TIM ROBINSON and BILL READ provide a look at some of the most exciting news and and highlights ahead of the first trade day at Farnborough International Air Show 2016.
The Lockheed Martin F-35B will be a highlight of the show. (Lockheed Martin)
This year at Farnborough, there will be no dodging the massive subject of Brexit, which is set to dominate discussions and news throughout the week. What will it mean for the UK's £13.1bn aerospace sector that is intertwined into the wider European and global industry? What is true, is that UK industry will be keen to see reassuring signals from Government this week that the country is still a prime place to invest and partner with in aerospace and defence. With worries that in the wake of Brexit the City of London may be under threat from competitors keen to dethrone it as a financial hub, Farnborough then gives the UK an opportunity to highlight its skills, engineering , manufacturing in what is a global marketplace. It is also worth remembering that while Brexit may dominate headlines this week, aerospace and aviation is an extremely long-cycle business, with aircraft designed, developed, manufactured and flown over decades. While the current situation breeds uncertainty, underlying fundamentals (such as the relentless rise in demand for air travel) remain sound.
Let's take a look some of the first news and expected highlights.
Lightnings spark excitement
It's a lot less bovver in the hover... (Lockheed Martin)
Of course, the big news ahead of the official opening day on Monday has been the first appearance of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter in UK skies. Five F-35s (1 x UK F-35B, 2 x USMC F-35B and 3 x USAF F-35As) flew over the previous week, and headlined at the Royal International Air Tattoo. While it is not the F-35's international air show debut (it appeared in The Netherlands in June) it is a far cry from two years ago, when an engine fire scotched hopes that the aircraft would appear at the Farnborough show.
This of course, is not to say that all issues have disappeared. The automated logistics system (ALIS) as might be expected, is still going through teething issues, and while the HMD glitches are now fixed, Martin-Baker is still working to modify the ejection seat to accommodate lighter-weight pilots.
The appearance of the F-35B at Farnborough in 2016 is important for a number of reasons. First, after the embarrassing no-show in 2014, it demonstrates that the vast, expensive multinational programme has now turned a corner and is well out of the danger zone as software and aircraft matures. The price, thanks to economies of scale, is now coming down (LM claim that the price of an F-35A has been reduced 57% since 2010). Importantly, while the jet is no longer as common in parts as first advertised, it is still built on the same line, so benefits from a learning curve in production as workers build up skills. Lockheed Martin's 'Blueprint for Affordability', announced two years ago at Farnborough and designed to drive down costs with its partners and suppliers has also paid off and the company is targeting the goal of a $85m F-35A by 2019.
Over 180 aircraft at ten bases are now flying and the USAF will be the next to declare IOC in the very near future, according to the head of Air Combat Command, General Hawk Carlisle, speaking at RIAT last week. Such is his confidence in the jet, he would deploy it to the Middle East 'in a heartbeat'.
Simulated combat reports are also proving to be extremely positive and with the aircraft now in the hands of regular pilots, new tactics to take advantage of the aircraft's stealth and sensor fusion are emerging. Standard fighter tactics, such as a 2nm spread between leader and wingmen are being replaced by dispersed operations, where F-35s can be 30nm apart, but silently sharing information to sneak up and surprise the enemy. Said one USAF F-35A pilot:"You become a believer in stealth the first time you fight against it". USAF F-16 pilots at Luke AFB base (the main training centre for F-16s and F-35s) seem to be on the receiving end of aerial payback, after last years leaked 'dogfight' report that showed a F-35 struggling with a F-16D after trying to fight it like a Viper, instead of using the F-35s Hornet-like angle-of-attack capability. “The guys [F-35s] now regularly go & beat-up on F-16s just to prove a point" said one test pilot.
Second, as the RAF's (and RN's) first stealth aircraft ? the F-35 is hugely important for UK defence and the defence industry - with over 500 UK companies working on the project, including BAE Systems, Martin-Baker and Rolls-Royce. As a Tier 1 partner and with the volume of scale expected, UK industry stands to benefit hugely over the life of the programme, with a 15% share of the work on each aircraft. Future opportunities in services and support could also be lucrative, and BAE is expected to bid with Northrop Grumman and Defence Electronics and Components Agency (DECA) for F-35 avionics support facility in Wales.
