Farnborough Air Show 2018 Preview

16th July 2018

Next week sees the biennial Farnborough Air Show, the leading international showcase for aerospace. TIM ROBINSON, BILL READ and KHALEM CHAPMAN look at what to expect from this year’s 2018 event.

Where next for UK aerospace after Brexit?

If, as the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics, two years is an eternity for trade shows. The previous Farnborough Air Show in 2016 saw the unusual event of a British Prime Minister resigning in the same week – in the wake of the shock Brexit referendum vote. That, followed by the election of US President Donald Trump, has thrown into disarray anyone attempting to predict the next month, let alone next year or the next decade. Brexit and its implications for civil aerospace and aviation still remain ‘unknown unknowns’ – with a spectrum of views from ‘business as usual’ to ‘production standstill and grounded airliners’. Aviation and aerospace industry then will be looking for signs of sanity from politicians and reassurance as the March 2019 deadline for the UK leaving the EU gets closer. Though Prime Minister Theresa May’s ‘soft Brexit’ plan, revealed at Chequers last week drew positive comment from Airbus chief Tom Enders, upheaval with Cabinet members resigning in its wake means this is an unprecedented period of political instability in recent history for the UK.

This Farnborough Air Show also takes place just as the world sits on the brink of a global trade war, as President Trump seeks to redress a imbalance in trade between the US and China and Europe. With the aerospace industry a leading example of globalisation with complex and interconnected supply chains that has evolved to assemble aircraft from suppliers all over the world, some observers are nervous that a tit-for-tat trade war could end up in mutually assured destruction should it escalate into aerospace and aviation.

Yet the ‘Trump effect’ may have a more positive result for defence companies at the show. Farnborough comes hard on the heels of the NATO summit on 11-12 July where shocked European leaders are still reeling after the US President raised the ante and challenged them to spend 4% GDP of defence, double that of NATO’s 2% goal. With European NATO in crisis and the US President increasingly threatening to walk away from the alliance, companies at Farnborough will be looking to tap into this mood for increased defence spending. Privately some of the US’s key allies have decided to wait him out and focus on the next president, so unpredictable do they view him.

The show will be held from the 16 – 22 July 2018, with weekdays allocated as trade days, and the usual public airshow being held over the weekend. The FIA will once again feature a ‘Futures Day’, held on Friday 20 July, aimed at stimulating and encouraging young people (aged 11-21) in the career aspects of aerospace/defence.

This year, the show is expected to welcome representatives from nearly 100 different nations, 48 of which will be exhibiting at the show. Countries such as Malaysia, Spain and South Korea will join 26 other nations having their own pavilions at the 2018 show. Participation at the show from Asia is expected to rise in comparison with previous years, with Japan hosting a second pavilion and a reported 70% increase in Chinese participation from 2016.


CSeries joins the A-Team (Airbus)

The big news in commercial aerospace, which will dominate the show is, of course, the creation of a new aerospace super-duopoly – Airbus/Bombardier and Boeing/Embraer – who now face off against each other in the regional airliner market. Airbus, who moved first last year in acquiring the CSeries from Bombardier, has now taken full control of this programme and promised to put its immense industrial, sales and marketing muscle behind this narrowbody airliner, which it has now renamed the A220. At the show, Airbus will have a A220 test aircraft and an AirBaltic A220 on display appearing under the Airbus brand for the first time. In Airbus’s existing range, the show will see an A321neo, two A350-1000s (one test aircraft and one from Qatar Airways), as well as two A330-900neos (one test and one from launch customer TAP Air Portugal) – in the type’s first appearance at Farnborough. Airbus’ largest widebody, the A380, will also be at the show, in the colours of lessor Hi Fly which will be promoting the superjumbo in a new niche, the wet-leasing market. Can this give it a second lease of life?

Meanwhile, Boeing has announced that it will team up with the commercial arm of Brazil’s Embraer, in a 80/20 joint venture – extending the fierce Airbus/Boeing rivalry into the regional airliner market. Embraer itself will be bringing its E190-E2 ‘Profit Hunter’ to Farnborough, this time sporting a spectacular shark livery on its nose. Outside of its new Brazilian partner, Boeing will be showing off a 787 from Biman Bangladesh 787-8, as well as putting the 737 MAX 7 through its paces in the flying display. A 737 MAX 8, from Air Italy is also set to appear.

