Bjorn’s corner: Farnborough week

By Bjorn Fehrm

By Bjorn Fehrm

July 15, 2016, ©. Leeham Co, Farnborough Air Show: We have been at Farnborough Air Show this week, the highlight of the year for an aircraft geek like me. This year there were several interesting aircraft that visited the show for the first time.

Embraer brought over the brand new first prototype of the E-jet 190-E2 and the prototype of their military transporter, the KC-390. Bombardier had their first customer/production CS100 from Swiss to visit the show in addition to their Flight Test Vehicle (FTV) no 5. And Lockheed Martin had the F35B, the vertical landing version, come and hover over the airfield the days that were reasonably rain free in the afternoon.

One thing is clear with the new generation of Single Aisle aircraft: their high bypass engines dominate the visual appearance. Figure 1 shows the 73 inch version of the Pratt & Whitney GTF on the E190-E2 prototype. Huge diameter engine on a not so huge diameter aircraft.


Figure 1. The prototype E190-E2 with its Pratt & Whitney GTF engine on the Farnborough apron. LNC photo.

The flow of the week

I have done enough Farnborough and Paris air shows now that I can describe the typical flow of such a week. Saturday or Sunday before the show is the time for special events from OEMs. Bombardier had the good taste to invite me to a flight around the south of England with the CS100 FTV5 on Sunday. It was with other media people, so I sat in one of the cabin seats of this comfortable and quiet airliner (I plan to improve on this going forward; the flight laws of this airliner are really interesting).

I tested also the Embraer E-jet E2 and Mitsubishi MRJ seat comfort in their cabin mock-ups later in the week (the first E190-E2 prototype has as usual no cabin, the MRJ prototypes stayed in Japan). The fact is that the narrowest seats for airliners between 80 and 220 seats will now be found on the Boeing 737 (17.3 inch) and Airbus A320 (18 inch). All these new regional aircraft have minimum 18.5 inch seats with broad aisles. The risk of the single aisle passenger experiencing a comfort downgrade when jumping on the mainline single aisle is real in the future.


Figure 2. The spacious and bright cabin of the CSeries FTV5. LNC photo from the Sunday trip boarding.

The pilot of the CSeries elected to demonstrate a London City Airport start when taking off from Farnborough. It was a brisk acceleration followed by a really steep climb from rotation (cool!). In all, a nice flight. Day events typically are followed by some OEM reception/dinner Sunday evening. This time we were invited to Embraer’s media dinner. Always a good opportunity to speak with their managers in a calm atmosphere.

Monday is the day the professional part of the air show starts. It’s the big announcement day. You run from briefing to briefing to catch the latest news on product announcements (the changed Boeing 737 MAX 7 was the news this year) and sales achievements. When evening come, one is really exhausted. Time to write about what was gathered during the day.

Tuesday is a bit of a repeat of Monday but there are some deeper sessions like the Boeing briefing on their development programs. This was the debut for their new VP for aircraft development, Mike Delaney. He made it really interesting by having more of a dialogue with the audience rather than a straight presentation. Delaney went through where Boeing is on their different programs and he did not shy away from discussions around what else they studied. It was well received. Tuesday afternoon one starts to look at the exhibition map, for targets for the next day’s non-booked hours.

I had a really early Wednesday start. I could spare an hour to go and fly the SAAB Gripen simulator at the SAAB pavillion. I was part of the team that created the first version of Gripen, both on the Air Force side and later with SAAB. But I did not stick around to fly the result. So it would be a first experience. I agreed with Richard Ljungberg, SAAB’s chief test pilot, that we would fly some fighter engagements. The big difference since I was active is the presentation to the pilot on what is going on around him.

