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Sunday, June 1, 2008

Air Shows: Farnborough

R&W Staff

The 60th anniversary show brings some things old, many things new.

In its 60th anniversary year, the Farnborough Air Show will have visitors reminiscing of the old and embracing the new.

This year’s biennial show coincides with two other significant anniversaries: the 100th anniversary of the first officially recorded powered, heavier-than-air flight in the United Kingdom and the start of the Berlin Airlift.

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The week-long event that begins July 14 brings a number of new elements.

Bell/Agusta Aerospace has reserved a spot in the flying demonstration line-up for its BA609 civil tilt-rotor, according to the show’s organizers. Bell plans to exhibit its new light twin Model 429, which will be shown in an emergency medical service configuration. Sikorsky Aircraft plans to bring the militarized version of its S-92, the H-92, to Farnborough to kick off a worldwide tour of that aircraft. Eurocopter will be presenting the 7-9-ton EC175 it is developing with Aviation Industries of China 2 (AVIC 2) for the offshore-support and other markets and highlighting the EC725, which it is proposing for the U.K. Search and Rescue Harmonization (SAR-H) program.

This year’s show will see a number of improvements in exhibition facilities, the centerpiece of which is Farnborough’s new Crystal Palace, a four-story, glass-enclosed facility that this year will be home to Thales and Kallman Worldwide.

In what could be the most important development for all exhibitors and visitors at Farnborough — and in what may be a nod to those clamoring about global warming — the show’s organizers are upgrading the air conditioning in all of the exhibition halls.

The last show was held during a stifling heat wave. July 2006 was, up to that point, the hottest July and the hottest month on record in the United Kingdom. July 19, the midpoint of Farnborough’s trade days in 2006, set the record for the U.K.’s hottest July day; the high was 97.3F (36.5C) at Wisley, just south of Woking about 14 mi (23 km) east of Farnborough on the train line back to London. Air conditioning quit numerous times in the exhibit halls, and electricity supplied was inadequate for air conditioning to overcome the heat in some chalets. (Show organizers also are boosting the electrical-power grid throughout the show site as part of what they say is a $1.95-million (£1-million) investment in infrastructure.)

The air show is organized by Farnborough International Ltd, a subsidiary of the U.K.’s aerospace trade association the Society of British Aerospace Companies.

The organizers say this year’s event is on schedule to be the biggest Farnborough Air Show ever in the exhibition’s history, both in terms of exhibition space used and the number of exhibitors present. Exhibition sales have been at record levels, they said, with the final figure running 20 percent higher than for the show in 2006. The total number of exhibitors is expected to be more than 1,500, or roughly 5 percent higher than the last show.

According to organizers, Russian companies have show great interest in exhibiting at the show. The Russian industry is going through a major consolidation and reorganization under Vertolety Rossii (Helicopters of Russia).

They also said the contingent of exhibitors from China has increased threefold since the 2006 show. Countries scheduled to exhibit for the first time include Colombia and Bahrain, and others, such as India and the helicopter exhibits of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., are returning with bigger presences than at previous shows, the organizers said.

Reflecting the growing importance of this new class of aircraft, this year’s show will include a greater unmanned aerial systems presence in the enhanced Assn for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International Pavilion.

Demand for space in the exhibition halls has been unprecedented, according to the organizers. As an example of that, they have had to extend Hall 4 for the first time ever to accommodate the exhibitors wishing to display there.

In another first, Farnborough International is offering exhibitors and trade visitors an online service for booking appointments during the show. The service is designed to allow visitors to search Farnborough’s exhibitors list for companies of interest and file requests via the Internet to meet representatives of those companies. The service was set to go live on the Farnborough Web site (www.farnborough.com) last month.

To celebrate 60 years of the air show at Farnborough, the flying demonstrations of exhibited aircraft on Friday, July 19 will be supplemented by historic aircraft and iconic aircraft from Farnboroughs of the past. Organizers expect a highlight of this will be the flight of the Avro Vulcan, making its first Farnborough appearance following its restoration.

Show organizers also are extending the flying demonstrations on the public days, July 19-20. These planned 4.5-hr displays are to include key aircraft from the preceding trade days and a parade of historic aircraft that include 14 types that flew at Farnborough at the inaugural show and notable aircraft from the subsequent six decades.

The flying displays are to be opened each day by the Shooting Stars, an Italian women’s parachute team performing for the Italian company Aero Sekur, which makes helicopter fuel cells and floats, among other products.

The celebration of the Farnborough and Berlin Airlift anniversaries will, among other things, highlight the ties between the British and American aviation communities. So, too, will the commemoration of the centennial of powered, heavier-than-air U.K. flight. That flight, whose anniversary is Oct. 16, was flown by an American cowboy and Wild West showman. Samuel Cody (not to be confused with showman Buffalo Bill Cody) was a proponent of kites as flight vehicles who teamed up with Col. John Capper, then superintendent of the Balloon Factory. They developed British Army Aeroplane No. 1, in which Cody made that first flight, which covered 1,390 ft before the aircraft crashed. With a new aircraft, Cody went on to win the Michelin Cup in 1910 and the 1912 British Military Trials.

As for rotorcraft participation, Bell/Agusta executives are assessing whether modifications to their prototype BA609s based on flight test results and the current schedule of flight tests in the U.S. and Italy will permit one of the prototypes to be brought to the show. The civil tilt-rotor performed at the Paris Air Show last year, and Bell Helicopter and Boeing flew demonstrations of the military tilt-rotor V-22 at the last Farnborough.

