Farnborough: big orders and a vision of the future

The biennial Farnborough Air Show began yesterday with a flurry of orders for the rival aircraft makers Boeing and Airbus.

Hot on the heels of the widely publicised UK debut of its much-delayed 787 Dreamliner at the weekend, Boeing announced a $9.1bn (£6bn) order for 30 777-300ERs from Emirates Airlines. GE Capital Aviation Services (GECAS), GE's leasing and financing arm, has also ordered 40 737-800s from the US aircraft giant, at a list price of $3bn (£2bn).

Jim Albaugh, the Boeing chief executive, said that despite continued economic uncertainties, the outlook for the recession-battered aircraft market is positive.

Last week the company's most recent market outlook predicted a $3.5 trillion (£2.3trillion) market for new commercial planes over the next 20 years, with carriers ordering more than 30,000 new passenger aircraft and 740 freighters by 2029. "The market is clearly coming back and I feel very confident about how we are positioned to regain and retain leadership in this business," Mr Albaugh said.

Emirates' big Boeing order comes just weeks after the Dubai-based carrier made the record books for the biggest recorded single civil-aircraft order, with a $11bn (£7.2bn) contract for rival Airbus A380 "superjumbos". Not to be outdone by Boeing, Airbus also had orders of its own to announce yesterday. The US group Air Lease Corporation is to spend $4.4bn (£2.9bn) on 51 A320s, the Russian flagcarrier Aeroflot is buying 11 A330-300s, and GECAS has signed a firm order for 60 more A320s, taking the leasing group's order backlog to 99.

Both companies have new aircraft on show at Farnborough this year. Boeing's major focus is the lean, green Dreamliner. The hi-tech composite plane is scheduled for its first deliveries this year. But it is already two years late, and it will not be flying at the air show. Boeing is also showing its Phantom Eye hydrogen-powered spy plane, an unmanned craft which can fly at up to 65,000 feet for four days straight.

Airbus's A350 XWB, which will compete directly with the Dreamliner, is also on display. But it is at a much earlier stage of development and will not fly until 2013.

For Airbus, the bigger draw is the A400M military transporter. It too has never been seen in the UK before its arrival last Friday. And it is also several years late and several billions of euros over budget. As recently as January, the A400M's future was uncertain. Airbus's chief executive Tom Enders threatened to pull the plug on the programme if the seven governments scheduled to buy the planes refused to play their part in defraying over-running development costs. A tentative deal was reached in March, but the details are still being worked out with the governments.

Airbus also injected an element of science fiction to yesterday's proceedings, revealing its vision of air transport in 2050. Rapid advancements in materials technology, aerodynamics and engine design make for ultra-long, slim winged, super-green aircraft, with U-shaped tails and "intelligent" systems such as morphing, self-cleaning seats and see-through walls offering a 360-degree view.

Meanwhile, the US defence group Raytheon unveiled an anti-aircraft laser with a 50 kilowatt beam that can bring down unmanned drones, mortars and rockets, or even ships.

Supersonic Bloodhound car 'to break 1,000mph barrier'

One of the Farnborough International Air Show's wildest propositions is the Bloodhound SuperSonic car, unveiled for the first time yesterday after three years of aerodynamic research.

The 42ft, full-size, fibre-glass prototype reveals the super-slick shape that the design team believes will enable the car to hit 1,000 miles per hour, boosted by Eurofighter Typoon jet engines.

The construction of the rear portion of the car by aerospace group Hampson Industries is to go ahead next year. And a separate contract to build the nose is imminent.

If speed tests on a British runway next year go according to plan, the Bloodhound will go to the Hakskeen Pan dried-up lake bed in South Africa to try to break the world land-speed record, which stands at 763 mph.

The design of the back of the vehicle is crucial to avoid dangerous "lift" at high speeds and to manage the sonic boom shockwave. The Bloodhound SuperSonic is also being used to help to inspire children to study science, maths and engineering.

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