The Great Escape
Paris Airshow, 17-24 June
Hugo Mambour/AviaScribe reflects on a mammoth event and an escape Steve McQueen would have been proud of
The 44th Paris Air Show, which took place at Le Bourget airport from 17 to 24 June, was also the first one of the new century and allegedly the biggest so far. More than 1,800 representatives of aeronautical and space industries (a third of them were from the host country) from 43 different countries were present. Two hundred and forty-two aircraft were officially put on display (many aircraft were actually missing), including sixty-six of them scheduled to take part in the flying display programme. Compared to previous editions, the latter was rather monotonous with the same aircraft flying each day.
A wide variety of flying machines was present, ranging from airships to the biggest aircraft in the world. Zeppelin LZ N07, built by Luftschifftechnik in Germany and designed to carry up to 12 passengers at 125 km/h over 900 km, flew a daily routine. More projects are being developed in Germany. CargoLifter, which is based at Brand-Briesen (a former Soviet AF MiG-27K airbase in DDR), is promoting giant cargo airships. The advantage of such ships is that they can transport outsized cargo right up to the point of delivery, contrary to more traditional means of transport, with which the cargo has to be shifted from one medium to another in order to arrive at its destination, often in several parts. Still on the subject of outsized cargo, the Antonov Design Bureau of Ukraine had sent its unique An-225 Mriya six-engine transport aircraft, back at Le Bourget twelve years after its first and only appearance there. The biggest cargo aircraft in the world is now proposed for commercial operations. Interestingly, a three minute gap was left in the flying display schedule after the landing of the Mriya in order to let the air settle down! Another Antonov, but a new design built by the Kharkov State Aircraft Manufacturing Company was the An-74TK-300, which is basically an An-74 with the engines mounted under the wings, instead of above, the wing roots. The An-70, although utterly optimistically on the programme, did not turn up as it is still being repaired following its emergency belly landing at Omsk on 27 February.
Other new civilian types included the Airbus A340-600, equipped with new wing and tail surfaces and a stretched fuselage, and which came off the production line in March. The enemy of Airbus had sent the last version and also the longest one of its 737 model, the Boeing 737-900. Relations between Boeing and Airbus wont go better: while Boeing recorded only three orders during the event, Airbus benefited by no less than 371 orders, including 115 firm and 196 options for the A400M European future military transport aircraft, for which a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed by the Defence ministers of Belgium, Luxembourg, France, United Kingdom, Spain, Germany, and Turkey on 19 June. Italy was absent and Portugal could not sign because its internal approval process was not yet finished; nevertheless, its commitment to participate as a full member to the programme has been confirmed. Germany's signature is subject to final approval by its parliament. The maiden flight of the first aircraft is expected for late 2005.
The Defence ministers of France, Sweden and the UK stating their joint formal commitment to the Meteor Beyond Visual Range Air to Air Missile (BVRAAM) programme, signed another MoU at Paris. Italy, Spain and Germany intend to sign once their internal approval processes are complete. Meteor is the next generation air-to-air missile chosen last year by the UK to equip the Typhoon. Eurofighter partner nations, Germany, Italy and Spain, Sweden for the Gripen and France for the Rafale, identified a similar requirement. Following the UK decision, discussions have continued with all potential partner nations, which has led to the signature of this MoU.
Flight demonstrations of new generation European fighter aircraft were provided by one Gripen, the naval version of the Rafale - now operational with the recently reformed Flottille 12F at Landivisiau - and Italian Eurofighter DA7. Other Italian aircraft present at Paris included, among others, the MB339A MLU (Mid-Life Update) and the first Alenia/Lockheed Martin C-27J Spartan, which received its civil aviation certificate on 20 June. On the same day, Agusta signed a contract with the Swedish Material Administration (FMV) for the supply of twenty A109M helicopters. To be designated Hkp15, they will replace AB204, AB206 as well as H269 and will be used mainly as training platforms. However, they will also undertake other missions such as SAR, MEDEVAC or even ASW. Some helicopters will be equipped for ship-based operations.
As always now in such exhibitions, unmanned aerial vehicles were largely on show. Among the numerous UAVs, the RQ-1A Predator, the RQ-4A Global Hawk and the Eagle-1 dominated their smaller contemporaries. A few weeks before the show, the Northrop Grumman Global Hawk had spent six weeks on deployment in Australia where it performed eleven missions. A remarkable operation when one considers that the aptly named UAV joined Australia in flight after 22 hours without refuelling. It landed back at Edwards AFB on 8 June in the evening. Moreover, a US Air Force contract for low-rate initial production (LRIP) of Global Hawk was signed on 23 June and Australia is considering a future purchase.
The IAI Eagle-1 has been selected by France to become its next real-time intelligence-gathering platform. The system could be in service in approximately eighteen months, under the name of Heron. The French military is considering the fitting of TV and infrared optical systems, synthetic aperture radar and laser illuminator systems. Among more conventional military aircraft, Dassault Aviation and Boeing both had an aircraft on static display equipped with conformal fuel tanks (CFTs). CFTs have the advantage of causing less drag than conventional drop tanks and leave all the hardpoints free to carry weapons or special pods. The Rafale B demonstrator (B01) is used as the CFT development aircraft. Each tank holds 1,150 litres of additional fuel. This is a private venture by Dassault for a potential export customer. The French Air Force, although interested in the development, currently does not have not the funds available to support it. A F-16C of the 52FW was also present equipped with CFTs. Although a similar aircraft of the USAF Air Armament Center made its first flight on 13 March at Eglin with such tanks, the Paris tanks were just mock-ups. Also in this case, the adaptation of CFTs to the F-16 is aimed at export customers.
