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Of RIAT and Farnborough International By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.






On the day that we are due, via a Written Ministerial Statement, to receive a ‘progress announcement’ in respect of the so-called Modernising Defence Programmes (MDP) review process, it is nice to be back at my desk following more than a week spent away at the CAS Air Power Conference, the Royal International Air Tattoo at RAF Fairford and the Farnborough International Airshow.

In respect of MDP, I suspect (although at this stage I cannot confirm) that no additional funding for defence has yet been agreed between the MOD, Cabinet Office and HM Treasury. Thus, all that I am anticipating today, are some headlines of MOD intent. That said, we may at least be very grateful that funding for the Combat Air Strategy was agreed by the Treasury over the past weekend.

I will of course write further on both the Combat Air Strategy and Modernising Defence Programme review but ahead of this and whilst awaiting confirmation of headlines from the latter, I will today comment on RIAT and Farnborough.       


Immediately following, as it does every two year, the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) and which this year for the many military and industry professionals, politicians and others that attended would surely have to be regarded as one if not ‘the’ best ever, the prospect of moving straight down to the Farnborough International Airshow (FIA) the following day can be somewhat daunting!

Nevertheless, given that the 2018 Farnborough Air Show was chosen by the Government to be the place where the Combat Air Strategy and importantly, the specific Tempest Partnership (BAE Systems, Leonardo, Rolls-Royce and MBDA) would be unveiling of a full-scale model of what is intended by the UK to be the next generation combat aircraft technology development, I can say without any doubt that this really was the most enjoyable ‘first day’ that I have ever spent during the twenty-six Farnborough Airshow events I have attended since 1968.

First things first though, the Royal international Air Tattoo – RIAT and the Farnborough International Air Show.

As the world’s preeminent military air show, RIAT is a place for professionals to meet, to discuss, to network, to observe, to enjoy and even to relax. Yes, it is the place where those fascinated with military aircraft past and presents can come and enjoy themselves, learn more about the aerospace industry, talk to military people and either watch brilliant aircraft displays or almost touch the countless dozens of static aircraft exhibits.

The Farnborough International Airshow is very different from RIAT and I suspect that if we are honest with ourselves, this should be seen today as being an important aviation, aerospace and maybe also, airline industry ‘trade show’ rather than being what it used to be, an ‘airshow’. Nothing wrong in that at all and when all things are said and done, Farnborough is a two yearly event that brings together all levels of the aviation industry personnel – buyer, seller and all those that fall in-between. Farnborough’s place on the international calendar of similar events remains very secure provided of course that it continues to invest.

Back to RIAT though and accepting that apart from Wiltshire Police having decided to cause unnecessary havoc for all of those attempting to visit RIAT on its first day (Friday) and which translated into serious traffic delays, suffice to say that RIAT 2018 was a truly memorable event. It would be a very strange individual who in my view would dare to say that RIAT did not work very well for them but of course, there is always one. Not me though and with one exception, every professional that I met and talked with thought this year’s RIAT was spectacular. So, once again our very sincere thanks go to the organisers, the RAF Charitable Trust, to the many hundreds of volunteers who gave of their time to ensure that RIAT is the success that it always is, to the Royal Air Force, visiting chiefs of over 60 air forces worldwide that attended, industry and of course, to everyone else involved. Importantly, sincere thanks also to those that sponsor this very important event and that, as for many years past, are led by BAE Systems.

As to the flying static displays, top marks from me this year go to the RAF village which was absolutely brilliant in my view, also to those that made the Technology Zone the success that it was once again, to BAE Systems Heritage aircraft who win my prize this year for the splendid static displays and as a one off, to Martin Baker who brought their Meteor jet aircraft to the Tattoo. Far too many aircraft deserving of mention for me to name here so I will restrict the static aircraft on display to just two more, the US Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon Maritime Patrol Aircraft and the Royal Air Force ‘Seedcorn’ crew based at US Naval Air Station Jacksonville in Florida who accompanied the U.S. Navy Poseidon aircraft to RAF Fairford and secondly, the Remotely Piloted General Atomics MQ-9B Sky Guardian, a medium-altitude, long endurance (MALE) that was flown from the company’s Grand Forks, North Dakota USA leaving at 1248 Hours on July 10th and that landed at RAF Fairford spot on time on July 11th. What an extraordinary achievement this was and rest assured that I will be writing on this separately in due course.

So in summary, RIAT 2018 was a very special and extraordinary successful event that containing as it did, memorable flying displays from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, RAF Typhoon FGR4, Tornado GR4 and countless other military fast jet aircraft and rotary from countries and air forces all over the world. The spectacular Gala Dinner, sponsored by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman and that was attended this year by HRH Princess Anne was addressed by the Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt. Hon Gavin Williamson. RIAT this year also kept hold of a deep secret that would not be officially unveiled until the first morning of the Farnborough International Airshow, a reference once again to the Combat Air Strategy and Team Tempest, the subject of which as said, I will write on separately.

As to the Farnborough International Airshow? Firstly credit to the organisers for the excellent new Hall 1 building. The show itself was well attended and entry and security checks greatly improved on those of the past. Both Boeing and Airbus have benefited from far more civil aircraft order announcements than we might otherwise have anticipated in the first three days, and that add up to a value well in excess of $100 billion at list prices. More anon.

From a trade show perspective, most of those that I spoke to were content and believe that despite the high cost of coming to Farnborough, the event is still more than worthwhile. However, many also agree that further investment is required and several complained of the fumes from buggies permeating and particularly in the chalet areas (why are not all these vehicles electric by now?) and one notes that the message about using throw away plastic cups etc appears to have not reached the Farnborough organisers. Petty things these may be but important nevertheless.

Overall though, transport both too and from Farnborough Main railway station to the show apart (a reference to the traffic delays in the main and queues at the station plus I believe, there having been major problems on the line back to Waterloo yesterday afternoon) the FIA organisers and the new management involved deserve praise for the improvements made. Now let’s have some more please!

One caveat – with flying displays significantly down on the past due to both expense and lack of perceived need for a trade show event such as this on the first five days, one notes that with the public days still to come on Saturday and Sunday, the hope will be that with some if not all the Halls possibly closed to the public, there is enough to entertain those that attend.

CHW (London – 19th July 2018)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon





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