Of the CAS Air Power Conference, RIAT, Farnborough and Mahatma Gandhi

Ahead of attending the CAS Air Power Conference, the Royal International Air Tattoo and the Farnborough International Air Show over the following eight days this will be the last commentary from me until Thursday of next week.

True I think to say that July is in the UK a time when the most important air show and military conference events take place. I am not forgetting the hugely important bi-annual DSEi (Defence Security and Equipment International) show but for the most part the majority of military and industry events take place before the reporting season and summer holidays start.

Last weekend I was honoured to be a guest at RAF Waddington for what was to be an excellent day that for me was made even better by a formidable flying display of preserved Hawker Hunters, BAC Canberra, Avro Vulcan, RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Spitfires and the Avro Lancaster together with the superb Red Arrows, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16 and Boeing F/A 18. All gave absolutely terrific displays but if I had been asked to give a prize this year it would have been to present equal firsts to the remarkable displays given by the RAF Chinook helicopter, the Dutch owned and preserved Hawker Hunter and of course, the Avro Vulcan.

Networking is an important part of airshow events for business professionals, military and professional alike. The Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force all hold their respective conference events during late June and July and today it is the turn of Royal Air Force to discuss and debate the various elements and issues that relate to air power. Attended by senior military, politicians, industry and a great many senior members of foreign air forces the CAS Air Power Conference is for me perhaps the most important conference event that I attend.

Over its three days, two of which are open to the public, the Royal International Air Tattoo which is held each year at RAF Fairford in the heart of Gloucestershire and where air traffic restrictions in term of how aircraft can perform in displays is much less aggressive than Farnborough is a hugely important event on the calendar for military, political and defence industry professionals. Attended this year by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, RIAT not only brings the concept of military aircraft and air power alive to those that attend; it also, through features such as the Techno Zone, an interactive area sponsored by Lockheed Martin, attempts to bring engineering and technology to life in the hope of attracting more youngsters to become engineers. Skills, skill shortages and skills retention in the aerospace industry are a hugely important issue for military and industry alike.

Gaining its ‘Royal’ title in 1996 ‘RIAT’ is run and staged by the Royal Air Force Charitable Trust. It is a show that has evolved over many years and it is recognised by military and industry professionals not only as a pleasure to attend but also one of the most important events on the calendar. Having stood down after many years as Chairman and President of RIAT last year Air Chief Marshal Sir John Cheshire who I have had the great pleasure of knowing for many years has handed over Air Marshal Sir Kevin Leeson.

The hope is that apart from a great many military aircraft displays this years’ RIAT displays will see the first Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning ll aircraft demonstrate its prowess. At this stage there remains a degree of uncertainty but as an eternal optimist and strong believer that where there is a will there is a way I suspect that we will see the aircraft display at some stage of the event.

RIAT is to me a spectacular event and hugely important event in my calendar and one that I would not miss for the world. Unlike DSEi, the single most important trade show for the defence industry that is held every two years in London, RIAT is certainly not a trade show. It is though a great networking event and one that those who participate can relax, enjoy and make contact with the people that matter to them, listen to views for the most senior Royal Air Force members, make new contacts and meet up with military and industry friends.

As I mentioned in an earlier commentary piece, I suspect that when it comes to networking, when it comes to the potential to meet with customer and competitor alike, when it comes to talking about new ideas and to forging potential new partnerships and alliances, when it comes to meeting with suppliers and would-be suppliers and press and media there is in this industry nothing to beat Farnborough. The Paris Air Show and Farnborough International Air Show events alternate each year and despite competition from a great many newer air shows around the world including Dubai, Singapore and Berlin they remain the most important global air show events.

As my good friend Ben Griffiths in the Daily Mail quoted me saying of the Farnborough Air Show this morning “the more important point is that not to be there can be both costly and potentially embarrassing. Be in no doubt that from a trade, political and visiting military delegation perspective Farnborough 2014 will attract all those that need to be there”.

With increased investment, fantastic debut aircraft such as the Airbus A350 and the Boeing P-8 Poseidon which the company hopes might eventually fill the crucial gap left in UK maritime patrol capability following the arguably dangerous decision to scrap Nimrod MRA4 in SDSR 2010 are two new aircraft that will feature.