The F-16 ACE (Advanced Capabilities Enhancement) developed by a consortium led by Israeli Defence Industries and already displayed two years ago at Paris, made its first flight in May and was so successful that it received the go-ahead to be flown to France. The test pilots were impressed by the considerable improvement in performance that the newly installed display and avionics systems provide compared to the F-16's original avionics design dating back to the 1970s. Unfortunately, the Israeli Air Force does not seem interested in the upgrade and would prefer to buy a new batch of F-16I twin-seaters. Rafael had its new Derby air-to-air missile on display. This missile is outstanding in that it has both beyond visual range and within visual range capabilities.
Another US aircraft, which flew daily, and seen for the first time in Paris was the F/A-18F Super Hornet. Two aircraft of VF-122, the aircrew conversion center for Super Hornet, were in France.
One of the most exotic participants was an Uzbekistan AF Mi-24P. The latter, unfortunately stuck in a corner of the static display area, was adorned with national cockades. This Hind had been modernised by SAGEM and was equipped, among other modifications, with a sensor turret. The Israelis did not bring their own version of the Mi-24 (nicknamed Action 24) this year. Instead, IAI brought a modified Mi-8MTV (Mi-17) nicknamed Peak 17. The Israeli modification, which includes a glass cockpit and an electronic warfare suite, competes with the Russian Mi-8AMTSh. Both models are able to launch ATGM and represent a relatively cheap alternative for the countries already equipped with Mi-17s and wishing to buy (or modify existing airframes) multi-purpose Hips able to conduct offensive missions by day and night.
After Mi-8, Mi-24 and MiG-21 modernisation programmes, the Israelis have now decided to deal with the Su-25! Elbit Systems, in collaboration with Tbilisi Aerospace Manufacturing (TAM) of Georgia, have modified a Su-25BM airframe with a glass cockpit, new avionics, HOTAS and a new weapons delivery and navigation system (WDNS). The programme began in September 2000 and the resultant Su-25KM Scorpion made its maiden flight at Tbilisi on 14 April in the hands of Elbit's chief test pilot Yehuda Shafir. The latter was also the skilful display pilot of the Su-25KM at Paris. Although this programme is currently a demonstration programme (and as such some exact equipment specifications may change) it is clearly aimed at the Georgian Air Force, which however operates only a handful of Frogfoots. TAM factory is the only facility building the original single-seat Su-25. Potential customers could either have their Su-25s upgraded or purchase new-built Scorpion airframes. Another upgrade proposed by IAI is aimed at C-130 users. The upgraded Hercules system improves flight safety and crew efficiency by reducing the pilots' workload. It uses an advanced display system and integrates the data presented to the crew, allowing them to concentrate on the operational and flight-safety tasks. The avionics system meets all Global Air Traffic Management (GATM) requirements.
Eurocopter has formed a new joint venture company with Romania's IAR Brasov, creating Eurocopter Romania SA. The first contract for the company is likely to be the sale of ten new-build AS 330 Pumas to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) plus the upgrade of the UAE's existing fleet of fifteen Pumas to the same standard. One Romanian AF IAR 330 SOCAT could be seen on static display, whereas Aerostar exhibited a functional cockpit of the MiG-29 Sniper upgrade, which made its first flight on 5 May 2000.
Stars of the show were once again the Russians, but for dubious reasons! Their only fighter present was the Su-30MK - this two-seat version of the Flanker is a dedicated fighter-bomber. It was painted in a Chinese camouflage (indicating a MKK model?) but adorned with red stars. This aircraft was, however, less impressive in flight than the thrust-vectoring Su-30MKI displayed and crashed two years ago. No MiG-29 was present, but the second prototype of MiG-AT, with engine air intakes rebuilt and painted in a new camouflage scheme, flew daily. Its competitor, the Yak-130 was not at Paris but a cockpit mock-up equipped with three large colour MFDs was on display. Since Aermacchi has disengaged from the Yak-130 programme, it has produced its own version of the aircraft, the M-346, of which a full-scale mock-up was also on display. The Su-30MK and the MiG-AT made the headlines involuntarily when they escaped on 22 June!!! The lawyers of the Swiss trading firm Noga had asked for the seizure of both aircraft as it claimed an unpaid Russian government debt of $23 billion, augmented by $40 billion of interest. They had already tried - without success - to seize the Russian sailing ship Sedov in the French harbour of Brest in June 2000, as well as the accounts of the Russian embassy in France! With a visit of French President Jacques Chirac to Russia scheduled one week later and the visit of four Mirage F.1CTs of EC 2/30 Normandie-Niemen taking place at Lipetsk during the same period to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the German invasion of USSR on 22 June 1941 (the Russian declared that as civilised people, they would not seize the French fighters in reprisal ), the French authorities duly organised the escape of the Russian aircraft. Despite the absence of these two aircraft from the flying display programme of the last public weekend, no less than 85,000 people turned up on Sunday. More than 300,000 visited the Paris Air Show during the whole week.