As the trade week at Farnborough International Airshow comes to an end, the airshow changes into the Public Weekend. The changes have become bigger in recent years and now the weekend is almost a complete separate event with an extended showground, different aircraft in the air and on the ground plus a wide range of attractions. This year saw a “Red Bull takeover” of the flying display with a demonstration of the Red Bull Air Race and a large number of the Salzburg based Flying Bulls collection participating in the flying display.
Paul Johnson/Flightline UK reports. Photography by the author and as credited.
“Farnborough” remains the biggest and best known brand in UK airshows. The rich heritage of the show means that a Farnborough Airshow always receives a wide range of media coverage and interest from the public. The public weekend is a chance for families, many of which may never visit another airshow, to buy into the Farnborough experience. It is an experience that comes at a premium with tickets costing upwards of £40 per adult in advance and £50 each on the gate though children are free. That premium does set expectations quite high.
On the ground, Farnborough do put on as interactive experience as possible with exhibitions and attractions not often seen elsewehere. 2018 saw the return of the Farnborough Airshow Live stage show enthusiastically hosted by TV personalities Michael Underwood and Angelica Bell. This was not only a chance for the public to meet the aircrews and other aviation personalities, but also included live science experiments and other STEM related activities which all goes to inspiring the next generation of aerospace engineers. Away from the stage, there were other heritage and engineering exhibitions, notably from Brooklands Museum. In recent years, all the exhibition halls have been closed at the weekend but for 2018 Hall 1 remained visitors to exploret the UK Space Area as well as some of the major companies and their stands based there.
A challenged faced by Farnborough is the loss of trade exhibition aircraft ahead of the weekend. They seem to now start leaving earlier and earlier so by the weekend there are some significant gaps to fill. Farnborough counter this by bringing in a static display of heritage aircraft and the occasional modern military aircraft. This year, even the United States Air Force Air Mobility Command added to the aircraft that were present for the trade week with a Dover AFB based Boeing C-17A Globemaster III. The Royal Navy too took part in the static displays with a Leonardo Wildcat HMA2. The Heritage section saw good support from the Army Air Corps Historic Aircraft Flight Trust with DHC Beaver AL1, Taylorcraft Auster AOP9 and the SARO Skeeter AOP12. Civilian collections and operators also participated with the likes of North American OV-10B Bronco, Avro C19 Anson, Cessna O-1 Bord Dog, Boeing Stearman, Supermarine Spitfire IX, de Havilland Vampire T11, BAC Jet Provosts and a privately owned Auster AOP9 joining the static display.
A familiar shape towering over the central showground area was an Airbus A380 which was opened for cabin tours. This aircraft came from HiFly and had recently been repainted in Malta with a scheme marking marine environment issues, most notable the fragility of the world’s coral reefs.
Another attraction which was getting the attention of the media before the show was Gravity’s Jet Suit. Unsurprisingly it has been compared to Marvel’s Ironman and was demonstrated within the showground and out on the main runway.
The centrepiece to Farnborough and also the main barometer by which the public judge their day out will always be the flying display. As in previous years, the public weekend flying displays were quite a bit longer than those seen throughout the trade week despite only a handful of display items performing in both.
By far the biggest presence in the flying displays was the Red Bull brand though Red Bull Air Race demonstrations and a very significant contribution from the Flying Bulls. The Red Bull Air Race World Series has been absent from the UK’s skies for over two years now. Therefore for Air Race fans, it was great to see the organisation back in the UK albeit only showing a taster of the sport. For the Air Race organisation, it was not just simply a case of turning up. Each demonstration (of which two were performed each day) utilised many of the procedures from a championship round including oversight from a specialist Air Race Director. For Farnborough, that responsibility fell to Steve Jones. He commented “It’s fantastic to be here, quite an honour because this airfield is regarded as the birthplace of British aviation. Also, Farnborough is one of the most impressive air displays in the world, so it was great to be invited to show the Red Bull Air Race here. Ten years ago, you would think there was no chance of getting approval to demo the Red Bull Air Race at the Farnborough Air Show, but we have proven we can manage it, and the organisers have been really helpful. We used a somewhat simplified, straight-line racetrack very like the one we raced in Porto, Portugal in 2017, and we all really enjoyed it.”
