Flight Line

Recollections and reflections — a seasoned reporter’s view of aviation history

Airshow venues don’t come much more historic than Le Bourget. The place has, one might say, a lot of bottle-age to it. There have been countless memorable shows there, featuring some of the greatest demonstration pilots of all time — and, it must be said, a degree of tragedy, too. And, as a show site, Le Bourget still has much going for it. Relatively near Paris city centre, it is well connected to a public transport system that actually works, there are plentiful exhibition halls, and the Musée de l’Air is situated right behind the exhibition areas. The French populace has always seemed that bit more air-minded than we Brits and ‘Mum, Dad and the kids’ were very much in evidence on the public days — Friday to Sunday — no doubt encouraged by an adult ticket price of just €17 (say, £16).

Held from 17-23 June, the 2019 edition, the 53rd Salon International de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace was dominated by the usual ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ order book announcements from Airbus and Boeing. Airbus had encountered, at least up to the eve of the show, a very subdued year for orders, while Boeing is currently suffering very public problems of its own with the 737 MAX. IAG, the parent of British Airways, gave Boeing the biggest fillip of the show by placing a letter of intent for 200 examples of the 737 MAX for delivery from 2023. This huge show of support (I wonder how much they got offthe list price?) was, however, tempered by the fact that the IAG statement completely omitted mention of the word ‘MAX’, instead referring to the aircraft as the 737-8 and 737-10. Unthinkable as it might be, is there a case for a subtle rebranding by Boeing when whatever changes may be required have been incorporated and certificated, and the aircraft is returned to service?

Flamant, Rafale and Falcon 8X cross Le Bourget’s runway 03/21 on Sunday to provide the backdrop to the‘homage to Serge Dassault’. See also page 120 for how La Ferté-Alais did it…

2019’s real news was dominated by UAVs and electricpowered aircraft. In the case of UAVs, the revolution is already here. As to electric-powered aircraft, they’re certainly coming but, like the Campbells, nobody’s quite sure if or when they are going to arrive. A truly futuristic all-electric Israeli design, seen at Le Bourget in not-yet-flying prototype form, was the Eviation Alice. This is a nine-passenger feederliner with V-tail, three pusher propellers and — joy of joys — a tailwheel undercarriage. Electric propulsion brings its own challenges and the need for ‘blue-sky’ thinking. Distributed propulsion and pusher propellers become viable, a light, composite airframe is a must, and the battery constitutes a very significant percentage of the aircraft’s all-up weight.

“Dassault parked a Flamant, a Rafale and a Falcon 8X nose-to-nose and unrolled a huge banner reading ‘Homage to Serge Dassault’”

In recent discussions of Farnborough’s decision to axe the public weekend from its 2020 and subsequent shows, comment was made that the Le Bourget organisers enforce an agreement wiThexhibitors that, ‘if the aircraft is here for the trade part of the show, it stays for the public weekend’. Even if that were the case in the past, it certainly did not hold this year, and many of the top-billed aircraft had departed by the Thursday. To their great credit, machinery from French manufacturers and Airbus — but few others — flew right through the show, but the Mitsubishi SpaceJet, the Embraer KC-390, the Pilatus PC-21 and PC-24, and even the Belgian Air Component’s solo F-16 made their exit long before it closed. In their place came warbirds. Many were examples that do not habitually frequent British displays, including Fouga Zéphyr F-AZPF, Dassault MD311 Flamant F-AZKT, Spitfire XVI SL721/OO-XVI and Fred Akary’s lovely Canadair F-86E, now the only flying Sabre in Europe.

In a nice piece of PR — and, indeed, as a genuinely nice gesture — on the final afternoon of the show Dassault Aviation parked a Flamant, a Rafale and a Falcon 8X nose-to-nose on the apron, added a number of happy, tea towel-waving employees and unrolled a huge banner reading ‘Homage to Serge Dassault’, as a tribute to the French manufacturer’s former chairman and chief executive. Out came the company photographer and publicity shots were taken but this event, staged in front of the GIFAS chalet, sadly took place totally out of public view. A missed opportunity.