FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Farnborough 2014: Survivors of the golden age

Posted in England, Farnborough by folkestonejack on July 19, 2014

Britain’s pioneering aircraft builders gave this country an incredible boost in the post war years, delivering a remarkable variety of innovative jet aircraft that dazzled the public throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The world class aircraft produced looked like a vision of the future and were given stirring names that matched the sense of expectation at the beginning of the new Elizabethan age – such as Valiant, Victor and Vulcan.

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

Vulcan XH558 takes off from Farnborough

The capabilities of these incredible machines and the men behind them stood testimony to the brilliance of the work taking place within the British aviation industry at this time. However, in spite of this, the golden era of British jet aircraft manufacture was all but over by the late 1960s. Arguments still rage today over the cancellation of the supersonic TSR2 bomber/reconnaissance aircraft in 1965, a jet which many test pilots felt had the potential to the best of its era.

I am pretty sure I would have seen some of these astonishing jets on my family’s occasional visits to airshows in the early 1980s but I wouldn’t have appreciated what I was looking at, even had any of it stuck in my memory! In this context, it was a delight to visit Farnborough this weekend and see five jets from this era in the air (a meteor, vampire, vulcan, canberra and harrier respectively). The Vulcan is a guaranteed crowd pleaser, but I was as keen to see a Meteor and Canberra in flight.

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Gloster Meteor WA591 takes off at Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

Canberra XH134 takes off from Farnborough

It was probably the last appearance of a Vulcan at Farnborough, ending a connection that began with her first appearance in September 1952 (remarkably, just a few days after her initial flight). This particular example, Vulcan XH558, had been set to retire at the end of the 2013 display season but modifications to her wings extended the lifespan of her airframe for a further two years. Since the Farnborough International Air Show only comes around every two years, it seems unlikely that she will still be flying by the time of the 2016 show.

Vulcan XH558 at the Farnborough Air Show in 2014

Vulcan XH558 flies over Farnborough

The airshow at Farnborough was supposed to see an appearance from the F-35 Lightning II, which will eventually fly from new carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth, but the recent grounding of the jets put paid to their first transtlantic flight. Instead, we had a rather wonderful reminder of the capabilities of its VTOL predecessor – the Sea Harrier – with an example from the Spanish Navy. Yet another innovative design from the British aviation industry of the golden age!

If you want to find out more, the story of Britain’s jet age is superbly recounted in the book ‘Empire of the clouds: When Britain’s aircraft ruled the world’ by James Hamilton-Paterson.

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