Flying in the Air Race demonstrations were the UK’s Ben Murphy from the Blades Racing Team in his own Zivko Edge 540V3 and Challenger class pilot Dario Costa flying one of the Air Race’s own Edge 540s. “This is one of the biggest trade shows in the world for aerospace,” said Blades Racing Team pilot Ben Murphy, whose advancement to the World Championship ranks this season has rekindled UK interest in the sport this year. “It’s been a huge honour to be able to show this crowd what Air Racing is all about, and it was great to fly my new race-plane in the track in the UK for the first time. The crowds were loving it.” Italy’s Dario Costa also shares connections to the UK being born in Manchester. Farnborough has been on his radar since his first days in the cockpit. “When you’re a student pilot, you see Farnborough Airshow as the airshow for Europe. So, it’s where you want to be one day. Being in the briefing room here surrounded by all the best pilots from each country, and having them watch me fly makes me feel proud of what I have managed to achieve,” he stated.
Enhancing the Air Race experience for the crowds was commentary from Nick Fellows, the series’ live broadcast anchor. In the showground, there were further Air Race displays including tours of a 25m high Air Race pylon and an insider explanation by a member of the “Airgator” team who maintain the towering structures.
Alongside the Air Race demonstrations, Red Bull were also represented by perhaps the biggest contribution ever to a UK show by the Flying Bulls collection. Their main display saw a cavalcade of different aircraft led by the stunning highly polished Douglas DC-6B. In the air the DC-6 was paired by one of the collection’s Dassault-Dornier Alpha Jet A wearing an very eye-catching tiger-inspired paint scheme. UK display restrictions meant the Alpha Jet was restricted to a flat display. A second wave saw a sort of high tail-chase by the Flying Bull’s warbird fleet led by their North American B-25N Mitchell. Following the Mitchell around the Farnborough circuit were a fighter pairing of Chance-Vought F-4U Corsair and Lockheed P-38L Lightning.
Following a very successful “RAF100” tour, Farnborough was the last chance to catch the beautiful Bristol 171 Sycamore in UK skies before it returned to its Austrian base. The Sycamore has not onl displayed at Cosford and Yeovilton this year, but has also visited it “home-town” of Weston-Super-Mare and the Helicopter Museum as well as paying a visit to the home of the Bristol Aviation Company at Filton. Completing the Flying Bulls’ contribution to Farnborough was the MBB Bo-105C flown by Seigfried ‘Blacky’ Schwartz. His astounding aerobatic antics were one of the absolutely highlights of the show and even caught the commentary team completely off-guard!
Joining the Flying Bulls warbirds fleet were other historic types from the UK. Saturday’s flying display was opened by a single flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight with Avro Lancaster B1 PA474 leading Hawker Hurricane IIc LF363 and Supermarine Spitfire Vb AB910. A more dynamic presentation came from the Royal Navy Historic Flight’s Hawker Sea Fury T20 flown by Lt Cdr Chris Gotke. Completing the warbird flying was the Aircraft Restoration Company with some smooth formation passes from Bristol Blenheim 1F and Supermarine Spitfire IXT.
As well as the military might, there some airshow favourites mixed into the flying. Peter Troy-Davies returned to Farnborough with his AutoGyro Calidus. His displays are always a crowdpleaser as he’s able to fly into 75m from the crowd who can clearly see him waving back. For Farnborough, on-baord view from his aircraft were downlinked and shown on the large LED screens scattered around the showground giving spectators a really unique view of his display. The Aerosuperbatics Wingwalkers have supported many Farnborough airshows. This year they presented a trio of Boeing Stearmans with some close formation work before splitting into a pair and solo routines.