Yet the consensus is that Boeing is unlikely to use this year’s Farnborough to launch its much-anticipated 797, or New Model Airplane, a clean-sheet design that will fill the gap between the 737 and 787. Boeing’s launch of the larger (230-seat) 737 Max 10 at the Paris Air Show in 2017 racked up 416 orders and undoubtedly has given it some breathing room against Airbus’s A321 – with all signs now pointing to a 2019 launch.

Outside of the new mega-duopoly and making its international flying display debut this year at Farnborough, is Mitsubishi’s 70-seat airliner, the MRJ, following its static appearance at the Paris Air Show last year. Japan’s big hope in civil airliners, the MRJ is undergoing flight testing in the US but it now enters a vastly changed regional airliner market that has the titans of Airbus and Boeing fighting for dominance.

Another unusual commercial aircraft to fly in the display this year is Lockheed Martin’s LM-100J, a civil variant of its C-130J Super Hercules. Indeed, this Farnborough will see a bigger focus on air freight, with the Cargo Village dominated by two Boeing 747-8Fs (Qatar Airways and CargoLogicAir) and a Antonov A124 freighter, as well as a Royal Air Maroc 767 BCF.

Farnborough is also set to be a significant one for aviation in Africa, with Nigeria to relaunch a new national airline at the show.


A fighter cockpit of the 2040s? BAE foresees AR, haptics and biosensors to measure pilots status. (BAE Systems)

On defence, it will not have escaped notice that 2018 is the centenary of Britain’s Royal Air Force. This year the RAF is looking forward, not only by inspiring future generations to join the service but also the much-anticipated release of Britains’ new Combat Air Strategy – which will set out the case for developing a next generation fighter to replace the Eurofighter Typhoon in the middle of this century. While originally expected to be released by the MoD around the time of RIAT and Farnborough shows, this now appears to be delayed, with the RAF Chief of Air Staff telling reporters that it would be ‘ready when its ready’ at the RAF Air Power Conference. This may be a hint that it could be dependent on the Modernising Defence Programme (MDP) a mini-review set to be published before the Parliament breaks for summer on 24 July, to go first. Nevertheless, with France and Germany also moving to begin development on future combat air systems, expect to see teases of sixth-generation fighters at the show from industry, as nations start to position themselves for this opportunity. BAE Systems, for example, will be showing off some of its advanced capabilities in this field, including the ‘wearable cockpit’ – a vision of a fighter cockpit for the 2040s that incorporates augmented reality (AR), AI copilot and even neurosensors. With the UK angling for a leading role (despite bad-feelings over Brexit) in any European fighter project, a key question will be – can Europe come together to co-operate on a JSF-style programme, or will differences prevail and two or more fighters emerge?

Industry too will be watching for any signs of any movement to replace the RAF’s ageing E-3 Sentry AEW aircraft, which the UK has failed to update in line with other AWACS operators. With the RAF having now announced the formation of a new battlespace unit, 11 Group, fusing air, space and cyber domains, in the lead as a E-3 replacement is the 737-based E-7 AEW&C – operated by Australia, South Korea and Turkey. However, Boeing’s aggressive trade complaint against Bombardier (a significant employer in N Ireland) over the CSeries has raised hackles with some UK parliamentarians, who are pressing that others, such as Saab or potentially Airbus, be allowed to propose their AWACS solutions and any procurement opened up to a fair competition.

On the military side of things, a pair of show firsts for FIA 2018 include the Embraer KC-390 tactical transport and the Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI) T-129 ATAK helicopter. Both will perform in the trade show flying displays. TAI will show off an ever-expanding range, including its Hurkus trainer, Anka UAV and Hurjet advanced trainer mock-up, as well as a mock-up of its civil 625 helicopter.

With the UK F-35Bs having arrived at their new home at RAF Marham, it is also likely that that Farnborough will see an appearance of the Britain’s newest combat aircraft taking part in the flying display. The public days will also see a return of the Spanish Navy’s McDonnell Douglas AV-8B Harrier II+ display.

If the F-35B, and other heavy metal, such as the A400M, F-15, F-16 and C-17 slated to appear at the show, represent the high-end of the military spectrum – then Farnborough will also feature low-cost air power with Air Tractor’s AT802L Longsword – a highly modified cropduster bristling with weapons.


