Before taking off, aerospace reporter Dominic Gates shares photos and insights from the Farnborough Air Show and the people he's met.

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FARNBOROUGH, England —  On Friday, the day the Farnborough Air Show opens to the public, I took a last look around. Here’s a flavor of my few hours there.

As I approached I passed one of the gaggles of people who assemble each day outside the airport perimeter beyond the end of the runway to watch the planes, from hard-core plane-spotters loaded with camera gear to curious families who want to sample the big show without paying the $50 entrance fee.

I stopped to talk with Graham Nash, 54, who lives in Farnborough and once was an airframe fitter with the Royal Aircraft Establishment. That was the aviation technology research and development arm of the British government. Nash sat in front of the old RAE building, where the first flight in Britain was completed 110 years ago.

Nash, who is disabled and moves around on a little scooter, knows his planes. He’s been at his spot each day all week, he said,  eager to see the latest technology, both military and commercial. He rates Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner as “very nice”; the Airbus A330neo, “a great mover”; the new A220 (formerly the CSeries), “very quiet, small”; and  the Mitsubishi MRJ, “such a pretty little plane.”

Graham Nash, a former RAE airframe fitter, waits for the flying display outside the perimeter of the Air Show. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Graham Nash, a former RAE airframe fitter, waits for the flying display outside the perimeter of the Air Show. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

By Friday though, he says, the public is short-changed because all the best planes are gone. He’s right. All the big Boeing jets have left. The only airliner flying in the display Friday is the Airbus A350-1000.

He agrees with others I’ve spoken to that the star turn of this year’s show was the Lockheed Martin Super Hercules L-100J military transport. I was too busy with interviews during the week to catch it flying and it was gone Friday. “It was brilliant,” said Nash. “It looped the loop, was upside down.”

Inside the Air Show, I first stopped by the ground display of Italian aviation company Leonardo (formerly Finmeccanica, now renamed after the great artist and scientific visionary Da Vinci.)

Here is the Leonardo T-100, a pilot trainer jet that is competing against the new design Boeing/Saab T-X and the Lockheed Martin/Korea Aerospace Industries  T-50A to be the next trainer jet for the U.S. Air Force.

Leonardo acquired U.S. defense contractor DRS Technologies in 2008, and if it wins the T-X competition, it will build a plant in Tuskegee, Alabama to assemble it.

The Leonardo T-100 competes against a Boeing/Saab team and a Lockheed/KAI team to be the USAF’s next trainer jet. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
The Leonardo T-100 competes against a Boeing/Saab team and a Lockheed/KAI team to be the USAF’s next trainer jet. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

The Leonardo jet is already  used as a trainer by the air forces of Italy, Israel, Poland, and Singapore.

Moving on, I found some U.S. airmen from the 492nd squadron of the U.S. Air Force standing in front of a heavily armed Boeing F-15 fighter and chatting amiably with the public.

Members of the public gather around and chat with airmen from the U.K.-based USAF 492nd squadron, in front of their Boeing F-15 jet fighter.  (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Members of the public gather around and chat with airmen from the U.K.-based USAF 492nd squadron, in front of their Boeing F-15 jet fighter. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

Though everyone was taking photos, the military is strict about not letting service people talk to the press. So I cannot tell you the name of the very polite airman I spoke with. In his 30s, his squadron is one of three based in the  U.K. at Lakenheath RAF base, which has been a U.S. base since the Second World War.

He told me he’s an F-15 weapons system officer. So he sits behind the pilot in the two-seater jet. In air-to-ground combat, he talks to a controler on the ground and operates the GPS- and laser-guided bombs.

He last saw action in Syria and Iraq. How was it there?

“Dynamic. A lot of players involved,” he said. “You’d need a flow chart to see who’s allied and who’s not.”

Next, I wandered inside one of the four maze-like exhibit halls to find the Washington state stand.

The theme, directed at aerospace companies, is “Choose Washington.” The stand sits in a hall full of competing stands, essentially asking companies to choose Puglia in Italy, or Cornwall in England, or … The list is endless and includes numerous U.S. states.

The Washington state stand at the Farnborough Air Show 2018. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
The Washington state stand at the Farnborough Air Show 2018. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

Allison Clark, managing director of business development with the Washington state Department of Commerce, was staffing the booth with her aerospace specialist Conor Duggan. Their job: to cultivate contacts at aerospace companies who could potentially expand into Washington state.