Bell will be exhibiting at a new chalet at Farnborough, built in front of the chalet it shared with other Textron companies at the 2006 show. According to Bell, it is designed to give guests inside an excellent view of the show outside while they relax in a comfortable, air-conditioned environment. It again will be joined by Textron’s Cessna, E-Z-Go golf cart manufacturer and Textron Systems.

Bell’s exhibit will feature the EMS-configured 429, the type targeted for certification this year, as well as other Bell aircraft. It plans various update briefings on both its commercial and military helicopter programs, including one on the V-22 and its ongoing combat deployment in Iraq with the U.S. Marine Corps. Bell will be explaining its decision to end production of the Model 206B3, 427, 430 and 210 and focus commercial production on the 407, 412 and 429. It also will be discussing with customers its plans for a new medium twin.

Sikorsky will be at Farnborough along with the United Technologies divisions Pratt & Whitney and Hamilton Sundstrand. It will be displaying a full range of products information from its commercial product, featuring the S-76, the S-92 that is proving successful in offshore support and other markets and the lighter products of its Schweizer Aircraft subsidiary. Sikorsky also will be highlighting its military products, particularly the U.S. Army’s latest Black Hawk, the UH-60M, as well as the International Black Hawk.

Sikorsky will update Farnborough visitors on its development efforts, including the high-speed X2 Technology Demonstrator.

"With the X2, we’re trying to prove that technology is now feasible for helicopters to fly at 250 kt with the hover effectiveness of the helicopter," said Bruce McKinney, vice president of Sikorsky Europe. "None of the other hybrid or tilt-rotor aircraft have the hover efficiency. Once we’ve demonstrated the technology we’ll be looking to orders."

Sikorsky also is expected to brief on the CH-53K replacement for the U.S. Marines’ CH-53E heavy lifter, the status of the S-76D, the introduction of the S-92 to search and rescue operations in the United Kingdom with CHC Helicopter and the U.S. Navy’s MH-60R that is scheduled to make its first deployment early next year.

But the focus of Sikorsky’s Farnborough visit is to introduce the H-92. The manufacturer has been discussing this military variant of the S-92 since it launched that program in the early 1990s, and has proposed several versions for military competitions, including the Canadian Maritime Helicopter program (which is running behind schedule). Like most helicopter makers, Sikorsky sees most opportunities for military sales as lying outside the United States. A marketing focus on the military potential of the S-92 is aimed at helping it win those opportunities.

"Our plan is to bring an H-92 to Farnborough that’s in a SAR configuration," said McKinney. "This is a prototype used in previous demonstrations and will be showing the military capabilities of the -92 product line." After Farnborough, the H-92 will go, "on a worldwide tour that includes stops throughout Europe, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe, and will go to several stops in Egypt and Asia for demos, and Mid-East."

Sikorsky executives plan to work with customers through the rest of the year working with potential customers to develop specification sets for the H-92, McKinney said. "The desire to demo the aircraft is higher than the amount of time we have."

Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry is one customer that has ordered militarized versions of the S-92 for border-protection and other missions. Canada’s CH-148 Cyclone version includes a folding main-rotor blade and a folding tail to permit its storage in hangars onboard Canadian ships and mission equipment that includes antisubmarine or anti-surface warfare systems, as well as a deck-capture system to support shipboard landings.

Eurocopter will be updating attendees on the EC175, which it is developing on a 50-50 basis with AVIC 2’s Harbin Aircraft Manufacturing Corp. The aircraft features a five-bladed Spheriflex main rotor and three-bladed tail rotor, a four-axis, duplex autopilot and five flat-panel displays in the cockpit. Its first flight is set for next year.

Eurocopter also will be featuring the EC725. It is promoting that aircraft for the U.K.’s SAR-H requirement and for search and rescue and combat SAR (CSAR) missions internationally. The French air force is flying CSAR missions with the EC725 in Afghanistan and Lebanon.

NHIndustries, the partnership of Eurocopter, AgustaWestland and Stork Aerospace, will have its own chalet and will be exhibiting a Tactical Transport Helicopter variant of the NH90, which is being to delivered to the first of 14 nations to order. Nineteen of the 507 ordered have been delivered to five customers. Like Sikorsky, Eurocopter is targeting the international military market at Farnborough.

AgustaWestland also will have much to talk about, including upgrades to its A119 Koala and work to gain certification of an 882-lb. (400-kg) increase in the AW139’s max gross weight of 14,991 lb (6,800 kg).

With Sikorsky, it also will be able to discuss CHC’s introduction of its aircraft into the high-profile SAR market in the United Kingdom. CHC beat out Bristow Group in the first phase of the U.K. SAR-H initiative, a five-year contract from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to provide SAR services offshore and supplement the capabilities of the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Bristow had provided those services for more than 20 years.

Under the contract, CHC provides SAR services from four bases around the country: Sumburgh in the Shetlands, Stornoway in the Western Isles, and Lee-on-Solent and Portland on the south coast of England.

The £100-million ($197-million) contract has been an ongoing program of transition from the previous service and involves the introduction of new-technology aircraft. Two new Sikorsky S-92s are now fully operation operational from both Stornoway and Sumburgh. The service at Lee-on-Solent and Portland relies on AW139s, which are to be fully operational this summer.

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