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Farnborough fare

Farnborough's furnace

Gary Parsons reflects on the week's events - pictures by the author, Garry Lakin and Roger Cook/Pynelea Photo Bureau

It was certainly a week to remember, if only for the weather. As the fantastic summer of 2006 continued to blaze outside, so did temperatures inside the trade halls and chalets, air conditioning units straining to cope. Such were the energy requirements early in the week that the generators provided couldn't meet the demand, with temporary blackouts interrupting meetings and disrupting the early trade negotiations - only when extra mobile units were brought in was some stability created. As temperatures nudged the 40 degree Celsius mark mid-week, an air-conditioned chalet was the place to be - not the crowdline, where only mad dogs and photographers were to be found.

Farnborough International Airshow 2006 was one of the biggest in recent memory with 1,480 exhibitors from thirty-five countries taking part. Now under the control of a public events company, there certainly was a slicker feel to the organisation of the car parks and internal shuttle buses, with a high-profile 'security' presence during the week. Trade show attendance figures are expected to have topped 133,000, with over $38 billion of business announced, together with major new product and programme launches. New products on display at Farnborough for the first time included the Airbus A380, the Raytheon ASTOR Sentinel surveillance aircraft, a host of new business jet types and the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey - Bell Boeing used Farnborough International Airshow to launch an international sales drive for the aircraft.

Airbus, despite being in the middle of a crisis with the resignation of its former CEO and the subsequent appointment of Christian Strieff to resolve the wiring issues and delay of the A380, still came out fighting - the best form of defence is often attack. The A380 dominated the static park and flying display, while the most significant new product launch of the week was the new Airbus A350XWB airliner, which by the end of the week had secured its first order. Singapore Airlines signed a 'Letter of Intent' for twenty A350s and twenty options - it also placed a repeat order for the A380, adding nine to its initial order for ten. In addition, Singapore will lease nineteen A330-300s. "The A350 XWB stands for Extra Wide Body, Extra Comfort, Extra Efficiency and going the Extra mile for customers," said John Leahy, Airbus COO Customers. Due for entry into service in 2012, it has an entirely new fuselage, composite wings and modern cabin. The new family of aircraft comprises three passenger versions - the A350-800 seats 270 passengers in a spacious three-class configuration, the A350-900 can accommodate 314 and the A350-1000 is designed for a capacity of 350. All three versions will have a range of 8,500 nm and a cruise speed of Mach 0.85.

Airbus also announced that the sixth A380 made its maiden flight on 19 July and that the A380 had passed 15,000 simulated flights in fatigue tests - this is three times the required amount for certification. At the end of testing some 47,500 flights will have been simulated - this represents two and a half times the aircraft's designed number of years in commercial service. British test pilot Ed Strongman was at the controls of the A380 during the Farnborough week. Ed has some two hundred flight hours on the A380 but was thrilled to be flying at Farnborough. "It is an exciting occasion for me because I am British and because it is its first appearance at an air show in the UK. The A380 is still the star of the show," he said.

On Thursday the A380 flew in formation with the Red Arrows. "The solo display was the same but then we left the show and flew south to join up with the Red Arrows," said Strongman. "We flew at 300-320 knots with them on the wingtips over Farnborough and it was very bumpy because of thermal activity but the Red Arrows kept their formation perfectly." To perform the flight, the A380 crew and the aerobatic team had to agree not only on the flight formation but also on issues such as radio frequencies and safety procedures. "The Red Arrows must have some anticipation of what the aircraft is going to do. When the A380 turns, the wingtips move over a big distance so we must make gentle manoeuvres," explained Ed. "All pilots like the plane. They find it a real pleasure to fly. But then the A380 is universally liked and appreciated," he said. Ed was co-pilot for the maiden flight of the A340-600 and has special responsibilities for Airbus' military variant, the A400M, in addition to those he has on the A380. "Everything about this job is fascinating and rewarding but it is the A380, which has put us all in the limelight," he said. The A400M still promises but delivers nothing in hard evidence, despite being announced nearly a decade ago - one wonders if it will ever see the light of day, given the A380's recent problems.

The highlight of the week's trade day displays had to be the one-off flypast by the A380 in formation with the Red Arrows. Prime Minister Tony Blair was there and was heard to say "The flypast was absolutely stunning, the most spectacular thing I have ever seen. The Farnborough show is a magnificent showcase for the British aerospace industry. I am pleased to see that the airshow is back on its feet." The Flight tabloid ran the cheeky headline of 'Blairbus' on Friday, poking fun at the thought that the PM may choose the A380 for his new 'Blair Force One' personal transport aircraft. More likely to be a Global Express, he would have been better checking out the interior of the Sentinel R1 parked nearby.