With lots of companies seeking a way to become a supplier to Boeing’s commercial jet programs, the state reps are kept busy with  meetings.

In another hall, I looked for jet engines, and came across a Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan, the engine type powering the Airbus 220 and one of the two engines on the A320neo family.

A Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan jet engine. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
A Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan jet engine. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

The second photo is a closer look at the spaghetti-like tubing around the engine core.

The intricate detail of the  Pratt & Whitney engine. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
The intricate detail of the Pratt & Whitney engine. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

A French company called Defontaine that makes the metal rings that are part of the engine provides a cool display of its products: hanging the rings from wires to align them in space positioned as if inside an assembled engine. It’s like an exploded diagram of the engine with everything simplified to show only the rings.

Defontaine rings – an exploded view of one set of engine components. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Defontaine rings – an exploded view of one set of engine components. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

Next, I went to Boeing’s exhibit: The Future is Built Here.

You enter a darkened, blue-lit room and are bombarded by a multimedia display with huge video screens, surround sound and models and still photos of Boeing technology.

The center of the exhibit is a circular chamber with four entry points. Between these, high walls show dynamic videos of Boeing’s commercial jets, military helicopters, space rockets and much else. Awesome.

Inside the central chamber of Boeing’s “The Future is Built Here” exhibit at the Farnborough Air Show. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Inside the central chamber of Boeing’s “The Future is Built Here” exhibit at the Farnborough Air Show. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
A model of Boeing’s conceptual “Blend Wing Body” military cargo plane inside “The Future is Built Here” exhibit. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
A model of Boeing’s conceptual “Blend Wing Body” military cargo plane inside “The Future is Built Here” exhibit. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Models inside “The Future is Built Here” exhibit depict potential hypersonic aircraft. Boeing is working on it. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Models inside “The Future is Built Here” exhibit depict potential hypersonic aircraft. Boeing is working on it. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

Finally, some photos I took earlier in the week.

This was the first appearance of Eric Schulz at an Air Show as the new Airbus sales chief.

Schulz, a Frenchman, grew up in France and Italy and holds Masters degrees in Mechanical Engineering and Aeronautical Engineering.

Eric Schulz, new head of sales at Airbus. In the early 2000s, he worked in Everett, WA.  (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
Eric Schulz, new head of sales at Airbus. In the early 2000s, he worked in Everett, WA. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

But when I interviewed him, I learned that  15 years ago, he was in Everett!

In 2003, Schulz was appointed president of Goodrich Aviation Technical Services, the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul outfit at Paine Field. He spent three years there and was on the board of United Way of Snohomish County.

Schulz joined Airbus in January from Rolls-Royce, where he was president of civil aerospace.

Just a few more airplanes:

While Airbus brought its own A350-1000 to fly at the Air Show, this Qatar Airways A350-1000 was parked on the ground all week for tours of the cabin. It’s an impressive airplane, about the same size as the Boeing 777-300ER, which is the backbone of most large international long-haul fleets.

The 777-300ERs flying today are such perfect machines they are unlikely to start retiring for another decade or so. When that day comes and airlines must replace them, the choice will be between this  A350-1000 and Boeing’s forthcoming 777X.

An Airbus A350-1000 operated by Qatar Airways. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
An Airbus A350-1000 operated by Qatar Airways. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)

Parked nearby was the airplane pictured at the top of the page. This is a second-hand A380, originally operated by launch customer Singapore Airlines and just acquired by Portuguese lessor Hi Fly.

Hi Fly has a fleet of large Airbus widebody jets which it “wet leases” to airlines that need additional capacity. This means it provides not just the aircraft, but also the complete flight crew and maintenance crew as well as insurance.

The president of Hi Fly is Paulo Mirpuri, who also has a charitable foundation. The A380 at Farnborough is painted in a “Save the Coral Reefs” livery to support a Mirpuri Foundation campaign. He faces plenty of skepticism that he can make a good business from renting out this enormous plane.

To close, just look at that beautiful wingtip. Goodbye from Farnborough.

The wing of an Airbus A350-1000 airliner slices in front of an Airbus A400M military transport. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)
The wing of an Airbus A350-1000 airliner slices in front of an Airbus A400M military transport. (Dominic Gates / The Seattle Times)