Gripen C cockpit

Figure 3. Gripen simulator cockpit showing the present operational layout. The new Gripen E will have a wide-angle touch display like the JSF F-35. Source: SAAB

During my time with SAAB Draken, we were 60-80% occupied with flying the aircraft and handling the weapon system. The little that was left was for understanding if one was the hunter or the hunted. This has now reversed. The handling of the aircraft and the systems left two thirds of the intellectual capacity to study what was going on around one’s aircraft. Mine and my wingmen’s sensor findings were displayed/data-linked onto the situational displays (center and right in the cockpit). Hostile were yellow dots, determined through my radar warning receiver (the left display) or other data-linked intelligence. Those with friendly IFF response where green and there were few gray unknowns. Time to choose weapon and engagement strategy.

I will stop here as we write about civil transport aviation. Suffice to say it was an enjoyable hour with Richard. The Gripen is a fourth generation fighter but with a fifth generation pilot interaction. This is evident already in the tested operational C generation but is further improved in the new touch display E version that Sweden and Brazil have ordered.

The rest of Wednesday is for more deeper interviews. I deep dived into the up and coming EIS of the CSeries with Swiss, more about that next week.

Time to now pass the tier two of the OEMs. I had spotted where Russia’s United Aircraft was in the halls and set up a session in their MC-21 simulator for Thursday morning. I also passed COMAC’s stand and chalet. They seemed deserted. Finally i went to an interview with the President of the new owners to Antonov.

Thursday morning came with a really nice session in the MC-21 simulator, Figure 4. It was an exhibition simulator created by a separate team from the main MC-21 simulators so it lacked some finer details but was pretty complete. We had time for several take-offs and landings. The cockpit is nice and roomy, with an active BAe Systems side-stick and large displays. More on how the simulator flew in an article next week.


Figure 4. United Aircraft’s MC-21 fixed exhibition simulator with surround projection. LNC photo.

After the simulator session I went to talk to COMAC. Only a poor girl there answering that all persons i wanted to talk to went home Monday evening. I don’t understand that. All first tier OEM personnel stay to at least Wednesday evening, Airbus and Boeing still have key people present to Media Thursday. How can COMAC, who can’t be priority one for the world’s media people, just gives us Monday to talk to them? Guess they have some learning to do.

From Thursday evening the planned week is over. I have some time today (Friday) at the show. Time to search for some new stuff in the many halls.

5 Comments on “Bjorn’s corner: Farnborough week

  1. Thanks Bjorn, great stuff as usual.

    Is the cockpit of the Gripen as roomy as the Draken and how would you compare it, the latest F-16s?


    • The Gripen cockpit is a bit roomier than the Draken but most of all, the knobs and controls you need to use are all easy to reach. Most are throttle and stick controls (HOTAS). The Draken had several controls that were a bit awkward to reach. I have not been in an F16 cockpit, so I should not comment.

  2. Agreed, great information and sorry we won’t get in depth on the military side.

  3. I sat in the Gripen, F-35 and F16 cockpits a while back and thought the Gripen is relatively narrow, you’re surrounded by it.

    The F-35 situation awareness seems better, as well the wide angle displays.

    Still the Gripen proves a very well positioned aircraft at this stage. Affordable high tech and neutral compared to Typhoon, F35, Rafale, Mig35 and F16..

    The Saab sales / promotion team also proved vastly superior in friendliness & effectiveness over their LM collegues, but that’s a completely different story too.

    • Of these I have tested the F35 and the Gripen. The F35 is VAST, I have never been in such a large fighter cockpit. One has to consider that the cockpit cross section affects the supersonic drag (in subsonic aerodynamics a larger fuselage cross section is less critical if it’s correctly made with area ruling etc) and there is plenty of that for the F35.

      They are just completely different concepts. The F35 weighs empty what the Gripen weighs ready for combat, the engines have 43klbf vs 22klbs TO thrust, yet the flight performance is about the same.

      To get there you have to avoid every aspect of “nice to have”. The SAAB Viggen was build with nice to have dimensions (it has a roomy cockpit but not in the F35 class), it was to large for its performance, the learning result was the Gripen.

      Lastly the Gripen E (or NG as it was called) will have a wide angle display a la F35 instead of the three you see in the picture. The picture shows the present operational layout (which was the one I tested), the new E version will have further improved situational awareness and a wide angle touch enabled display.

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