FIA75 Part 3: Pioneering the Future (1998-2023)

In this last part of our FIA75 blog series, Peter Cooper explores the journey of the Farnborough International Airshow into the 21st Century, sharing his highlights of the modern aircraft and technology on display as well as the growth of the venue.


1998 – Celebrating Past and Present Technology

The 50th Anniversary of the first Farnborough show was heralded in 1998 and there were some extra items added to the display programme. This included some vintage aircraft including DH Vampire, DH Venom, Hawker Hunters, EE Canberra, Gloster Meteor, plus many propellor types that were statically displayed, although some did fly, giving an indication of what had been seen before over the previous 50 years.

Many Airbus types were also present both on the ground and in the air with the A330-243 performing some majestic high-alpha passes and tight turns and the outsize cargo aircraft, the A300-600ST Beluga. Five of these outsize cargo freight aircraft were built, converted from a basic Airbus A300-600 airframe.

(Left Image: The superbly restored Military Air Transport Service (MATS) C-121 Constellation of 1948 vintage, was in the UK and Europe for the anniversary of the Berlin Airlift. It is seen here landing at Farnborough to join the static display. It is now displayed in a Museum in South Korea. Image: Peter J Cooper)

(Right Image: The Airbus A300-600ST, The Super Transporter, later officially named 'Beluga' were designed to carry outsize cargo and components around the various Airbus manufacturing sites, for example, complete wings from the UK to France or Germany. The aircraft pictured was the fourth built and was exhibited at the 1998 Farnborough show, having first flown on 9 June 1998. Image: Peter J Cooper)


2002 – Virgin Atlantic Makes Headlines

Sir Richard Branson took delivery of his first A340-600 ‘Cloud Nine’ for Virgin Atlantic but the aircraft had been re-named ‘Claudia Nine’ by Claudia Schiffer at Heathrow earlier that morning. This was the world’s longest airliner at the time.

(Left Image: The brand-new Airbus A340-600 arrives at Farnborough from Heathrow on 22 July 2002 for a publicity stunt with the assembled Farnborough Press. The aircraft returned to Heathrow later in the day. Image: Peter J Cooper)

(Right Image: Virgin Atlantic entrepreneur Richard Branson poses with his brand-new Airbus A340-600 at Farnborough 2002. Image: Peter J Cooper)


2006 – Debut of a Giant

In 2006, the Airbus A380-841 prototype made its debut and to see an airliner as large as this fly so slowly and bank so steeply was truly remarkable. The mighty airliner also flew in formation, with the ‘Red Arrows’ for a unique photoshoot. At the end of the show Airbus revealed that it had received 182 orders for this behemoth airliner.

The A380 remains the world's largest passenger airliner and only full-length double-deck jet airliner.

(Airbus A380-841 company demonstrator touches down on the Farnborough runway after its debut display in 2006. A total of 254 of these giant airliners were built and the production line was closed in 2021. Image: Peter J Cooper)


2014 – Farnborough Bids Farewell to an Icon

Whilst the airliners were out in force again as the Farnborough skies filled with the Airbus A350-941, A380-841, A400M Grizzly, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner and a P-8A Poseidon, something else stuck in my mind.

(Left Image: Heavy metal together. Airbus A350-941XWB development aircraft in Qatar colours, lifts off from the Farnborough runway, whilst A380-841 is on final approach having completed its display. The timings for the take-off and landing are perfectly choreographed by the Airbus team and the FIA air traffic control. Image: Rich Cooper)

(Middle Image: The Airbus Military A400M 'Grizzly' has been a popular display item at Farnborough since its debut in 2010. Here a company demonstrator lifts off from the Farnborough runway. Image: Peter J Cooper)

(Right Image: Prototype Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner leaps away from the Farnborough runway to commence its display, consisting of considerable agility, steep climbs and turns and relatively quiet. This aircraft currently operates with Air New Zealand. Image: Peter J Cooper)

This was the last year that the Avro Vulcan B.2 would be seen flying at Farnborough. It was being withdrawn from flight as engineering costs had become too expensive for it to continue. It flew a splendid routine with steep banks and climbs along with full power setting. The associated high-pitch roar from the four Bristol Olympus Mk.301 turbojet engines is a noise that will never be forgotten. It was with some sadness to watch this final display, after all the Vulcan first displayed at Farnborough in 1952. What a machine.