Blair was present to launch the following day's 'International Youth Day' when 1,250 young students attended, designed to encourage young people to take up careers in the aerospace industry. Led through the show by specifically selected Youth Ambassadors, the young people taking part on the International Youth Day were able to attend lectures, see displays, test their skills on simulators and meet other young people already in the industry to give them a view of what work in aerospace would be like. They also took guided tours of the exhibition halls and of the static display. A good iniative, and one that should be repeated.

Airbus's main competitor, Boeing, was conspicuous by its absence in the flying display at Farnborough. Its only representative was Taiwan-based EVA Air's Boeing 777-300ER (Extended Range) was on static display, EVA Air being one of the launch customers for the 777. The twin-engine 777-300ER carries 316 passengers in a three-class configuration and flies up to 7,880 nautical miles (14,594 kilometers). The airplane is capable of serving such routes as Los Angeles - Taipei and Taipei - London.

MiG-29M OVT - beyond the impossible!
Although beaten to the scoop by RIAT, Mikoyan's MiG-29M OVT was still the star of Farnborough's flying display for many.

MiG Corporation's senior test pilot, 'Hero of Russia' Pavel Vlasov, was at the controls for much of the week. The MiG-29M OVT's primary quality is super maneuverability, or the possibility to fly at close to zero speed without angle of attack limitations. This is achieved by thrust-vectoring engines (RD-33 OVT developed by Klimov plant) and a sophisticated electronic remote-control system. Thrust vectoring is provided by three-dimensional nozzles.

Thrust vectoring allows the fighter to maneuver with high angular velocities and hard deceleration, assuming practically any angle or position for an attack.

MiG-29M OVT's first flight took place in 2003, and MiG has practically finished the flight test programme. Pavel Vlasov: “We are fully satisfied with the results - further work to increase the aircraft's maneuverability is underway”.

Essentially MiG-29OVT programme is a thrust vectoring technology demonstrator, which will be used in a new family of MiG fighters. In particular, future series of MiG-29M and MiG-29M2 will be equipped by engines with a similar thrust-vectoring system.

It will give the MiG-29M/M2 a theoretical advantage in dogfighting, increasing safety at critical modes, reducing the load on the pilot, allowing him to concentrate on combat tasks.

 

Military news was scarce in comparison, no doubt suppressed due to the situation in the Middle East that flared up as Farnborough got into gear. It was mostly old news too, or updates on programmes that had been staggering on for years, if not decades. On Tuesday the Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, made the announcement in the BAE Systems chalet that the RAF contract for twelve Nimrod MR4A aircraft had been agreed. Mr Brown was accompanied by Lord Drayson the Minister for Defence Procurement and Mike Turner, the BAE Systems Chief Executive. Immediately following the announcement, the Nimrod MRA4 made its first public appearance as it performed a flypast.

Mike Turner said: "The new Nimrod MRA4 is a world leader in terms of maritime patrol platforms and will give the UK at least thirty years of adaptable capability in maritime reconnaissance and attack operations. The aircraft has the potential to fulfill a number of important strategic roles for the RAF. The Nimrod programme has also broken new ground in terms of the close working relationship that was formed between BAE Systems and our customer - and we have learnt some valuable lessons in project management that are now benefiting the whole of our business". In other words, mistakes had been made and mitigation had been agreed with the RAF, primarily by cutting production from eighteen to twelve aircraft.

The Nimrod MRA4, which had its maiden flight in August 2004, is a highly-capable maritime reconnaissance and intelligence gathering platform with a sophisticated mission system, excellent communications, advanced defensive aids and the potential to carry a wide range of modern weapons. Nimrod's new integrated mission system enables the crew to gather, process and display up to twenty times more technical and strategic data than the MR2 variant currently in service. The aircraft will also give the RAF an increased range of operations of over 6,000 miles and fourteen hours loiter time without refuelling. Three Nimrod MRA4 development aircraft have already conducted more than 125 trial flights, including live link-ups with Royal Navy destroyers at sea. Successful missions include the MRA4's first overseas deployment for hot weather trials in Sicily.

