A report of the highlights from the third day of the 2012 Farnborough Air Show on 9-15 July
Day 3 at Farnborough Air Show, and the appearance on the sun in the sky sparked off a media frenzy among show photographers elbowing each other for the perfect shot of aircraft and aviation newsmakers. Elsewhere the show hosted 150+ future space tourists and the biggest airliner order of the day came from a surprise direction. Let’s take a look at the action.
Virgin Galactic unveil micro-sat launcher
The winner of the ‘media frenzy of the day’ award saw the air show, for the first time host over 150 future astronauts or space tourists – paying customers of Virgin Galactic. They were here, along with other new space companies, media and notables like Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton, RAF and Marion Blakey to see Sir Richard Branson unveil the next step in his commercial spaceflight venture - LauncherOne. Using the WhiteKnightTwo as a mothership, this would see a two-stage rocket air-dropped from the aircraft to put small satellites in orbit. The benefits would be responsive access to space and a reduction of the kgs into orbit costs of up to fivefold, according to Virgin. Payloads for LauncherOne would be up to 225kg – and Virgin has already taken deposits from four interested companies, including asteroid hunters Planetary Resources. Crucially, the UK’s small satellite experts, Surrey Satellites (SSTL) will help Virgin optimise the launcher for mini and microsats. First test of the systems should be in 2015, with the first commercial launch planned for 2016.
The press conference also allowed Virgin’s space tourists to take a look at the full size mock-up of SpaceShipTwo. While Branson joked that it would have been great for WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo to open the Olympics, he did reveal that “all major rocket components are now qualified for powered flight” – setting the stage for powered launches. He also added that he has signed up the 529th space tourist – and aims to fly all 529 in the first two years. For those pondering a career flying spaceships, chief test pilot Dave Mackay told Aerospace International that with two pilots at the moment, Virgin Galactic is looking to recruit another and add a fourth by the end of the year. Initial operations would need between six and eight pilots, but Mackay predicts that this would need to be expanded. Get your CVs in now.
MRJ scores day’s highest orders
Wednesday’s biggest civil airliner order news came not from Seattle, Toulouse, or even Montreal – but Japan. On the back of Tuesday’s programme update, Mitsubishi Aircraft Corporation announced an ‘agreement in principle’ with SkyWest Inc, the holding company for two US-based regional air carriers, for 100 Mitsubishi Regional Jets (MRJ). At list prices, the deal is valued at $4.2bn with the aircraft scheduled for delivery between 2017 and 2020. The manufacturer anticipates that the order will be made firm in the coming weeks. Mitsubishi followed the order announcement with the unveiling of the MRJ cabin mock-up. The cabin itself boasted a number of innovative features such as ‘slide to recline’ seating together with distinct allusions to the manufacturer’s Japanese heritage. Also celebrating was engine maker Pratt & Whitney, who will supply the PurePower PWE1200G engines for the MRJ.
Composites? Not so fast says Constellium
Aerospace metal manufacturer Constellium has launched three new aluminium alloys designed for aircraft construction which the company claims are stronger and lighter than existing alloys as well as composite alternatives. These comprise I-Form for use in fuselages and wings, I-Gauge for inner fuselage and wing structures as well as landing gear and I-Core which offers enhanced crashworthiness for internal fuselage structures.
BAE to bid for F-16 avionics upgrades
BAE Systems Vice President of Integrated Aviation Solutions Floyd McConnell announced the company’s intention to deliver an avionics upgrade to the F-16. He stated that electronic upgrades are necessary to maintain the aircraft’s relevance in an ageing worldwide fleet, he claimed that it is “the systems and not the aircraft that will make the F-16 relevant in coming years”. Presently producing approximately 40% of F-16 mission components, Mr McConnell was keen to emphasise that the competition BAE bring to future upgrades is in the customers’ interest.