The UK, via BAE Systems, is also hard at work de-risking the Shipborne Rolling Vertical Landing (SRVL) which increases range and bringback for the F-35B, especially in very hot climates - such as the Gulf in summer. In the first quarter of 2017, according to BAE test pilot Pete 'Whizzer' Wilson, a new 2-3 month phase of SRVL simulator testing will begin at Warton to prove it as a safe procedure with F-35B qualified STOVL pilots. First actual ship landings (VL, then SRVL) on the UK's new Queen Elizabeth class carrier will begin in 2018 with, IOC in the same year with 617Sqn at RAF Marham. By 2023, the UK plans to have 24 F-35Bs in service.
Third - a F-35B performing a vertical hover in the country that invented (or most importantly perfected) the VSTOL fighter in Harrier has a sense of the wheel turning full circle. In 1957, plans for a supersonic VSTOL fighter, the Hawker P.1154 were dropped, with the subsonic Harrier kept going as a sop to industry. Add stealth and sensor fusion (and lose the second crewman) and the P.1154 could be the F-35 reincarnated. The UK, via AVSTOL projects and through its Harrier links with the US Marines has thus been critical in the development of the 'B' version. Though some would criticise the 'B's the least capable (in terms of payload and range) it does bring operational flexibility of being able to deploy from a much wider range of bases than traditional fighters. The question is still the same as in the Cold War Harrier days ? can air forces assume that in the event of a future conflict, large runways and airbases will not be rendered inoperable?
Finally, despite the F-35Bs crowd-pleasing hover, which brings back Harrier memories ? the most unique part of the aircraft is on the inside with its 'sensor fusion' which produces extremely accurate target data from multiple sources, including radar, IRST, ESM and off-board sensors. Fusion at an early stage, says LM test pilot Billie Flynn, represents a leap from other fighters that use 'correlation' from different sensors to provide information to the pilot. “Fusion is our money and that the jet can hover, is just a tiny part of what it can do”.
Virgin to order A350s
Will Virgin paint the town red with an A350 order?
While this year's show is set to be noticeable quieter than previous years for commercial aerospace as airlines digest orders and manufacturers struggle to deliver, one highlight on the Monday is expected to be a $4.3bn Virgin Atlantic order for up to 12 Airbus A350-1000s, a deal that was first reported back in January. Expect Sir Richard Branson to pep up the start of the show with his usual razamatazz. In fact, while this year will not seen the record airliner order books of previous Farnboroughs and Le Bourgets, industry sources hint that there may well be a few deals announced this week. Watch this space.
Boeing 737 MAX to fly in display
Farnborough is set to get the MAX factor in the week that Boeing turns 100. (Boeing)
Fresh from flight test and appearing at Farnborough this week in its international air show debut is Boeing's 737-8 MAX - the CFM Leap 1B re-engined version of the classic single aisle airliner, which made its first flight back in January 2016. Though the MAX still trails the A320neo in sales, Boeing hope to deliver the first 737 MAX to launch customers in 2017. A giveaway clue that it is a new-fuel-efficient MAX you are looking at, is the advanced spilt winglet, which is supplied by the UK's GKN Aerospace.
737 MAX Chief Test Pilot Ed Wilson also revealed ahead of the show, that the MAX would be flying in the daily air display - the first time that the Boeing has flown a 737 (excluding the P-8) at an air show. Look out for steep take-offs and wing-waggles!
Airbus Group focuses on innovation
Electric dreams soon to be reality with the EFan 2.0. (Airbus Group)
While its products, including the A380, A350, A321neo, A400M and Eurofighter will be thrilling the crowds in the air display this week, parent group Airbus Group will be highlighting some of the innovation it has in store for the next generation of pilots and passengers. In particular, it will have a mock-up of its all-electric light aircraft, the E-Fan 2.0, which is expected to go into production in 2018. Airbus will also have a simulation demonstrator showcasing the ACROSS (Advanced Cockpit for Reduction Of Stress and Workload), project, and which could potentially pave the way for single-pilot airliner operations. In helicopters, too, Airbus will be putting on show some of its advanced blade R&D now being undertaken in the UK.
Meanwhile the UK cyber arm of Airbus Defence & Space is celebrating after recently winning a key contract from the UK MoD for Local Key Management Systems (LKMS) for the F-35, C-130J and A330MRTT Voyager. It is particularly significant in that while UK AirbusDS provides a sovereign key capability for RAF Typhoons and A400Ms, this is the first win that will see it used on non-Airbus platforms. Providing assured, secure transport of these key codes, which govern things like communication protocols, radio waveforms and IFF is particularly important for the F-35 - which is designed to be secure, yet interoperable with other F-35 users.
