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It is perhaps surprising that despite how long we've lived in the area, we've never previously visited the Farnborough International Airshow. Of course, we've seen the planes performing in the skies but that's not quite the same as seeing the whole show from a position of advantage. So, since my beloved was thinking about what to get me as a suitable present, the chance of tickets for the public days at the weekend that ends the show was an opportunity not to be missed.
In fact we had upgrade tickets which would allow us access to the grandstand and the best view of all of the various air displays, which are the main feature of the public days. We did spend some considerable time there and the improved view it offered undoubtedly justified the cost. The basic ground entrance tickets were £25 this year and the upgrade, £12. This includes car parking and the shuttle buses to and from the airfield.
We did arrive by car and got directed through the temporary one-way system that is imposed on Farnborough and Aldershot during the show. We were eventually directed to the Rushmore Arena field. From there we decided to walk to the ground as it was only about 15 to 20 minutes away; it probably have taken us that long just to wait for a bus.
Farnborough Airport is, at all other times, a local business flight destination, mostly for small private jets. The airport has had a massive amount of investment in recent years, with the resultant increase not just in local employment but also in flights in and out of the airport. This has been a matter of considerable concern to local residents, who are understandably disturbed by the level of noise. Applications to increase the number of permitted flights by as much as 50% have been fiercely opposed.
However, the noise levels during the show are an order of magnitude louder than anything experienced during normal operation, especially when planes such as the Typhoon are putting on a show. However, there is a large degree of good-will because of the benefit to the area and the fact that the show is only held once every two years.
The show is essentially a trade show and so the public don't get access during the week preceding the public days. However, the trade halls are still there so if you are a real aeroplane enthusiast then you can wander around the hundreds of booths where companies you and I (well, I anyway) have never heard of, along with those everyone has (Boeing, Airbus, Rolls Royce...), where they will probably be more than happy to talk to you simply to alleviate the boredom!
If you're taking kids with you then in order to alleviate their boredom there is a travelling fairground with all sorts of attractions to brighten up their day, until the displays. Around and about all over the site you will find food booths, offering everything from burgers, through fish and chips to Cornish pasties and lots more besides. Drink is on offer and I even found one bar that was offering a halfway decent drop of Adnams Bitter.
There is as well, a "proper" restaurant, the ironically named Skyview. It was perched on top of one of the trade halls and, from this position you could, perhaps, have expected to have had a prime view of the air displays whilst you enjoyed your lunch. Not so! The sky was just about all you could see since another trade marquee was located right in front of it and obscured the view of the runway!
As it was my beloved's treat, she decided we would eat there at around 1.30pm, during a lull in the displays, which start at midday and continue all afternoon. We still did miss a few displays, of the US F16 and F18 fighters; we heard them but didn't see much of them, even from the balcony. The meal, however, was excellent. On the public days they charge £40 for a four course meal whilst during the trade days the same costs £60! Clearly trade visitors are expected to have generous expense accounts! I had sea bass, which tasted superb and my wife had the roast beef salad, which she declared cooked to perfection. The dessert of three different selections could be followed by a selection of sweets and/or cheeses from a buffet. We accompanied the meal with an excellent South African Robertsons Sauvignon Blanc at £24.
Before we went to enjoy our lunch we took our places in the grandstand to watch the world-famous Red Arrows do their stuff. This year is the first during which a female pilot has joined this brilliant team and she was part of the display we watched. The Red Arrows formation consists of nine planes although twelve are brought to the show so as to allow for any eventualities. The display was outstanding and was accompanied by a commentary by one of the non-flying team and also the radio chatter between the pilots, which often amused.
The return to the grandstand after lunch was a walk of around half a mile and took around half an hour, wending our way through the crowds and taking advantage of passing through the standing displays of aircraft old and new. Of course, you can't actually get into any of them. On display were planes as divers as the Airbus A380 and the iconic WWII Spitfire, of which there were actually three and Hurricane. There was also an Me109 and the only still airworthy Lancaster. All could be examined at quite close quarters and all were destined later to fly. Sadly the Vulcan had a brake fault and so didn't fly though had been scheduled so to do.
Eventually, getting back to our seats, we were just in time to watch the "dogfight" between the Me109 and the Spitfires and Hurricane. Surely the Spitfire has to be the most beautiful plane ever to fly although, admittedly, the Hurricane was actually marginally the better plane of the two. Just hearing the unforgettable thunder of the Rolls Royce Merlin engines brings a shiver to your spine. And then, the Lancaster, with four of them!
The displays continued all afternoon and included a flight by the Airbus A380. What astounded everyone about the A380 was how quiet it was. The pilot was clearly not holding back, judged by the steepness of the climb from the runway. It even took less of a distance to take off than many of the other planes on display! If the local residents are concerned about aircraft noise during normal operations then, judged by the A380, noise should not continue to be a serious issue in years to come.
We departed at around 6.30pm and walked back to our car. We started off, joined the queue to exit the car park, stopped and waited, and waited, and waited... Nothing moved. Fortunately I guessed that if I followed a track through the trees which we had followed walking to the airfield, I would probably be able to get out onto the road and avoid the traffic jam. It proved to be a wise choice and within ten minutes we were on our way home. I dread to think how long those who didn't had to wait: it could have been hours!
We both enjoyed our day out and will probably go again in years to come. Compared with the entertainment we enjoyed, the cost wasn't extravagant. If you had eaten at one of the fast-food booths and didn't pay the upgrade for the grandstand but simply watched from the various areas around the site, it would have been quite a reasonable cost. It's a pity that the view from the restaurant is so poor, particularly as you either have to eat very early or else accept that you will miss some of the displays. However, simply to be able to see such wonderful planes up close and personal is an experience not to be missed.