Chopper squad! Leonardo rotorcraft set off for Farnborough. (Leonardo) 

Rotorcraft will be well represented at the show with the leading manufacturers keen to show off their wares. Airbus Helicopters will be exhibiting its single-engine H125 helicopter equipped with special sensors and a telemetry kit that allow pilot and aircraft performance to be streamed in real-time to the ground for training applications. The aircraft is due to be handed over during the show to QinetiQ for use with the UK-based Empire Test Pilots’ School. There will also be a full-size mock-up of the VSR700 rotary-wing UAV designed to provide the horizon surveillance capability to naval ships. An EC 135 will also be on show owned by Nova Systems.

Bell (formerly Bell Helicopters) is to showcase a Bell 505 Jet Ranger X light single engine and a Bell 429 and will be presenting an update on the V-22 programme during the show. The Bell V-280 Valor and Bell V-247 Vigilant will be featured in the new Live Product Demo Area.

Leonardo is expected to have a wide range of helicopters on show, including an AW101SAR, AW159 Wildcat, Lynx 300, AW169, AW139 and AW189. Sikorsky may also be exhibiting a twin-engine S-92 from the UK’s MCA.

Based at the former MCA base at Portland in Dorset, helicopter training and services company HeliOperations is also reported to be bringing a former Royal Navy SAR Westland Sea King helicopter to the show.

Business and general aviation

Pilatus’ PC-24 is a bizjet that doesn’t mind getting dirty. (Pilatus Aircraft) 

The flight line at Farnborough is always well represented by business aircraft and this year is no exception. Gulfstream will be bringing a large selection of executive aircraft, including a G280, G500, G550 and G650. In addition to its commercial and military aircraft, Embraer will be bringing the Phenom 300E and Legacy 500 business jets while it is also reported that the Legacy 500 will be flying as part of the air display. Other business jets on show will include the Dassault Falcon 900LX and Dassault Falcon 8X. Pilatus, meanwhile, will be displaying its PC-12NG, as well as its new PC-24 utility jet, fresh from rough field trials.

In recent years, business jet airframes have become popular choices for customised conversions for both military and special mission applications. Textron will be showing some of the possible options in a mission-equipped version of its Cessna Citation CJ4.

GA aircraft have also been adapted for a wide range of specialist uses and there will be a number of examples on display. Textron will be exhibiting special mission-equipped versions of the Beechcraft King Air 350i and Cessna Grand Caravan EX featuring flexible interiors designed to adapt to a wide range of applications. There are also expected to be a number of additional King Air 250s brought by other operators. Austrian manufacturer Diamond Aircraft will be showing off a range of single and twin-engined aircraft using for transport, training and special missions, including a DA42MPP, Dart 450, DA62 and DA42MPP Geostar. Making its first air show debut from Diamond is the company’s new DART 550, a civilian/military aerobatic trainer.

Cranfield University will be displaying two aircraft in the static park from the National Flying Laboratory Centre – a BAE Jetstream 31, together with a Scottish Aviation Bulldog.


Earlier this week, the UK arm of Airbus won a £3.9m contract from ESA to design a sample return Mars rover. (ESA)

Space will also be on display at Farnborough next week – as the sector continues to thrive with innovation and creativity unleashed by pioneers such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. While UK space has hit headlines in recent months due to the high-level Brexit spat over Galileo satellite navigation system, it is important to remember that the UK space industry has been growing rapidly and now enjoys a much higher profile than ever before. Two years ago, at the 2016 show saw British ESA astronaut Tim Peake mobbed on the Friday careers day – a sign of the UK’s new fascination with space.

Another recent development this year from the UK has been a new focus on military uses of space, with the RAF assuming the mantle of lead service. The growing vulnerability of space-based services that run our everyday lives, from Google maps, to Uber, to ATMs, to satcoms has led to Western powers and allies waking up to new threats, whether they be from hostile powers, space junk or space weather.

Meanwhile UK space start-ups now seem to be everywhere, from commercial astronaut zero G training, to in-orbit repair and life-extension, to low-cost launchers, or deep-space tracking networks. The UK’s high reputation for science too means that, despite Brexit, it is still a valued partner in exploring the galaxy.

Finally, the establishment of a UK spaceport will see Britain acquire a sovereign space access capability – the final part of the puzzle, that will see the UK able to boast an end-to-end space industry. The signing of the Space Industry Bill earlier this year was an impoertant step towards this, which envisages launches from UK soil by 2020.