Typhoon to fly P3E weapons fit
The Eurofighter Typhoon will be showing off its latest capability. (MoD)
The Red Arrows may have had their wings clipped, but reduced space at Farnborough to display will be no problem for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which this year will demonstrate its amazing manoeuvrability with the full Phase 3 E (P3E) weapons fit, including Paveway IV and Brimstone - an indication of the jets expanding capabilities. There is also likely to be news on progress on Storm Shadow testing, with a report from defense-aerospace.com saying that the first live firing of Storm Shadow from Typhoon had taken place last month. The show may also see a update on the glacial progress of AESA Captor-E testing, which two years after an Eurofighter prototype was rolled out at Farnborough with the radar, is still yet to fly. Speaking at an AirbusDS media event last month, Head of Eurofighter, Alberto Gutierrez said he expected that IPA8 would fly in August and that he expects a production contract for AESA to be signed by the end of the year.
Though a certain US-built stealth fighter is set to hog headlines, it is difficult to underestimate the importance of Eurofighter as the backbone of European defence as Europe's largest collaborative defence project. With 599 aircraft ordered and over 470 delivered, future enhancements, including P3E, and a mid-life-upgrade will keep the Typhoon at the tip of the combat spear for years to come.
PM ventures to show for Poseidon?
The show could see a firm signature to replace the UK's MPA gap. (Boeing)
The first day of the show may also see key defence contracts signed - despite the political uncertainty following the EU referendum. Tipped to appear on the Monday is Prime Minister David Cameron, which could suggest that one of his last acts, at least defence-wise, may be to be present while the UK officially signs for Boeing P-8 Poseidons and potentially AH-64E Apaches. Though the fall in the pounds value has brought fears that Brexit has delivered a Harpoon-sized missile below SDSR's waterline, signing of P-8 would deliver a strong signal that it still is 'business as usual' for the UK's defence acquisition programme, despite political turmoil in Whitehall.
Triple debut from Brazil
Embraer's E190 E2 only recently made its first flight. (Embraer).
Many manufacturers will obviously use a major air show to debut their latest aircraft - but this year Brazil's Embraer has raised the bar by sending, not one, not two, but three new aircraft to Farnborough. Making their Farnborough debut is Embraer's KC-390 tactical transport and tanker, its E190 E2 regional airliner and its Legacy 500 business jet - showcasing Embraer's growing capabilities across civil, military and business aviation. In particular, the E190 E2 appearing at Farnborough is major coup for the show and a sign of confidence by the manufacturer, as the aircraft only flew at the end of May, ahead of schedule. While Embraer's light attack and COIN turboprop, the Super Tucano has been a runaway sales success, the KC-390 propels Embraer into the big league, pitting it against Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defence and Space in the military transport segment. With 28 firm orders from the Brazilian Air Force, Embraer also has LOIs from Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Czech Republic and Portugal. Could Farnborough be the place where these are converted to firm buys?
Cargo boost for Boeing
While the air cargo market has been in the doldrums the past few years, Farnborough is expected to provide a fillip with a new cargo village, dominated by two heavyweight freighters from cargo operator Volga-Dnepr Group - an Antonov An124 and its latest Boeing 747-8F. At the show, Volga-Dnepr is also tipped to announce a firm order for 10 747-8Fs - a lifeline for Boeing's jumbo, which like the A380 has been struggling to land passenger variant orders. This years Farnborough will also see the show debut of Volga-Dnepr spin-off, new British cargo airline CargoLogicAir.
Saab to demo remote tower
Better than being there? Saabs Remote Tower technology. (Saab)
With a roll-out of the Gripen E earlier this year, and launch of the GlobalEye AEW&C and Swordfish MPA products earlier this year, Swedens Saab is planning on making a bigger splash than usual at this years Farnborough - with an 'immersive' Saab Experience that promises augmented reality and TED-style mini-talks. It will also be conducting live demos of its Remote Tower technology which uses multiple cameras and sensors, allows controllers to observe and control traffic at another airport without being physically present. Currently in operation in Sweden, the technology is especially useful in reducing the manpower needed to supervise local airports with fewer movements, but can also be used to oversee runways situated away from the main tower. It could also have a military application as an air-transportable deployable ATC tower able to be set up to say support humanitarian operations or even dispersed operations. The HD cameras, with a capability to track moving objects also means Saab's Remote Tower technology can also track small UAVs near airports - a growing menace.
