From Flying Saucers to a Tea Party (or Farnborough, 1959)

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The S.B.A.C. Flying Display was first held in 1932, and this year’s was the 20th show. The spirit of the show has remained much the same, but the characters taking part have changed considerably.

We still had the individual displays of flying skill, and the Services still supply an awe-inspiring spectacle of formation flying. But who would have thought that the flying saucer of “Salad Days” would ever be more than a piece of theatrical fantasy? Yet this year the Saunders-Roe Hovercraft has slid right into the limelight, despite the fact that it is not an aeroplane at all. There are several interesting development ideas for the S.R.N.1, including a 100-m.p.h. Cross-Channel Ferry for 300 passengers and a 400-ton freighter to carry 160 tons at about 120 m.p.h. All this at about the cost of a sea-passage. We may not need the Channel Tunnel after all, especially if there is to be a speed limit as in the Mersey Tunnel!

The two R.A.F. Jet Provosts gave a skilful display of “mirror-image” aerobatics which included 360-degree flick-rolls at the tops of loops. This acrobatic is apparently no longer frowned upon in the R.A.F., but let us not try it in Tiger Moths!

It must be very difficult to think of new manoeuvres for the formation teams. The smoke trails seen this year were not new, but the black Hunters of 111 Squadron made very impressive use of them. The Navy introduced a very difficult manoeuvre when they performed the “Twinkle Roll.” This involves four aircraft flying in box formation which each simultaneously do a slow roll. It is difficult enough to do a perfect roll, but to do this in close formation, without being able to see the other aircraft for the majority of the time (as is the case for the two wing men) is really remarkable. As far as the piston-engined pilots are concerned I should think this is best left as a twinkle in the jet-pilot’s eye.

Among the old-timers, Ronald Porteous was up to his usual tricks in the Auster Aiglet, and the ubiquitous Canberra was making its eleventh Farnborough appearance. The Comet made its usual elegant appearance, this time as the Mk.4B. Following its graceful fly-pasts it made an impressively short landing using reversible thrust in its two outboard Avons.

I was sorry not to see some more aerobatics from the V-bombers this year. The Vulcan’s slow roll last year was worth more than any number of fast or slow fly-pasts. However, the Conway-engined Vulcan gave a demonstration of the enormous power of these by-pass jets which I would think would enable it to do a vertical roll with ease! Perhaps this is being saved for next year.

Two new jet trainers appeared this year — the Follant Gnat and the English Electric P.11 (or is it the T.4, as shown on the side of the aircraft?). Neither of these trainers has lost much of the performance of its single-seater counterpart, and the P.11 could be developed into a fully operational machine. The single-seater Gnat burst a tyre on landing, scattering rubber all over the runway, but all was well. Later in the programme there was a “moment” when the landing parachute of the P.11 disintegrated right in front of me. I wondered if it would open up and go round again, but it did not, and there followed some tense,moments as it approached the end of the runway weaving from side to side, and finished up facing the centre line. However, once again all was well and the P.11 taxied back to the park under its own steam (or should I say hot air?). Incidentally, I expect the pilot of the P.11 wished that he had had his “bone dome” on, even though it was so hot!

The helicopters gave their usual tea-party display, effectively illustrating their extreme manoeuvrability at low altitudes. The Fairey Rotodyne, vertical-take-off airliner, flew around with a coach-load of nurses on board. I am not quite sure what was going on up there but they all ran for their lives as soon as it landed!

The most impressive smoke trail of the day was that left by the Hunter 66A while performing about a dozen turns of a spin a remarkable feat for an aircraft of this type.

To sum up, the impressions that I shall carry away of this year’s show are of the impeccable station keeping of the R.A.F. Hunter formation, the Navy’s “Twinkle Roll,” the corkscrew spiral of smoke following the spinning Hunter and the enormous power of the Conway Vulcan. Oh yes, and I believe there were some Guided Missiles there somewhere! — A.B.