Thirty Years of Farnborough Air Shows

By Ray Peterson, Forecast International

I first visited the Farnborough Air Show 30 years ago and, after covering the various aircraft programs for more than three decades, I can justifiably say that I’ve seen them come and I’ve seen them go.


A big attraction at the 1984 show was the Northrop F-20 Tigershark, which evolved out of the company’s F-5E Tiger II. The Tigershark was built as a relatively inexpensive export fighter, and only three prototypes were built before Northrop canceled the program in 1986.

Also making an appearance 30 years ago was the British Aerospace 146-100 regional aircraft, which first flew in 1981. Dubbed “the world’s quietest jetliner” at that time, it made a discreet pass by the viewing area. You could say that today about the four-engine A380 – the engine technology has come that far. The BAe 146 was superseded by the Avro RJ in 1993.

In contrast to the unobtrusive BAe 146 that year was the U.S. Air Force’s EF-111, whose twin Pratt & Whitney TF30 engines briefly stopped shoptalk within the halls during its demonstration. The EF-111A, or “Spark Vark,” was retired in 1998.

A memorable incident in 1984 involved a de Havilland Canada twin-turboprop DHC-5 Buffalo. During the first day’s flying display, the Buffalo’s pilot was taking part in a STOL demonstration when he came in too hard on a rather short landing and destroyed the aircraft. Fortunately, no one was injured and the flight demonstrations resumed shortly after.

Then as now, show organizers were a helpful lot. When a co-worker of mine politely asked one of the women working in the press center if she would retype his hand-written notes, not only did she comply without hesitation, but she then agreed to send the message to the States, no charge, by teletype (that’s right, teletype!). Pardon me for stating the obvious, but a lot has happened in three decades!