General Atomics ASI SkyGuardian made aviation history with a transatlantic flight just before Farnborough (GA-ASI) 

The UAV sector continues to grow at a staggering pace, as more and more applications are discovered and the Holy Grail of beyond-visual line of sight (BVLOS) ops for commercial users. Though not at Farnborough, earlier this week saw a significant milestone in UAV history when a General Atomics MQ-9B SkyGuardian flew from North Dakota to RAF Fairford – the first crossing of the Atlantic by a MALE-class drone. SkyGuardian, which will be the Protector RG1 in RAF service, is not only an upgrade from the Reaper in terms of endurance but it also certificated to fly in civil airspace without needed special procedures. This certification, not easy to develop, opens up a whole new era in UAVs – giving them the ability to transit through normal airspace like manned military aircraft, or to conduct training in the UK.

Visitors to the show might be interested to know that Farnborough itself, the cradle of British aviation is now home to not one, but two cutting edge solar-powered drone projects – Airbus’ Zephyr and BAE/Prismatic Phasa 25. Zephyr, currently the holder of the ultimate aerial endurance record of two weeks aloft has the head start, and with MoD trials is aiming to reach three months aloft, and then a whole year. Meanwhile, Prismatic, now backed by BAE is aiming to catch up fast. These HAPS (high altitude pseudo satellites) are not just for military missions – a whole new commercial services sector may be opened up by these ultra-persistent vehicles that bridge the gap between aircraft and satellites.

Elsewhere at Farnborough there will be news from Canadian data acquisition company SkyX Systems, which will be unveiling its new SkyX System UAS which can conduct remote autonomous flight missions to survey infrastructure, as well as UMS Skeldar, which will reveal a new upgraded, version of its V-200 VTOL UAV.

Supersonics, flying cars and air racing

Boeing thinks Concorde is too slow – and is aiming for Mach 5 with this hypersonic concept (Boeing) 

Those hankering to see and hear about the future of flight, whether it is supersonic airliners, aerial taxis or even jetpacks should be excited this year at Farnborough. Running all week at the show are free-to-attend FINN Lectures, covering Blockchain, future engine tech and crucially in one session, three speakers from Boom, Spike and Aerion – all working on supersonic passenger flight. Boeing, meanwhile, recently revealed a concept for a Mach 5 airliner and will be highlighting that at the show.

For those interested in ‘flying cars’, appearing at Farnborough for the first time will be the PAL-V Liberty – a three-wheel car crossed with a gyrocopter. Another aerial innovator set to appear at Farnborough is Cranfield-based Sama Aerospace, which will be revealing its 20% scale demonstrator of its hybrid-electric Starling Jet. The company has already flown flight tests with this prototype and is now beginning work on a 50% scale manned demonstrator. Originally conceived as a high-speed VTOL bizjet, Sama Aerospace has now received over 100 LoI for the Starling Jet, with approximately half of these from EMS operators interested in the capability of this aircraft to save lives in the ‘golden hour’.

This year’s show will feature a unique flying display by Richard Browning, who has ditched fuselage and wings completely to create the Gravity suit – a real-life ‘Iron Man’ style jetpack.

Meanwhile, at the weekend, the Red Bull Air Race is set to thrill spectators, providing low-level aerobatics through their famed 25m-high pylons. Also appearing at the weekend will be the Blades display team, Great War Display Team and the Flying Bulls, with their vintage warbirds and incredible aerobatics from the Bo-105C helicopter.

Finally this year’s show will feature a unique challenge from disabled flying charity Aerobility, which is aiming to set a new record in aircraft production by building a kitplane from scratch and flying it at the air show – all within six days! Aerobility will also have a stand on the flight line showing off its specially adapted Piper PA28 Warrior which can be flown by hand control only.

Royal Aeronautical Society at Farnborough

A timely ‘Women in aviation’ panel will take place on Thursday morning.  

The Royal Aeronautical Society will be on site, located at stand no. 3496 in the Innovation Zone, along with the editorial team reporting daily from the show. The RAeS will be holding an ‘Women in Aviation’ event with speakers from the RAF, the UK Space Agency and the UK Government. The event will be held in the New Exhibition Centre – Hall 1, Conference Room Innovate 2 at 10am to 11:45am on Thursday 19 July.

Download your copy of July AEROSPACE

Sample a taste of RAeS Membership with a free PDF download of the July 2018 issue of AEROSPACE magazine here.

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 #FIA18.

Follow the AEROSPACE team for updates from the show

Editor-in-Chief Tim Robinson @RAeSTimR

Deputy Editor Bill Read @RAeSBillR

News Reporter Khalem Chapman @AirHeadJourno

News Team
13 July 2018