Displays by Airbus airlines are always a firm favourite at Farnborough. This year, the Airbus A350-1000 took on the mantle held by the A380 for so many years. Captaining the A350 was Airbus test pilot Peter Chandler who retired immediately after his display on the Sunday. Peter first displayed at Farnborough in 1986 flying the Panavia Tornado as the RAF’s display pilot. He joining Airbus in 2000 and as well as flying test sorties on many Airbus products has also flown over 200 air displays for the company.
2Excel Aviation closed the weekend displays as they did during the trade week with sequence combined Oil Spill Response’s Boeing 727-2S2 and the Blades Aerobatic Team. However it was extended for the public weekend with a sporting solo display from the 727 and a “bespoke” formation routine from the Blades. The Blades routine was choreographed with ground based pyrotechnics which was certainly a fitting finale to the day’s flying. It also causes a little post-entertainment on the Saturday as they pyrotechnics caused a small grass fire out on the airfield.
Having participating in the opening flypast on the Monday, the Red Arrows returned to Farnborough for the public weekend. The team are no longer able to perform a display at Farnborough due to the built-up areas that surround the airfield and would fall within their display footprint. As in 2016, the team were restricted to just flypasts for the flying appearances. Though you can find a blog entry on the Farnborough website, the lack of displays still seemed to be a surprise to many who had left negative feedback on the show’s social media channels. It was also a great shame that unlike 2016 where the Reds flew a formation with other aircraft, this time the team flew alone – a missed opportunity for the RAF to celebrate its centenary at the UK’s most famous airshow. That said, the team did engage with the public through their own PR area and also on the Farnborough Live stage.
Another source of disappointment for some was the lack of fast jet displays. 2018 was first year that neither the F/A-18 Super Hornet nor the Eurofighter Typhoon gave solo displays. Also, perhaps more notable was the lack of any F-35. The trade days saw just one which was the Lockheed Martin F-16C Fighting Falcon sponsored by the US Department of Defence and it also flew over the weekend. Though the aircraft was drawn from the United States Air Force’s 52nd Fighter Wing based at Spangdalem in Germany, the display crew came from the Pacific Air Forces F-16 Demonstration Team based at Misawa AFB, Japan. The team normally perform at displays around the Pacific area as well as Asia averaging about 10 per year. Recently they have displayed in Singapore, New Zealand and Alaska. The 2018 pilot is Captain Jacob “Primo” Impellizzeri and he gave two thunderous displays highlighting the power and agility of the F-16 each day. It was also nice to see his support team make the effort to meet the crowds between their displays.
Star of the show for many though was the McDonnell Douglas EAV-8B+ Harrier II+ from the Spanish Navy. It has been nearly 10 years since the Harrier was withdrawn from UK service and though the Spanish Navy did display at Farnborough in 2014, seeing the ‘Jump Jet’ in UK skies is still a really special treat. Even in Spain, appearances by EAV-8Bs in flying displays are very rare so it is a coup for Farnborough to attract one for an overseas appearance. As displays are rare, the Spanish fly really what is a role demonstration with some fly passes before a hovering finale at crowd centre. The UK may have a STOVL capability back with the F-35B, but there is little to beat the spectacle of a Harrier hovering nose on to the crowd before powering away to wing-borne flight. Special mention too must be made of the efforts by the Spanish to make their display on the Sunday by pulling the spare jet out of the static park after the main jet developed an issue.
Farnborough’s public weekend has certainly had some mixed reactions on social media. I don’t think there was a lack of quality in the flying display as there were some really excellent and unique items in there such as the Flying Bulls, the Red Bull Air Race demo, the PACAF Demo team and the Harrier. Lots to enjoy then but at the same time it did just feel that bit too drawn out at times with some big gaps. People going to Farnborough do expect a spectacle and probably wall to wall action with it. Hopefully next time around a few more displays squeezed in would up the wow-factor. Aside from the flying display, it should also be mentioned how much better it was getting in and out was. There were plenty of buses at all times, faster moving security queues and the showground staff all seemed that much more friendly too!