw the type represented by an example destined for Malaysian Airlines while the latter half of Farnborough saw the more usual Airbus development aircraft. British Airways exhibited a further Airbus product on the public days of the show with one of its A318 aircraft on static display

Brazilian company Embraer have long been regular participants at Farnbnrough with their range of executive aircraft and airliners. It was good to see their EMB-195 wearing the markings of Aerosvit, a Ukrainian based airline, alongside the company’s EMB-145 demonstrator.

Boeing too had a number of aircraft at the show during the trade week. On the ground there was a Korean Air Boeing 737-900 representing the latest generation of one of Boeing’s more enduring aircraft. But the biggest headline from the show was the first flying display by a Boeing airliner at Farnborough for many years in the form of a Qatar Airways Boeing 787 Dreamliner which participated for the first three days of the show. The Dreamliner is certainly a unique looking aircraft with it very modern looking fuselage shape, big windows and some very slender looking wings.

An unusual participant was the Speedtwin, making a return to Farnborough having last been seen at the show in 1994. Since then the aircraft design has been further refined and is being offered for a variety of roles including border patrol and aerial surveillance. The developers are even looking at further versions with turboprop engines and enhanced performance. The type is fully aerobatic and is even certified for spinning and it put on an impressive performance in the daily flying displays. Further aerobatics were provided by a French based Starduster Too representing French Aerospace company Trescal during the trade week.

Another civilian display performing throughout the week were the The Blades. They were there to promote all the activities they and their parent company 2Excel Aviation are involved in which not only includes flying displays, corporate events and even test and evaluation. The latter activities were represented by a pair of Piper Navajos carrying a variety of sensors!

As alluded to earlier, the weekend public days were noticeably different events. Many of the aircraft in the static changed with some of the trade aircraft being replaced with the likes of Hunter, An-2, RAF Hawk and Chinook, Meteor and Venom. The flying displays were also longer with some the UK’s most popular display acts joining in from both military and civilian operators.

The RAF Typhoon was joined by a number of solo items including the Tucano T1, Hawk T1 and King Air solo displays. Bringing an explosive element to Sunday’s flying display were the Tornado GR4s of XV Squadron providing a very noisy role demonstration. Sadly a low cloud-base meant the team were unable to fly during Saturday’s display.

All of the RAF main display teams were also at Farnborough. The RAF Falcons Parachute Display Team managed to make just one drop into the famous airshow on Sunday due to poor weather on Friday and Saturday making their first appearance at the event for many years. More regular items are the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and the Red Arrows. The Reds had something of a troubled week with poor weather and NOTAMS preventing them validating until the Friday evening meaning they missed the show’s Jubilee Day flying display. The Army also provided the WAH-64D Apache AH1 solo display for the weekend flying displays.

Another team affected by poor weather were the RedHawks Duo who were another team who only appeared on Sunday. Matthew Hill and Bob Grimstead provided some much needed contrast to all the noise with their graceful aerobatics in the pair of Fournier RF4s.

The Swiss watchmakers Breitling had a heavy presence at the show sponsoring the Jubilee Lawn area and had a massive advert on the side of the new Aviator Hotel. They had hoped to have their Super Constellation on static display but sadly the aircraft had to miss the show for maintenance. However the brand was well represented in the air.

The Breitling Wingwalkers put in a rare four-ship display over the weekend while the Breitling Jet Team made their Farnborough debut. The team even filled in for the Red Arrows during Friday’s display due to the delay in the Reds being able to validate.

2012 in terms of business was a very successful year for Farnborough with over $87 million of sales completed during the trade week. In times of financial uncertainty, that is a great statistic that proves the event’s worth to the global aerospace industry.

Those who went to the public days of the show clearly enjoyed the varied flying displays with many receiving rounds of applause while landing. There was also a lot of see and do including tours of some of the aircraft like the A380, C-17 and C-130. But the ordeal of getting in and out of the show perhaps marred the experience; hopefully that was purely a factor of the poor weather affecting the car parks!

Farnborough returns in two years over the week of 14th-20th July 2014. For more information visit

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