08 August 2010

The sound of war (Farnborough: Part Four)

As a person who has never experienced actual battle in any way, shape or form, particularly an air raid, I don’t have a real appreciation of the sensory environment of modern (or for that matter ancient) warfare, particularly the noise.

The next aircraft adequately demonstrated that. The F-16. This was the third loudest aircraft of the day. I was standing near a hot dog vendor when this thing swooped over at high speed – and managed to set a car alarm off just by the sheer level of vibration.

It then proceeded to do the usual acrobatics. It’s worth pointing out that this aircraft is still in production for non-US customers and still operating in American service. While I don’t like single-engine fighters and the range isn’t brilliant, I can appreciate that it provides value for money. I wonder if the RAF ever seriously considered purchasing any (the idea gets mentioned in The Third World War).


Following this were the Army Historics. Three old Army Air Corp helicopters and a prop aircraft I can’t really identify. Helicopter construction has really come on apace since the Korean War; you can’t imagine any new military chopper with what is essentially scaffolding for a tail.

My camera battery was starting to run a bit low at this time, so I didn’t take any more photos for a while.

The “Red Devils” were next, an Army parachuting team that did a rather impressive display – I’ve never seen a real life parachute jump before and this was a bit of an experience for me. Probably something I wouldn’t want to do myself – the landing always looks a bit heavy and I don’t like unsupported heights.

Next up was the Great War collection, a collection of First World War era fighters from both sides that engaged in mock dogfights complete with trailing smoke and an interesting commentary over the top. With the number of surviving veterans from this period very close to zero, it’s a timely reminder of this very early period of air warfare.

The big rotary wing presence was the Chinook. I’ve seen these fly a few times in London; they have a distinctive sound due to their counter-rotating twin rotors. This demonstrated fast-roping insertion and casualty evacuation; both practices that it has to employ on a regular basis in the dusty environs of Afghanistan.  I didn’t get a brilliant view of this (I was heading somewhere else, mainly somewhere where I wouldn’t need ear plugs for the F/A-18); but impressive nonetheless.

Then came the Super Hornet. The flight deck of a carrier must be a very noisy environment; I felt actual vibrations in my chest when this thing took off. I was right up next to the flight line, but this was half-way down the runway and it was still cover the ears loud.

Then we took a step back in time to the Battle of Britain, 70 years ago this year. A Hurricane was first up; these aircraft primarily went after the bombers in the Battle while the Spits took care of the escorting fighters. It probably brought memories for the oldest people there; who saw these aircraft fighting in this area in 1940 – remember that Farnborough was a long-standing testing base as well.

Then we had a Spitfire and an Me-109 doing formation flying. The Me-109 wasn’t a Second World War veteran, but rather a Spanish example that was used in the Battle of Britain movie. They made interesting companions; two of the key opposing aircraft of the war flying side by side.

Then came the Battle of Britain Memorial flight, including a Lancaster, a Spitfire and a Hurricane. I was in the Diamond Paddock for this; the aircraft flew all around the arena and did level flights over the crowd; the only aircraft that did any crowd over flight at all. There was some turning and climbing, but not a huge amount – the programme pointed out that this are planes you don’t take risks with.


Then we had something nice and modern; the Eurofighter Typhoon. Now this was another loud one, but not too loud. I’m a Typhoon fan; the aircraft is unfairly maligned as a Cold War relic when it’s better than the F-35 in some missions.

This thing, a BAE test plane, was apparently fully loaded for a combat mission – it does a short (400 metre or so) take off and goes pretty much to 70 degrees climb straight off the runway! Then the pilot hurls around like it’s a much lighter aircraft, with burner on throughout and making a fair amount of noise. Seriously, that is an agile aircraft.

Following the Typhoon’s short display, I had fish and chips for dinner – it was early, but I wanted to keep an eye on the display at 4.30pm and I couldn’t do that while eating. Good fish and chips by the way; even if a bit hard to eat (you can’t really eat cod with a chip fork).

Yep, the Red Arrows; the RAF’s display team. They did a full half-hour display in their Hawk trainer jets, including all the classic moves, with a useful commentary and cockpit radio provided as well. Red, white and blue smoke was prominent; the display ended with a staggered peel-off for the final approach and landing to ensure a safe separation. Very impressive.

I started to make my way towards the exit; I suspected it was going to a long time to get out of this place. As I made my way through, an RAF King Air did a display to the tune of “Mister Blue Sky”. Not too impressed with that personally.

I was halfway to the exit when the Vulcan was ready. My binoculars certainly got a lot of use here.


The four Olympus engines that powered this made a very loud noise on take-off, nearly F/A-18 loud and I was further away! If you lived near one of the Strike Command bases and you heard a lot of those take-off, you’d know that the Third World War had started.

The display was graceful and elegant, showing the agility of what was a strategic bomber design. Winters didn’t barrel roll it (that has been done on a Vulcan), but he certainly flew it like a fighter.

It landed and that point I made the long journey to the exit; having to queue for a bus back to North Camp and my journey home.

The sunburn may have gone, but the memories won’t – it was a great day out.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That was quite a fascinating account. Thanks for that.
Sad the camera battery was failing for pix.
All the Best