Out of all the famous names and places when it comes to airshows in not just the UK, but the entire world, there are few more notable than Farnborough. This Hampshire airport was once the centre of the UK aviation industry and has held a bi-annual trade show for 70 years. The public shows have always been a popular finale to the airshow week, often allowing the public a chance to see the latest aviation hardware up close.
There is no denying that, as a wise man once said, “the times they are a changing”. Over the years the flying display at Farnborough has taken an increasingly backseat role. Airspace restrictions have crept in over the years imposing minimum heights and no-fly areas. Those restrictions were increased further in 2016 with the much discussed decision from the RAF to limit the Red Arrows to flypast only displays.
That being said, there is no denying that Farnborough is still an iconic venue. Walking into the show ground and seeing the famous black sheds, with an unusual combination of Blenheim, Spitfire and an A350 in the foreground, is certainly a unique sight.
The static park covered a wide array of types of all ages, with a great vintage contingent including a Cessna Bird Dog, P-51D “Miss Helen” and the Duxford based Catalina. There was also plenty of modern day equipment on display with a visiting A380 dominating the static park, though sadly not flying at this years show.
The far end of the display line saw the Red Bull contingent on show at their final UK show of 2018. The Flying Bulls have given great support to UK shows this year attending a number of events throughout June and July. Farnborough saw their largest contribution to the flying display with a dynamic performance from the DC-6 (arguably one of the displays least affected by the Farnborough restrictions) and great supporting roles from the clearly restricted Alpha Jet, B-25, Corsair and P-38. The proximity of the runway for take off viewing more than made up for any subdued displays and the chance to see these classic warbirds again was well worth taking.
The highlight of the Flying Bulls fleet on show was once again the rotary wing element. The BO105 stunned the Farnborough crowd with a physics defying aerobatic performance before the absolute gem that is the Bristol Sycamore delivered a graceful and distinctive display. I’ve seen it written in many places that the Sycamore might just be the highlight of the 2018 season. I certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone on that and I’m far from a Helicopter enthusiast!
Rotary wing discussion segues nicely into two other “hovering” acts on the line up. The first of which was the unexpected appearance from the Gravity Jet Pack. This “Iron Man” like suit opened the show is some style showing remarkable control for something straight out of science fiction. The other hovering machine of the day was the star attraction for many, the Spanish AV8B Harrier. Two examples were brought over for the display, with one airframe in the static park. It was a great disappointment when just ahead of the planned display slot, the display jet shut down and was announced as unserviceable. Thankfully efforts were made to get the spare jet out of the static park in time to display later in the day, much to the crowds delight.
Seeing a Harrier back in the UK skies was worth the (admittedly high) entrance cost. A well paced demo combining high speed flight, rolling figures and of course the iconic hover. I may just have a short memory but the hover element of this display seemed far longer than I had ever seen before. Thanks to good placement on the flightline I was right in the perfect spot for that much missed sound of a Pegasus throttling back.
The main act that kept up with the more traditional Farnborough displays was the Airbus A350. With only a single aircraft in the weekend display Airbus contributed far less than usual. Nonetheless the A350 put on an impressive display with a particularly dynamic circuit into land. It has to be said that the later display from the 2EXCEL B727 stole the show when it came to the larger aircraft in the line up, with plenty of dynamic, low level passes.
The only other “modern” act of the day was the inclusion of two demos from the USAF F-16. Both displays were flown very well and provided the only fast-jet action of the day.
A number of other warbirds were on show with a brief sequence featuring the Blenheim and 2 seat Spitfire, along with a single flypast from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster, Spitfire and Hurricane. The warbird display of the day would have to go to the Navy Wings Sea Fury T20 which managed to deliver a full aerobatic sequence putting the unusual display box to great use.
With the Red Arrows unable to put on a full display, it was left to the Blades to close the show. Their display was even complete with fireworks, which seemed an odd conclusion, perhaps it was a way to make up for the lack of the “jet noise” that many of the public would no doubt have been craving.
Overall then, there is no denying that Farnborough is a shadow of its former self. Despite this the show was far better than expected, looking at the line-up there are a number of aeroplanes that were unique to this show in 2018 or certainly putting in rare appearances. While it certainly wasn’t a display of cutting edge technology, it did showcase some unique, rare aircraft. The show also provides an airshow within the London catchment area and the impressive ground activities and static display provide families with a great day out, which no doubt plays a part in the shows ongoing popularity, even if many enthusiasts have long since written it off. I’ll certainly continue to come back to this show as it offers something a little different and is more than just a flying display.