Last Saturday, Michael Jennings, Rob Fisher and I went to the Farnborough Airshow, to which, of course, we all brought our cameras. The one with the cheapest and cheerfullest camera tends to take the most pictures, (a) because the pictures tend to be smaller and will fit with ease onto today’s infinite SD cards no matter how many you take, and (b) because with a cheap and cheerful camera you want to give yourself lots of chances to have taken some good snaps, in among the torrent of bad ones. So I took the most photos. There follows a very small selection of these compared to how many I took, and a very large selection compared to how many photos there usually are in Samizdata photo-essays. In the event that you would like to see any of them bigger, click on them. They are shown in chronological order.
Rob’s photos can be seen here. They include quite a few that show what it was like arriving. Rather chaotic, and aesthetically shambolic, in a way that really doesn’t suggest a great show of any sort. Farnborough only happens every two years, and I guess it just isn’t worth organising all the incidentals associated with the public descending on the place for just one weekend every two years, any better than only just adequately. The train from Waterloo (they’re very frequent) having taken about forty minutes (I bought a train-and-bus-included ticket to the show at Waterloo), there was then a satanically convoluted bus journey from Farnborough railway station, smothered in traffic jams of people trying to get to the same spot in their cars, a journey that caused us, in the evening, to prefer to take the same journey back to the station on foot. But we finally arrived at the airfield, where there was yet more too-ing and fro-ing, this time along improvised queue routes, bounded by temporary barriers such as you get around roadworks. We were herded along these tracks and into the show by men in flourescent tops shouting at us. Is this what pop festivals are like?
Mercifully soon we were in, and wandering past further aesthetic shambles, in the form of closely bunched exhibits with euphemistic signs on them about “all your force projection needs” (calling in an air strike when you get into a fight outside a pub?), “delivering ordnance efficiently” (killing people efficiently), “creative solutions” (killing people creatively), “mission specific solutions” (killing exactly the people you want to kill in exactly the way you want to kill them) and so on. Fair enough. The truth is too horrible to be faced head on.
Here was my favourite of these preliminary exhibits:
It’s this. Looks like a whale, doesn’t it? The twenty first century looks like being a golden age of unmanned flight. Who would have thought that model aircraft would turn into a grown-up industry?
Then on to join the main throng next to the runway, to confront sights like this:
This was the moment when I began to fear that I would be without food or water for the next six, hot hours. I could see lots of people, with their own picnic equipment, and lots of other guys with cameras. I could see a big runway, and distant hangers and airplanes. But what if I starved to death? I postponed such thoughts, because just as they were occurring to me, the main show (scroll down to Saturday 24th to see what we saw) was getting under way.
Item one, which I was really looking forward to seeing close up, having already photoed it from far below and far away, in central London, was this:
The A380 did a slow motion impersonation of a plane doing trick flying, going up too steeply and then down too steeply, and then tilting itself too steeply and cornering too much, all with the stately grace of the white elephant that I assume it to be. Beautiful. Then, a real show of trick flying, by these characters:
There was much falling out of the sky leaving a trail of smoke, and at one point they did synchronised falling out of the sky leaving two near identical trails of smoke, to prove that they were doing exactly what they intended, rather than just letting it happen of its own accord. I was impressed:
Then came another giant, one of the dominant airplanes, indeed one of the dominant world facts, of the last half century:
That’s the first time in my life I’ve seen a B52 in the flesh, so to speak. The surprise to me there is the fuselage. The B52, from that angle and in my distinctly approximate photo, looks like a wooden toy made by a super-dad in the garage for his small son, small son being too small to care that the fuselage is so unrealistic. A bit of sculpting under the rear, and at the front of course, but otherwise, just a length of broom handle, an effect greatly enhanced by the sawn-off look at the back. Real airplanes don’t look like that!
World War 2 relics were much in evidence. Yah boo hiss!:
Also present were modern jet fighters. Trouble is, they take off so damn fast that they are a dot next to a cloud before you (by which I mean I) have realised they are even performing. The noise they make when they do take off is: noisy. The unprepared brain (by which I mean my brain), when subjected to this noise, does not make decisions any better or any faster. Here is an American F something doing its thing:
There came a moment when all those zoom lenses suddenly pointed straight upwards, without any moving about, and I snapped all the vertical zoom lenses for a while before I became curious about what they were pointing at. Parachutes! Again, much smoke, but also a union jack:
Foreigners, I instinctively assumed, sucking up to us. But then I thought, maybe not. Maybe here, the union jack is no apologised about by anyone.
