Farnborough Air Show

Farnborough goes big time

 - July 16, 2008, 9:37 AM

This year’s show benefits from recent improvements to infrastructure and facilities as organizer Farnborough International continues a 60-year evolution of development begun by the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC). One of the first examples was a re-landscaping of the exhibition site in 1980 to accommodate continuing growth. SBAC re-routed roads, extended chalet lines westward and increased the South Hall exhibition space to provide an overall total area of 175,000 square feet.

The 1980 event saw some new general-aviation aircraft designs including the curiously bug-like Edgley Optica, designed as a low-speed surveillance aircraft, while France-based Aerospatiale/Socata Tampico pioneered a new light-aircraft family.
Altogether less quiet and peaceful was another French participant, the Dassault-Breguet Mirage 4000, which competed against the General Dynamics F-16, Northrop F-18, McDonnell Douglas F-15 and Panavia Tornado F2 to make the most violent impact on the local Hampshire environment. Another Farnborough newcomer was the Canadair Challenger “widebody” corporate jet.

The Golden Years
As SBAC marked the 50th anniversary of its original 1932 exhibition, almost 500 companies were ensconced in the new North Hall, on ground that was previously occupied by radar equipment exhibits. In a rare sight, Farnborough’s skies were graced simultaneously by two Boeing jetliners, the 757 and 767, providing an opportunity for the U.S. manufacturer to carry potential customers during the flying display. Slingsby showed its T67, based on French designer Rene Fournier’s wooden RF6.

There were some 20 aircraft new to Farnborough in the 1984 flying display, almost a quarter of the total, and more than a dozen others were displayed on the ground. A major milestone was the first presence of Russian aircraft, such as the Antonov An-72, Ilyushin Il-86 and Mil Mi-26. Demonstrating competition for business from new regional airlines were the de Havilland Canada Dash 8, Embraer Brasilia and Saab 340.

For many, the memorable spectacle, however, is of the de Havilland Buffalo’s very heavy landing following an over-ambitious steep approach–the consequences of which were aggravated by a strong tailwind that rendered the elevators less effective than usual. There were no serious injuries in the ensuing detachment of both wings from the airframe. (The F-16 in the static park was damaged by flying debris.)
There was a further increase in chalet numbers (to nearly 300) in 1986, which also saw establishment of the new South Hall, taking exhibition space to some 450,000 square feet, and some 140 aircraft–including the Aero Spacelines Super Guppy transport aircraft and Antonov An-124–on static display.

Debutantes that year were Airbus’s fly-by-wire demonstrator A300, Boeing E-3A, British Aerospace EAP, ATP and Harrier GR5, Dassault-Breguet Rafale, Fokker 50, and Sikorsky S-70. Also on show were more than a dozen military trainers.
Infrastructure development continued in 1988 with the first two-story chalets, and exhibition area increased to 600,000 square feet. The exhibition halls were now designated by number, One to Five, although Hall 5 wasn’t needed once Italian companies had pulled out of the show.

The 1988 flying display featured the tail-sliding MiG-29’s first Western appearance. Soviet pride was slightly bruised, however, when an An-124 engine failed and then the spares-carrying An-22 ran off the runway. In fact, when the MiG-29 pilot failed to fly his aircraft later in the show, it was because the flying control committee grounded him.

Demonstrating the aerospace industry’s constant exploration of technology, General Electric flew its ultra high bypass unducted-fan, fitted to a McDonnell Douglas MD-80. In addition to the Optica, the 1988 event provided a shop window for several new UK general-aviation products that were to share an unfortunate lack of marketing success: the Orca/Trago Mills SAH-1, Island Aviation/ARV Super 2, and Norman Fieldmaster, Freelance and Turbo Firecracker.

The 1990s began for SBAC with participation by Antonov’s mighty An-225, the world’s largest aircraft. Over 30 countries took part, with the first appearance of the Airbus A340 and Saab Gripen and 15 aircraft from former Soviet states. A hark back to an earlier era was provided in 1994 with the presence of a Douglas DC-3/C-47 aircraft modified with Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engines. Representing latest military thinking was the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter.

Airshow Evolution

In 1996, SBAC introduced considerably improved modern halls and chalets and featured a brief appearance by the Northrop B-2A. Marking the 50th anniversary of Farnborough in 1998 with first appearances were the Airbus A330 and Lockheed-Martin C-130J Hercules.

Perhaps the most revolutionary move by SBAC came in 2000, when it changed the show date from September to July, almost exactly dividing the two-year gap between adjacent Paris Airshows. It also represented an attempt to avoid the vagaries of Britain’s late-summer rains.

Evolution continued in 2002 with introduction of pavilions devoted to motor sport and space in order to emphasize synergy between those industries and aerospace. A new shape in the sky was the neatly proportioned Airbus A340-600 quad-jetliner. A further innovation four years ago was a static park devoted to business aircraft, while the Boeing 747 made its first appearance at the show, 35 years after its first flight.

In 2005, the SBAC exhibition department was reversed into a previously established subsidiary to form Farnborough International, which now manages and organizes the show on behalf of the British industry’s lobby group. Farnborough International immediately set about fulfilling its mission to develop more events and services. For example, the last show featured a shortened industry day, conferences and a dinner. Since then it has developed its FIVE exhibition and events facility.

Some 140,000 trade visitors and nearly 1,500 exhibitors took part in the 2006 Farnborough show, which included the Airbus A380 very-large airliner–a suitable participant in an event that was bigger than ever.