Wildcat handed over
Media scrum no.2 two occurred over on the static, where the sight of three AgustaWestland AW159s in the sun and one UK Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond drew crowds and light jostling. Hammond was there to official take over the keys, of the first AW159 Wildcat for the MoD. A much modified and updated development of the Lynx, the Wildcat will enter service with the Army (34 helicopters) and Royal Navy (28 helicopters) in battlefield reconnaissance and shipborne helicopter roles.
CIT signs for A330s
Transportation finance specialists CIT Group has placed a firm order for ten Airbus A330s. This deal includes five A330s already ordered plus an additional five A330s.
C-17 orders on future horizon?
Tommy Dunehew, Boeing’s Vice President of Business Development, Mobility, reaffirmed the manufacturer’s position on the future of the C-17 programme. Boeing has delivered a total of 244 C-17 aircraft and retains a backlog of 20, seven of which are destined for the US. At present production rates, the backlog represents two years of production left. He remained positive regarding future sales, identifying strong markets in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions and revealed that the manufacturer is in talks with six potential customers, all of whom being based outside of the US.
Missed flight cover for budget flights
No Exclusions Limited announced an agreement with Mondial Assistance to offer easyJet’s UK passengers the opportunity to purchase Missed Flight Cover which would enables them to buy a new ticket on the next available flight at no additional cost or the choice of a full flight refund.
While other manufacturers have been thinking about how to arm UAVs, General Atomics has been working on the opposite idea – how to disarm its Predator UAV to comply with international missile control rules, and thus make it exportable. The Predator XP gets winglets (although interestingly they do not add range) and the company is extremely reticent to say how it has achieved this, although it may be structurally related. General Atomics says it already has interest from the UAE and Saudi Arabia for the UAV.
Yet more MAXs
Kuwait-based aircraft lessors ALFCO announced a commitment for 20 Boeing 737 MAXs. The $1.9bn order is expected to be finalised shortly.
Floods of maritime patrollers
When the host island nation of a major airshow is missing a key capability of maritime surveillance and patrol, expect defence companies to race to bring their wares to fill the gap. While Saab had brought its 340MPA configured as a maritime patrol platform, also out on static was an Airbus Military C295MPA from the Portuguese Air Force. But while it has the usual sensors (surface search radar and FLIR) of other MPAs, this C295 hides a secret. Its open-architecture FITS mission consoles come on a palletised floor that allow it to be quick-changed into a tactical transporter (the rear ramp is retained) in the course of an afternoon. The maritime surveillance consoles need only two operators, leaving space in the back for crew rest or even air-droppable liferafts to be carried. Should the aircraft need to go sub-hunting – a further two consoles could be added and the liferafts swapped for sonobouys. The C295 can also be well equipped to not only search, but destroy sea-based threats, with torpedoes and announced at the show, the captive-carry of a MBDA Marte Mk2/S Anti-Ship missile for the first time.
Even the unbearably pretty Piaggio Avanti II business aircraft is set to be turned into an MPA, in cooperation with Saab. Boeing too, has used the show to announce it will develop a smaller MPA than the P-8 Orion, based on a business jet – which will fly next year.
Volga-Dnepr has signed a 15-year OnPoint MRO contract for 22 GEnx-2B engines that power its Boeing 747-8 freighter fleet.
Cobham announced an eight-year contract from Oil Spill Response Ltd (OSRL) to provide oil pollution detection and surveillance around the UK coast using a specially-modified maritime surveillance Dornier 228. An interim contract has been in force since January 2012.
UK defence procurement to be ‘behaviour changing’
At a conference on the future of UK defence organised by ADS on Wednesday morning, British secretary for defence, Philip Hammond, spoke about how the UK government is introducing ‘behaviour-changing’ measures for future military procurement which may include changes that industry won’t find comfortable’. He also spoke on the changing pattern of threats that may be faced by the UK in the future, including terrorism, rogue states, cyber threats and competition for resources. Speaking at the same conference, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff AVM Baz North described how the RAF was planning to use unmanned systems for one-third of its platforms by 2020.
Sometimes a bit of musle power is needed
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 the hashtag is #FIA12 and the Editor Tim Robinson will be tweeting live from the show on @RAeSTimR