There was much excitement and anticipation at Farnborough around Boeing Commercial’s return to the air-display circuit after almost three decades. And rightly so, as Capts Mike Bryan and Randy Neville flew excellent displays with the Qatar Airways 787 that – dare I say – upstaged the superb manoeuvres we’ve all got accustomed to from Airbus at all the major air shows.
Boeing has consciously abstained from air-show display flying since the mid-1980s. Perhaps it was realising it couldn’t compete with its rival after seeing Airbus steal the show at Farnborough 1986 with that impressive display by the A300 fly-by-wire demonstrator.
I remember watching Airbus test pilot Gordon Corps fly that big twinjet at what at the time seemed like ludicrously high attitudes and slow speeds (above), and wondering when it would drop out of the sky. This routine would of course become the norm for Airbus’s air-show display flying once the FBW A320 arrived the following year at Le Bourget.
Two years prior to that Farnborough A300 FBW demo, I saw Boeing’s 737-300 demonstrator (above) fly in the display there – that 1984 appearance marked the new CFM56-powered twinjet’s UK debut. Little did I know that it would be another 28 years before I saw a Boeing airliner displaying!
The story goes that Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told his friends in Seattle that his first 787 would be at this year’s Farnborough and he wanted it to be displayed. “Boeing airliners don’t fly air displays” was the response, which was clearly the wrong answer.
But Al Baker doesn’t give up easily, and when Boeing couldn’t find any compelling reason not to participate, it relented to its customer’s demands. And what it created was a truly entertaining display for a big jet which includes a 70 degree/2g turn, touch-and-go and down-wind landing.