There was a World War 1 show, involving lovingly preserved relics such as this:
There was another F something from America:
The World War 2 relics took to the air, thus:
Owing to its implausibly shiny black paint, and my camera’s habit of freezing all moving propellers into immobility, the Avro Lancaster looked like an assembled Airfix plastic kit, hanging from a kid’s bedroom ceiling (i.e. my bedroom ceiling), circa 1965:
Then a “Typhoon”. I was expecting an unwieldy mid-forties propeller-driven job, but it turned out to be this:
Again, it was a dot in the clouds by the time I clocked that it was even in the sky. Luckily it has a distinctive sillhouette, and luckily it did come back, but it never got as close to me again as when it was taking off.
Photographing the Farnborough Airshow really well is a skill like any other, one which I do not really possess, what with this being my first visit since I was about six, and my absolute first with a camera. But if you can’t get at least some good snaps at Farnborough you are really not much of a photographer, and it you can’t get some good snaps of the Red Arrows, you are beyond photographic hope. I got some good shots of them:
I also got shots with red white and blue smoke, and less effective shots of Red Arrows suddenly charging madly off in all directions from one red, white and blue spot, many of them right out of my picture, and of two Red Arrows nearly but not colliding, none of them snapped at the exact right moment. Anyone who wants to see all the regular Red Arrow pictures has seen them. I felt I needed a different slant on the Red Arrow phenomenon:
We saw several of those.
So, it’s the second last slot, between the Red Arrows, and the final grandstand finish. What do you shove in there? Answer, a really boring airplane – on its own, no smoke, no loud noises, no nothing, not even the outside chance of a collision – doing really boring aerobatics. Had I encountered such airplane behaviour on some other expedition, say to a London suburb, and had that been the only aerial oddity I spied that month I might have been very impressed. As it was, yawn:
And then, finally, the very much not-yawn Avro Vulcan:
Okay not much of a snap, but by then I was seriously tired. In any case the www is awash with state-of-the-art vulcanography.
And that was that. I’ve missed out quite a few performers. There were various helicopters, and a couple of transport planes taking it in turns to do their party tricks. The second was a Hercules, but we felt it was upstaged by the previous and smaller Italian plane. There was a Catilina flying boat. There were surely others that I’ve forgotten. But it was a good show.
Nor did I starve or die of thirst. On the contrary, the many food and drink stalls along most of the length of the public area did thriving business, providing expensive but eloquent lessons in the Austrian theory of the subjectivity of value. Ice cream on Westminister Bridge? Pass. Same ice cream at 5 pm at a hot and sunny Farnborough Airshow? A bargain at twice the price, in other words: a bargain.
It all seemed very safe. When I was a child, I can remember there being a huge crash at Farnborough, with lots of spectators killed, sadly involving a de Havilland airplane. Since which drama the planes have been forbidden to go anywhere too near to the spectators. No chance of anything like that happening now. Or this. Although I’m sure the reason all we spectators now take such safety for granted is that the flyers themselves never do.
I suspect that in two years time it will all be much the same. The same revered and two-years-older planes from the history books, the same kind of more recent jets doing the same kinds of tricks, spectacularly or solemnly depending on their size and demeanour. I think I’d like to go back in about ten years time, to see if and how things have changed by then. Hope I can.
I would sum the day up as great fun, and great to do in good company rather than alone. So deepest thanks Michael and Rob, without whose promptings such a trip would never even have occurred to me. But it was hard work for me to be at, what with the heat and there being nowhere to sit comfortably. But it was unreservedly great to have been at, although even as I finish this piece the skin is peeling off my stinging, lobster-coloured cheeks and forehead.
The biggest plus about Farnborough is that you can see most of what is on offer from anywhere. You don’t have to hack your way to the front of the throng to get a view of the aerial performers, which means that everyone is relaxed and unpushy and friendly. You just have to look upwards, from wherever you happen to be. Which is a good approach to adopt towards life in general, I think.