At Farnborough Boeing will showcase 787-9, an extended derivative version of the Dreamliner as a static display along with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet which will delight us with its usual fantastic display in the air. Eurofighter Typhoon and the BAE Hawk T-2 will be well represented and hopefully, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for which British based companies contribute 15% of each aircraft in terms of manufacturing content will make its flying debut at this years’ show too. Whatever, the flying display should be much better than it was two years ago and there will be plenty to hold the attendant military delegations interest during the trade days.

Meanwhile, apart from showing the new Airbus A350 to the world for the first time Airbus will be briefing on its new generation Pratt & Whitney PW1100G- powered version of the A320neo which is due to fly for the first time in September. The superb A380 which is always a delight to watch will also make flight demonstrations and in terms of military the A400M will always be busy in the air.

The Exhibition Halls will be fuller than ever with thousands of large, medium and small enterprises showing off their respective products, processes and services. Regional trade associations are well represented and talking of skills one area that I would highlight is the ‘Schools Build a Plane Challenge’. Together with the Royal Aeronautical Society, Boeing will once again present an airplane built by students from the “Schools Build a Plane Challenge” which is an initiative aimed to provide young people in UK secondary schools with the opportunity to learn new skills through the building of an operational light aircraft from a kit. I understand that two aircraft constructed by students from Yateley School which is located close to Farnborough and from Marling School in Gloucestershire are scheduled to participate in the flying display on Futures Day which is on Friday, July 18. They will remain on static display for the following Saturday and Sunday public days.

Big air shows tend to be dominated in press and media eyes by order announcements for planes. There will no doubt be many of these and Airbus and Boeing will lead. ATR, Bombardier, Embraer, Gulfstream, Hawker Beechcraft, AgustaWestland, Alenia and a host of others will be hoping to announce orders as well so keep your ears to the ground and eyes wide open. The larger aerospace and defence primes such as Boeing, Airbus, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Thales, Finmeccanica, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, MBDA and others will be giving various presentations for press and media and these are not to be missed. Look out for other interesting companies as well such as Marshalls, Martin Baker, Selex and the huge number of small and medium sized enterprises that air forces around the world and the larger industry players rely on.

Senior politicians will attend Farnborough as usual this time and it is this aspect that to me is so hugely important. The Farnborough Air Show is after all In terms of the first five trade as opposed to public days an aerospace industry trade show and a very important one at that. This year will see some very important announcements made in relation to the Defence Growth Partnership and as to the forward strategy now that industry and government have agreed on the path forward. Make no mistake, the success of the Defence Growth Partnership is crucial to the UK’s continuing involvement and strength in the defence industry. Amongst many issues of concern it will address future markets, technology, research and development and exports. Moreover it will attempt to address the issue of skill shortage, skills retention and urgent the need to create more engineers. The Aerospace Growth Partnership is already proving its worth and even if the Defence Growth Partnership achieves half of what it has set out to do it will be seen as being extremely worthy of the effort put in my industry and government.

And Finally:

Mahatma Gandhi – Power Without Sword

The decision to erect a statue of Mahatma Gandhi, founder of the modern state of India, opposite the Palace of Westminster is in this troubled world the most pleasing news that I have heard this year. Placing a statue of Gandhi not very far away from that of Sir Winston Churchill, with whom ‘Bapu’ had many a battle, and closer still to that of Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela is perfect recognition of Gandhi’s huge importance in the history of relationship between India and the United Kingdom. The hope is that this will cement a new period of friendship between India and ourselves and so it should. It is in my view perfect recognition of the strong links that have always existed between us and I hope, always will exist between the world’s oldest and largest democracies.

Whether as politician, patriot, philosopher, peace-maker, diplomat, agitator, internationalist or prisoner Gandhi was rare amongst men. Assassinated by the bullet of a madman in January 1948 just a year after India finally gained independence from Britain I suspect that when one examines the history attached to Mahatma Gandhi deeply it is easy to become confused. The ends to him were politics which in turn equalled faith plus expediency. I well recall the late James Cameron describing Gandhi, who he knew very well, in terms of scrupulous personal honesty to the point that even when fasting he could become self-indulgent. Gandhi not only ‘freed’ India but moreover he ‘united’ the nation and for that he is will be held in universal acclaim for all time. He was and will remain the true symbol of India. Who that have studied Indian history can forget the immortal words of eulogy uttered by a shocked Pandit Jawaharial Nehru, friend of ‘Bapu’ and then leader of India, as he told the nations then three hundred million people that “the light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere”.


CHW (London 9th January 2014)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710 779785

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