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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Farnborough 2014: Meteor to Meteorology

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

The forecast for the airshow at Farnborough Airshow was not good – a morning of light rain, turning to heavy rain in early afternoon followed by a full display of thunder and lightning by 3pm. Added to this, the Met Office gave an official warning of the possibility of torrential downpours and localised flooding. It was therefore not without a little trepidation that I set off for Farnborough this morning, doubting that I would see very much. Nevertheless, with a ticket already bought there seemed little point sitting around at home…

I entered the show grounds with a degree of trepidation and a change of clothes ready for the soaking I was expecting! The tarmac was glistening after an earlier downpour and the clouds above us were trying their best to resume play, but this short lived sprinkling turned out to be the most that we encountered in the morning. The commentators in the air traffic control tower confirmed that there was heavy rain around, albeit immediately to our west, promising to give us advance warning when the anticipated rain began to move in on us.

The new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner heads home

The new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner heads home

Astonishingly, the rain never came and the day continued to brighten until we had blisteringly hot sun and blue skies above us. Most of the spectators at the show were caught out by this, having prepared for wet weather, never expecting that sun screen and bottled water would be the order of the day! Needless to say, I was delighted that the forecast was quite so dramatically wrong.

The difference that this turn around in the weather made is perhaps best illustrated by the effect that this had on the display from the Red Arrows. The Red Arrows can fly three types of display, depending on the cloud base – a full looping display (cloud base of 4,500 feet or more), a rolling display (cloud base between 2,500 and 4,500 feet) or a flat display (cloud base less than 2,500 feet). The team had expected to deliver a flat display based on the forecasts, but were actually able to put on their full display. It was great to see them deliver their ever impressive moves midway through their 50th display season.

Red Arrows : ready for takeoff

Red Arrows : ready for takeoff

I am no air show connoisseur, but I enjoyed the spectacle of the Farnborough International Airshow tremendously. The spectacle of the veteran aircraft from Britain’s jet age was a highlight for me, especially the Meteor. It is really astonishing to think that Meteors were first used in action as early as 1944, having been sent into the air to counter the threat of the V1 flying bombs. The futuristic styling of the Meteors feels as though it belongs to a much later time.

An unexpected delight came from the colourful and wonderfully acrobatic Aerostars, in their six identical YAK-50 aircraft, whilst the sight of the Airbus A380 landing a few moments after the Airbus A400M had taken off was quite special too. Other sights included the GOFF petroleum Extra 330LX, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Sea Fury and Super Constellation.

The colourful Aerostars aerobatic display team

The colourful Aerostars aerobatic display team

It is probably fair to say that the Farnborough International Airshow is a shadow of the show that it once was, where remarkable new and experimental planes were displayed to massed crowds, but this is a different age and what passed as acceptable then wouldn’t be allowed today (sparing everyone the tragedy that stalked the show at its peak). There are better flying displays to be seen in the UK, at a fraction of the price, but the blend of military and civil aviation at Farnborough still makes a fascinating mix.

For a day that didn’t appear to promise much, this certainly delivered. I was glad to have made the effort and witnessed some fantastic aircraft flown by very talented pilots.

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