BAE Systems, being Britain's only major defence company, was obviously in the headlines in other areas too. JSF, despite being overweight, overtime and over budget, refuses to die quietly and has recently been given the official name of F-35 Lightning II. BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin announced that they signed an agreement that defines how F-35 support services will be provided in the UK through the life of the programme. Bob Stevens, Lockheed Martin chairman, president and chief executive officer and Mike Turner ratified an extension to their existing 'Teaming Agreement' - in the UK, 'Team JSF' will draw on all of the resources of the F-35 industrial team. BAE Systems, as a principal team member, will take the lead in providing sustainment activities for the life of the F-35 program here, which is expected to extend through the next forty years. "This agreement takes our teaming agreement to a new level," said Stevens. "It strengthens our relationship and outlines more specifically how the aircraft will be sustained in the UK for the life of the programme. Enhancing how JSF will be sustained, maintained and upgraded further increases the ability of our two nations to operate together jointly as we face real world contingencies," he added.

In a ceremony on 7 July at Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, Texas, the F-35 made its public debut and received its name - Lightning II - which echoes two great fighter aircraft of the past: the Second World War Lockheed P-38 Lightning and the supersonic English Electric Lightning of the 1960s. F-35 Lightning II is intended to replace a wide range of existing aircraft, including AV-8B Harriers, A-10s, F-16s and F/A-18 Hornets for the US and Harrier GR7s for the UK. The F-35 will be the most powerful single-engine fighter ever made.

The inaugural flight of the first F-35, a preproduction conventional takeoff and landing variant, is planned for later this year. Fifteen F-35s will undergo flight test, seven will be used for ground testing and another will validate the aircraft's radar signature. BAE Systems is responsible for designing, engineering and manufacturing the aft fuselage and empennage (vertical and horizontal tails) for each F-35 aircraft, as well as the electronic warfare systems suite, a key sensor system for F-35 pilots, and is also providing advanced affordable low-observable apertures and advanced countermeasure systems. Maybe, just maybe, we'll see it for real at Farnborough International 2008?

Meanwhile, the Hawk goes from strength to strength, surely BAE Systems' greatest sales asset of recent times - over 900 Hawks are in operational service, or have been ordered by, nineteen customers worldwide. On Monday the Red Arrows helped BAE Systems deliver the first of six new-generation Hawk 129 advanced jet trainers to the Royal Bahrain Air Force (RBAF). Piloted by BAE Systems test pilot Nat Makepeace and Lt Col Omar Ebrahim Mohamed Al Mahmood, F-16 pilot instructor for the RBAF, the aircraft flew into Farnborough in formation with the Red Arrows before being handed over to His Highness Sheikh Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, Crown Prince of Bahrain, and Commander in Chief of the Bahraini Defence Force, Colonel Hamad bin Abdullah Hamad Al Khalifa, the Commander of the RBAF (sorry for the lack of pictures, but it had disappeared by Tuesday! - Ed).

The first production Hawk 129 made its maiden flight in August 2005 - six months ahead of schedule. Since then the programme has continued to schedule with the first delivery of BT003 and BT004 planned for August, with the next two (BT005 and BT006) flying out in October and the final pair of Hawks, BT001 and BT002, delivered to Bahrain in December. The latter two aircraft have been in use for the past six months at BAE Systems Technical Training Academy at Warton, where fifty-four RBAF technicians have undergone intensive training to prepare them in all aspects of maintenance of the Hawk.

The Bahraini Mk 129 aircraft are among the first production Hawks to have the new BAE Systems operational flight programme integrated with the new FADEC-equipped (full authority digital engine control) Mk951 Rolls-Royce Adour engine.

Elsewhere Raytheon unveiled its AT-6 Joint Airborne Weapons System - a light attack version of the T-6B turboprop trainer, but otherwise there was little new to be found. We still await the US to show off its prize asset, the F-22A Raptor, outside of America and Europe failed to aggressively push its challengers, namely Typhoon, Rafale and Gripen. True, Typhoon and Gripen were in the flying display, but EADS only had its fully-armed two-seat Tiffie in a couple of the week's air displays, deferring to the rather more tame RAF display aircraft otherwise. Gripen was no more impressive than Lockheed Martin's F-16C, an aircraft that has been seen at Farnborough for some thirty (!) years now! But one wonders why certain aircraft were not peddling their wares in the demonstrations - Boeing's C-17A for instance, which is being offered to European nations in an attempt to keep the production lines open. Or the KC-767, intended as a replacement for much of the world's fleet of KC-135s and 707 derivatives.

As expected, the airshow flying was high, distant and largely unspectacular, but that's the constraint Farnborough finds itself in as development encroaches around the airfield. It still seems quite absurd to make small aircraft such as the Slingsby Firefly conform to the same safety margins as the A380 - quite how anyone could appreciate Alan Wade's energetic display is beyond us. More imagination is required to put the spectacle back into Farnborough's air display, before it disappears into the summer haze over Hampshire.

 

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