(The mighty Avro 698 Vulcan B.2 is seen here during the Farnborough 2014 show. It has since been withdrawn from flying and is maintained as a ground exhibit. Image: Peter J Cooper)


2016 – F-35 Storms into Action

The F-35’s first appearance at Farnborough was high on everyone’s agenda for 2016 and visitors were treated to a display from an RAF example of the Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II. Although it did not land this year, the F-35 provided an agile, if noisy, demonstration from forward flight to hover, a quick rate of climb and sharp turns. On two other days the aircraft on display was from the US Marines.

(This RAF marked Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II is seen trailing vortices from the damp atmosphere, during its display at Farnborough 2016. This aircraft, although an RAF example, came from Edwards AFB California, where it was operating with VMFAT-501 Sqdn for evaluation and trials work. Image: Peter J Cooper)


2018 – A New Venue

The brand-new, permanent Hall 1 Exhibition and Conference Centre building, with a 20,000m2 footprint, was put to good use as a trade hall during July 2018. This year saw US$192bn worth of trade sales.

(Air to ground view of Farnborough 2018. The whole site can be seen here, along with the new Hall One in the mid foreground, with the static aircraft display spread out right down to the Cargo Village, just where the shade creeps in. Image: Peter J Cooper)

The new 6th generation fighter from BAE Systems known as the Tempest was unveiled at Farnborough for the first time. This futuristic aircraft is designed to replace the Typhoon from 2035 and according to BAE in July 2022, its first flight will be made “within the next five years”.

(The then UK government Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson addresses the assembled Press at Farnborough on the Monday at the launch of the BAE Systems full-scale concept model of the Tempest, Future Combat Air System (FCAS). ACM Sir Stephen Hillier (left) and BAE Chief Executive Charles Woodburn (right) look on. Image: Rich Cooper)


2022 – Return of the Aerospace Industry

Following the cancellation of the 2020 Airshow due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the return of the aerospace industry to Farnborough was highly anticipated.

2022 saw the first Lockheed Martin F-35A to land at Farnborough, this being the static display example from 495 FS/48 FW at RAF Lakenheath. The British F-35B Lightning II from 617 Sqdn at RAF Marham gave an excellent display on Tuesday and Wednesday, and after refuelling gave a spectacular short take-off and then departed home.

(Left Image: This was the very first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, to land at Farnborough seen arriving for the 2022 show from its base at RAF Lakenheath with the 495 FS/48 FW. This aircraft, an 'A' model fifth generation fighter, was statically displayed and drew much interest. Image: Peter J Cooper)

(Right Image: This superb head-on view of a Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II was taken during Farnborough 2022 whilst the aircraft was in the hover. With all the thrust deflected downwards the noise during this was immense. However, the aircraft looked magnificent during its display routine. Image: Rich Cooper)

Airliners cavorted around the sky with the Boeing 777X and the B737-MAX10 along with Airbus A350XWB and the Embraer 190-E2 all giving their displays of tight turns, steep banks and superb agility for their size.

(Left Image: Reaching for the sky is the new Boeing 777X as it begins its agile flying display at Farnborough 2022. Look closely at the wing tips and the folding line can be seen to fold the tips up to give more clearance when parked. Image: Rich Cooper)

(Right Image: Flying around the Farnborough display circuit is the Airbus A350XWB looking very majestic in the turn. Over 550 of the type are now in airline service. Image: Peter J Cooper)


75 Years of Airshow History

Looking back over the decades, there has never been, and never will be, a better shop window for the aviation industry to come together than at the truly world-famous Farnborough International Airshow.

The diversity of aircraft seen at Farnborough over the past 75 years arguably cannot be equalled anywhere else in the UK or indeed the world. Much has been seen at Farnborough over the years, that has not been seen elsewhere, and undoubtedly this will continue for a long time to come.

The name Farnborough is synonymous with the home of British Aviation. Since the first show in 1948, Farnborough continues to showcase the best in aviation and expand its international reach. This has resulted in a truly dedicated forum with its unique position for all things aviation in one place, that is second to none, just like the “Nulli Secundus” airship (second to none) that was built by the Balloon Factory at Farnborough in 1907. That legacy continues today.


Do you have a favourite memory you’d like to share?

Get involved on our social media channels and tag Farnborough International Airshow in your posts so we can share your memories too!

Use the hashtags #FIA75 and #FIAmemories.


Learn more about the author, Peter Cooper

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