Some 1300 exhibitors from 38 countries sustained the five halls at around their previous (2002) level, bet the small number of aircraft in the static park and the limited duration of the trade days' flying displays both suggested that Farnborough International will not survive in its present form. The 2006 show will take place at the same location, but its scale and duration are expected to be reduced.
Deeper into the future. the 2008 event could well see a move to some major exhibition hall closer to London's centre as indeed aerospace exhibitions are now arguably being used by people to discuss sales and new equipment and concepts, not for looking at the same old aircraft. Where have the good old days gone when the event was called the Farnborough Air Display?
The Big Ones
Starting this review at the upper end of the size scale, Boeing has recently suffered its share of programme cancellations and scandals, but used the venue to celebrate its selection as prime contractor for development of the US Navy MMA (Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft) to supersede the Lockheed Martin P-3C. Following a reassessment of fatigue life, the Navy's P-3C fleet has already been reduced from 225 to around 190 and will have sunk to 148 when the first 13 B737-800ERX-based MMAs become operational in 2013. The last of the planned 108 will be delivered in 2019. The US Navy has invited ten other countries to participate in the MMA programme, but the Joint Strike Fighter experience has left a bitter taste in many mouths.
It may be noted that the P-3 series, which is expected to remain in US Navy service for yet another 15 to 20 years (possibly retrofitted with MMA sensors), was represented at Farnborough by a Spanish Air Force P-3B, which had been upgraded with the Eads Fits (Fully-Integrated Tactical System).
There is an increasing global need for flight refuelling tankers, one of the potential buyers being the United Kingdom, which has in principle selected the A330-200 conversion proposed by the Eads-led Air Tanker team. However, there have been well-publicised difficulties in achieving the private-finance initiative (PFI) arrangement demanded by the British Ministry of Defence. Such reports presumably encouraged the Global Airtanker Service (Gas), teaming Omega Air with Evergreen Aviation, to show a DC-10-40 with a Boeing 'flying boom' under the rear fuselage and two Flight Refuelling hose-and-drogue pods under the wings. Gas is offering to provide up to ten 'KDC-10s' (half the planned fleet) by the start of 2006.
The Lockheed Martin F/A-22 Raptor programme is now well advanced, with 19 due to be built this year, and a decision on high-rate production (around three per month) expected next year. When one will cross the Atlantic remains to be seen. In the absence of the real thing, the manufacturer arranged a satellite-linked press interview with pilots of the Air Warfare Center at Edwards AFB. In a typical engagement over an air combat range (we were told), two Raptors are pitted against eight F-16s of the Adversary Squadron, all of the latter being eliminated within four or five minutes (one may question the value of opposing designs that are 30 years and two categories apart--Ed). General 'Steve' Wood, commander of the AWC. stated that the US Air Force expects a 100:0 exchange ratio in beyond visual range combat.
One of the highlights of the short flying display was the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet, a relatively large and well-powered strike fighter with outstanding low-speed controllability. The diminutive Saab/BAE Systems Gripen gave its customary excellent demonstration, but the Eurofighter Typhoon. which is finally capable of a dramatic display, proved comparatively docile in the hands of a serving RAF pilot. Russian fighters were notably absent, on this occasion due not to fear of the bailiffs, but to that country's red tape.
Mid-life updates (MLU) for the Panavia...