Feature – A Summer of Blade Slap

As we head into the Autumn months, the dust is finally starting to settle on the 2014 display season and for the RAF Chinook Display Team it’s been one incredible Summer.

The UK Chinook force is one of the busiest frontline units in the world and due to ongoing operational commitments, the display team didn’t get together until late May. The original timetable went straight out of the window and before the season even got underway, the six-strong team were already under immense pressure to deliver results. It wasn’t just the available work up time that made it difficult either; operational deployments and a reducing number of HC2 airframes meant that aircraft availability and serviceability was also a real challenge.

Flt Lt Charlie Brown’s aim for this year was to create plenty of noise. That noise came in the form of ‘blade slap’, the unmistakable sound generated by the change in pitch when the aircraft rapidly alters it’s direction of flight. With assistance from the whole team, a routine was established that would best demonstrate this unique sound.

The Displays

The team kicked off their season in June with a display in front of the home crowd at RAF Odiham. Families Day was the perfect opportunity to show off the new-look routine and it would seem that from the very first nose-down bow, the display was well received. I remember speaking to Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander RAF Odiham shortly after the display had finished – the smile on his face said it all really, it was definitely a show to be proud of.

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The three big shows followed – RAF Waddington International Airshow, the Royal International Air Tattoo and RNAS Yeovilton Air Day. The first two display weekends went off without a hitch and the team performed in front some huge crowds. RIAT is a massive show for the team with both their major sponsors (Boeing and Breitling) having a large presence at the event. Most would assume that display weekends are just a chance to relax and socialise, and while there is time for that, the team also has to heavily promote the role that the Royal Air Force plays in the modern world.

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With Waddington and Fairford behind them, the team were scheduled to display at RNAS Yeovilton. Unfortunately though, Yeovilton was the first appearance of the year that had to be cancelled. As the aircraft started up, engine no. 2 was indicating no oil temperature and this remained the same even after the sensors were changed, the internal wiring had to be checked and this meant that the aircraft had to be signed off as unserviceable.

After the mid-season break it was all go – six shows over three consecutive weekends. Having entertained the crowds at Eastbourne, the team made their debut at Ascot racecourse – the Red Bull Air Race World Championship made a welcome return this year and the Chinook Display Team were invited to display at the UK venue. Race day was a total sell-out and Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Flt Lt Andy Waldron and Sgt Anna Irwin ran through their routine in time to a soundtrack of intense house music. Ascot was a venue like no other and certainly one to remember.

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“Displaying in front of a Grandstand of 25,000 people ‘who just weren’t expecting it’ was a real highlight this year. Apparently we stole the show!” – Flt Charlie Brown, Display Pilot on displaying at Ascot

It was then on to Car Fest South and Dunsfold Wings & Wheels. Car Fest is held in support of Children in Need and the team were more than happy to be invited to the show for a second consecutive year. Displaying at Wings & Wheels means a lot to Odiham and in many ways is a chance to say a big thanks – Dunsfold is one of a handful of aerodromes that opens up to the RAF and as a result, the Chinooks frequently carry out training exercises in and around the airfield.

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The season ended with a weekend full of over-water displays. Unfortunately the team’s Friday appearance had to be cancelled due to another technical snag with the aircraft but nevertheless, on the final day at Bournemouth Air Festival, it’s estimated that some 600,000 people lined the beach between the two piers, giving the RAF Chinook Display Team their biggest crowd ever. From Bournemouth it was a short hop to a late addition on the display calendar – Dartmouth Regatta. Having not seen the display venue prior to the display slot, the team arrived crowd centre coming in low over a tree-lined hill top. What followed was a perfect demonstration of just how manoeuvrable the Chinook can be within a tight space and from speaking to the team the following day, it sounded like it was an awful lot of fun!

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“Arriving with the element of surprise using the terrain and displaying in such beautiful yet extremely challenging settings was brilliant. Completing the ‘over the shoulder’ effectively at the end meant almost instantly disappearing from sight of the crowd.” – Sgt Andy Caldwell, Display Crewman on displaying at Dartmouth Regatta

The Best Display This Year?

Over the course of the Summer, the display team have gathered quite a following on social media but what was their favourite moment of 2014?

Looking Ahead to 2015

On the Sunday at Bournemouth, the team displayed the Chinook HC2 for the very last time. Due to ongoing airframe upgrades under the Project Julius programme, the final HC2s will shortly undergo conversion to HC4 standard.

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A Chinook HC2 over Basingstoke earlier this year

Where does this leave RAF Odiham’s display capabilities for next year then? Well, in all honesty it’s still a little of the unknown. The upgraded HC4 is an incredibly capable aircraft but has so far not undertaken any displays; with an all-glass cockpit, it’s not known how the upgraded Chinook will react when it’s put under the strains of rigorous display manoeuvres. Depending on the outcome of display testing next month, it may be decided that the HC4 will not be used in a fully aerobatic role. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there won’t be a Chinook display in 2015, it just means that it might not be the display that we all know and love.

The HC4 looks almost identical to the HC2 from the outside
The HC4 looks almost identical to the HC2 from the outside

The Chinook is the workhorse of the RAF; it’s been involved in every major conflict since the Falklands campaign and for that reason alone, I’m confident that we’ll see it on the circuit next year.

“Its been an honour and a privilege to display in front of over 2.8million of you this season, a once in a lifetime opportunity.” – Flt Lt Charlie Brown, Display Pilot

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the 2014 Chinook Display Team, Flt Lt Meg Henderson and Group Captain Richard Maddison, Station Commander RAF Odiham for all their help and assistance over the course of this year. Without you, none of this would have been possible.

Feature – The Airbus A350 XWB

Airbus – a name familiar to the entire world and a company that has been at the forefront of aviation technology for the last 40 years. The manufacturer brought their latest two-aisle airliner to Farnborough International Airshow earlier this Summer and I was lucky enough to be shown around the flying test bed.

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MSN004’s flight test systems

Originally conceived back in 2004, the original A350 was mostly an all-new design but with the main fuselage based on the popular A330. After several meetings and focus groups with potential customers, this idea was rejected and as a result, the A350 XWB (Xtra Wide Wody) was born. As a direct competitor to Boeing’s 787-x series of airliners, Airbus promised that the A350 XWB would have operating costs at least 8% lower than the Dreamliner.

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The A350 XWB is a direct competitor to the Boeing 787-x Dreamliner

Design

Passenger comfort and airline operating costs are clearly at the heart of the design for the A350 XWB.

The A350 XWB is the first aircraft that Airbus have manufactured which is built, in most part, out of a carbon-fibre composite and unlike previous Airbus models, the fuselage width is exactly the same (9 seats in a 3-3-3 layout) along it’s entire length from door one to door four.

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The fuselage is the same width throughout the cabin

With a wingspan of 64.8m and a surface area of approximately 443 metres squared, the A350 XWB boasts the largest wings ever produced for a single deck, two-aisle airliner. The aircraft is also the first to feature the manufacturer’s unique ‘sharklet’ wing tips which it says are the latest advancement in aerodynamic wing design.

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The new wing design and complex composite wide body mean that the aircraft is capable of reducing fuel burn by at least 25% when compared to previous generation competing aircraft. For customer’s looking for a single deck, long-haul aircraft, figures like that are more than enough to sign on the dotted line.

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The cabin design is heavily inspired by the internationally acclaimed A380 with extra large overhead compartments (capable of taking full-size roller bags), full LED lighting systems which are capable of producing 16.7 million different colours and enhanced leg room in all classes. The increased leg room space is achieved by having brand new, fully integrated seat-connect and cabling boxes that are virtually invisible to passengers as they’re run under a full flat floor.

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Testing and Delivery

Amazingly for a modern day airliner; manufacturing, development and testing is all on schedule and the aircraft should be ready for certification by the end of this year.

MSN005 (test aircraft five and the last to be developed) is currently conducting route proving flights to demonstrate the aircraft’s operability, reliability and all round excellent performance that the fuselage and Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine can deliver. The Trent XWB testing began back in 2011 when it was fitted to one of the development A380 test beds and was certified several months later at the end of that year.

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The A350 XWB is fitted with two Rolls Royce Trent XWB engines
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The Rolls Royce Trent XWB engine was tested on a development A380

With 12 months of testing on all five development aircraft due to finish shortly, launch customer Qatar Airways will receive its first aircraft in Q3-Q4 2014.

The Future

Even with the Emirates order for 70 aircraft cancelled, the future of the Airbus A350 XWB is looking bright. To date, 742 aircraft have been ordered across all three varients by some 38 airlines including; Air Asia, Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific, Etihad, British Airways, United and Singapore Airlines.

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The Xtra Wide Body, twin aisle aircraft will benefit both passengers and airlines alike.

This is Airbus at it’s finest, this is the future.

Feature – Farnborough Fights Back

Once upon a time in a bygone era, Farnborough Airshow was the Airshow to attend. With many brand new and even some prototype aircraft being flown by the world’s greatest test pilots, the Hampshire town was the place to see past, present and future offerings for airlines and air forces around the globe. Decades later, Farnborough Airshow exists in a shadow of its former self – the 2012 show was one to forget for the aviation enthusiast but the team at FIA are keen to put things right for 2014.

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RAF Eurofighter Typhoon at FIA 2012

The 2012 show had many things wrong with it; overcrowding, an average display programme, star items from the trade show leaving before the weekend, the trade halls closing for the weekend, overpriced catering, lack of toilets, and an expensive ticket price for what was on offer. Earlier this year I had the chance to meet with the team behind the scenes and reiterate the concerns that we all had from the show two years previous.

I went along expecting to get into a bit of a spat over what is expected from an Airshow but I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised. The team put their hands up and admitted that they’d let people down and that after holding several focus groups with both enthusiasts and local members of the community, they knew what they needed to do.

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FIA needs star items like the KAI T-50 Golden Eagle from 2012

To give you a little background – the trade show and public show are run as two completely separate events (Farnborough International Airshow and Farnborough Airshow respectively) and therefore trying to get trade aircraft to stay for the public show is a big ask. As was the case in 2012, many star items did in fact leave before the public show and for 2014 the team have tried to correct this. Investing quite heavily in manufacturers and foreign governments, the 5 1/2 hour public show has managed to secure star items like the F-35B, Airbus A380, Breitling Super Constellation and a Spanish Naval Harrier (the result of more than 14 months of negotiations with Spanish authorities).

F-35B © Lockheed Martin Corporation

The theme for the 2014 public show is ‘100 Years of Aviation’ and while some Airshows have had quite weak themes in the past, Farnborough Airshow are really focused on honouring this centenary and will be showcasing the past, present and future of aviation. As well as those aircraft already mentioned, there will also be a replica Me262 in the flying display this year – this is a fantastic achievement for Farnborough and it will be the first time that this aircraft has ever flown in the UK. The show will also commemorate 100 years since the start of the First World War with a brilliant display from the Great War Display Team.

It would appear that Sarah Harding, Head of Flight Operations at Farnborough has recognised that the show needs to evolve and offer the public a little something extra. For 2014, this will come in the form of some very special double acts. The F-35B will appear in the air with the Spanish Navy Harrier, demonstrating the capabilities of V/STOL aircraft while the Me262 will display with the Classic Air Force Meteor – both of these displays can only be seen this year at Farnborough. It’s not just in the air that things are improving either – for the first time ever, the static exhibit space is full for both the trade and public shows; and there are many operators still on a waiting list for a space should one become available.

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Sarah Harding, Head of Flight Operations with Shaun Ormrod, Chief Executive FIA

As well as the public show, the trade show is also set to be a massive hit this year with early figures indicating –

  • 20 bespoke buildings for individual exhibitors
  • 98% of self-build hall space sold
  • 18 international pavilions, 2 new: Norway and Malaysia
  • 56% international exhibitors; 44% UK exhibitors
  • 3 new countries participating – Tunisia, Malaysia and Thailand
  • 26% of exhibitors are new to FIA
  • 15% of exhibitors have increased space on 2012
  • Part of the new Chalet Row A development has been sold to Martin Baker for the next five shows
  • New delegations and UK MoD lounge
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The brand new Chalet Row A development

While there is a big tick against the flying and static displays, there is a lot outstanding to make 2014 a vast improvement on the last couple of shows. In February, the team were eager to tell us that the there will be many more changes – more toilets, a greater range of catering facilities and a revised crowd line layout.

Unfortunately though, the trade halls will remain closed. The closure came in 2012 due to two reasons; Health and Safety were concerned that the larger models could pose a risk to smaller children and also, participating companies could not afford to keep their stalls manned for the weekend where they weren’t making any sales. The days of going home with bags full of freebies are sadly over.

So it’s time to put 2012 to rest and look ahead to what’s in store for 2014. I seriously hope that everything comes together for the team this year and that both the trade show and public show turn out to be a massive success. Farnborough Airshow will never be able to reproduce the glory days but it can certainly do it’s best to return as a favourite amongst the enthusiast crowd.

FIA, I’ve got everything crossed for you!

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Farnborough International Airshow runs from 14th-18th July with the public show running from 19th-20th July. To find out more, head over to http://www.farnborough.com, follow @FIAFarnborough on Twitter and like Farnborough Airshow on Facebook.