Grow your own UAV?
Science fiction UAV factory of the future. (BAE Systems)
'Matrix' style vats where drones are being grown may seem like the stuff of science fiction, but in BAE Systems vision of the future, could see UAVs manufactured in a radically new way. BAE Systems is working with the University of Glasgow on a project in which small UAVs could be 'grown' to order in large-scale chemical labs. Users would be able to select their mission requirements and then create a customised UAV designed to fulfil them. Using this process, the development time need to create new designs could be reduced from years down to weeks.
The technology is based on a radical new machine called the 'Chemputer'. Described as an autonomous universal digital synthesis engine, the Chemputer would use advanced chemical processes to grow both airframes and some complex electronic systems, conceivably from a molecular level upwards. The Chemputer could be used to support military operations by creating a multitude of bespoke UAVs serving specific purposes. The technology could also be used to produce multi-functional parts for large manned aircraft.
Another future concept from BAE revealed ahead of the show was for a rapid response aircraft - which showed urgent supplies being delivered across the globe by a hypersonic UAV powered what seems to be a single Reaction Engines SABRE (which BAE has now invested in). Interestingly the sleek resupply craft was seen as being impervious to missile attack from the ground - which suggests that the first application may be rather more lethal that a transport aircraft.
At Farnborough, BAE will provide more details on this futuristic concepts, as well as an update on its Striker II HMD testing (now sporting colour), Taranis and its tie-up with Reaction Engines.
DART trainer aims for success
Can DART target the right market? (DART Jet)
Visitors to this year's Farnborough will get an opportunity to get an update on the innovative British DART Jet concept for a low-cost modular basic/advanced military trainer, revealed last year at the time of the Paris Air Show. Though still very much at the concept stage, this 'soft launch' with the company on the Midlands Aerospace Alliance (Hall 1 B90) stand will be important in gauging interest from potential investors, operators and industry experts.
Tim Peake to inspire youth on Futures Day
Tim Peake at Futures Day in 2014. (ESA)
This week at Farnborough will also be the first venue for Britain's first ESA astronaut, Tim Peake to meet the public after his six-month mission to the ISS - and he will be at the show on the Futures Day on Friday and on the Saturday too. While Tim has visited the Futures Day before in 2014, that was before he blasted off for global fame as the face of British space. Expect lots of young people with stars in their eyes that day.
Diversity debated at Amy Johnson lecture
What can be done to close the gender gap in aerospace?
This week at Farnborough, the Royal Aeronautical Society will also be attendance with a stand in the Innovation Zone, giving show visitors a chance to inquire about membership, find out about the Society's packed events or their nearest Branch. As part of its function as a learned Society, (which this year celebrates its 150th anniversary) on the Thursday of the show the RAeS will be holding the Amy Johnson Lecture at Farnborough. This will see diversity in aerospace and aviation debated, including speakers from Airbus, Rockwell Collins, Royal Air Force and Thales and moderated by TV presenter and space journalist Sarah Cruddas.
Bill Read picks up aviation journalism award
Bill Read picks up his award from RAeS President Elect, ACM Sir Stephen Dalton, RAF and John Morroco of Boeing.
The Sunday before the show also saw AEROSPACE Deputy Editor, Bill Read win an award for aviation journalism at the Aerospace Media Awards, held at RAeS HQ at 4 Hamiilton Place. Beating strong competition from other journalists, Bill came home with the Bill Gunston Technology Writer of the Year Award for his article 'Sparks Fly'.
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The names Hawkeye.... (Clear Flight Solutions and 3iC)
The 'world's first commercially operated mechanical bird drone' sounds like it should be appearing in a steampunk graphic novel, rather than a international air show, but this robotic raptor UAV from Clear Flight Solutions and 3iC has a serious purpose - to scare other birds away from airports. This is one drone you can fly near runways.
Stay ahead of all the news!
To follow all the news at Farnborough don't forget to bookmark www.aerosociety.com and follow the daily airshow news on the Insight blog. For those on Twitter, follow @AeroSociety and use the hashtag #FARN16. Editor-in-Chief Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR