Howard Gethin and Allan Winn/LONDON

The 24 October 1908 edition of The Automotor Journal (which was shortly afterwards to spin off its "Aeronautics" pages as the world's first aeronautical weekly, Flight), was less than flattering in reporting the first true flight of a heavier-than-air aircraft on British soil. The credit goes to Samuel Cody none the less, and the honour of being that piece of British soil belongs to Laffan's Plain, adjacent to the site of the Farnborough '98 show.


"Patience has hardly met with its promised reward in the case of the British Army aeroplane, whose constructors have been so diligent about making haste slowly since the machine has been sufficiently complete to be taken out of doors. All the experiments hitherto have consisted of trial runs along the ground and on the very first occasion that a flight was attempted a rather serious accident brought the effort to a premature conclusion, and stopped further progress for some little time.

Early on Friday morning, the 16th of October, Mr Cody took the machine out with the intention of making an actual flight, and starting against a ten-mile breeze, the elevating plane was lifted when a speed of about thirty miles an hour had been attained. Immediately the aeroplane rose from the ground, and flew steadily onwards through the air, but when an attempt to turn was made in order to avoid some trees in the line of flight, the machine lost equilibrium and crashed heavily to the ground upon its left wing.

The cause of the mishap, according to Mr Cody, who was unhurt as the result of his 20 ft fall, was due solely to his mishandling of the rudder, and he considers that the flight, which lasted 27 seconds, was "an astonishing success."

Twice, he says, he was able to make the machine rise to a height of 40 ft and descend again to an altitude of 20 ft, and prior to the accident he had been able to make one complete left hand turn at a height of 30 ft.

In six weeks time when the aeroplane is expected to have been repaired, Mr Cody is reported to have said that he guarantees to fly "for one hour on one day and for three hours on the next" for so far as he is concerned he considers that the secret of flight is solved."

Cody did indeed fly the British Army aeroplane, in various forms, again for long periods, and also succeeded in surviving a further series of crashes in the aircraft. In 1910 he won the British Empire Michelin Trophy and set new British endurance and distance records.


The 1948 show of then Society of British Aircraft Constructors (SBAC) marked two very important changes in its well-established event. The public were admitted for the first time, and the location was moved to the government's Farnborough airfield from the Handley Page site at Radlett, Hertfordshire.

Star attractions at that first Farnborough show included the unique jet-powered flying-boat fighter, the Saunders Roe SRA/1, which made inverted runs at remarkably low level, and Armstrong Whitworth's AW52 flying wing - the next aircraft of such a configuration to appear at the show would be the Northrop B-2 in 1996.

For the superstitious, the thirteenth SBAC show in 1952 proved unlucky. The prototype DH.110 broke up during one of its low passes, and one of the engines spun into the crowd killing 29 people and injuring 60 others. The show featured the Bristol 175 airliner, which became the Britannia. It was instantly dubbed "The Whispering Giant"after droning quietly past admiring spectators.

In the late 1940s and the 1950s, the show played host to innumerable one-offs and prototypes, ranging from the gargantuan (Bristol's Brabazon and the equally doomed Saunders Roe Princess flying boat) to one of aviation's great missed opportunities (or perhaps blind alleys), the Fairey Rotodyne compound helicopter, graced the 1958 show, climbing vertically to 1,000ft (300m) before transitioning to forward flight and accelerating to no less than 160kt (295km/h). Another rotary never-was at that show was Westland's Westminster, with a silhouette strikingly prophetic of Sikorsky's later Black Hawk.

Despite the infamous Defence Review of 1957 under which most British manned combat aircraft projects were cancelled, the industry survived and the 1962 show saw the first appearance of the Hawker P.1127, the ancestor of the Harrier family that would still be in production 36 years on. That year, incidentally, marked the move to a biennial show, the exhibitors having finally baulked at the cost of mounting such a major event every year.

Another innovation was the admission of foreign aircraft in 1968, if they were sponsored by an SBAC member and had major British components. The first two foreign aircraft to arrive under this ruling were the Aermacchi MB326 and Japan's NAMC YS-11.

The BAC/Aerospatiale Concorde made its first appearance at the 1970 show, Brian Trubshaw and John Cochrane dazzling the crowd with a flypast but not landing. Despite its failing to sell in big numbers, the Concorde has gone on pleasing the crowds at every show since. The Concorde was one of the first flowerings of a change in the industry, away from single-manufacturer offerings to aircraft and engines built by multi-company (and often multinational) joint ventures, making the show perforce an international one rather than just a showcase for British industry.

For instance, the 1980 show marked the first appearance of the Panavia Tornado, which in that year cost £8 million a copy. In 1996, it was the turn of the much-touted but hitherto-invisible Eurofighter, due to return this year with a full display routine.

Farnborough has been, despite the well-publicised exceptions, a remarkably safe show over the years, but there have been some noteworthy incidents. A memorable, but fortunately not fatal crash, made the headlines in 1984, when a DHC Buffalo made a short landing that ended up rather shorter than intended, tearing off one wing and causing a brief flash fire. Some of the more spectacular flying display routines have, however, raised eyebrows - perhaps none more so than Roly Falk's rolling of the Avro Vulcan straight after take-off in 1955. Over the years, too, there have been spectacular formation aerobatics by home teams such as the Black (Hawker Hunters) and Red Arrows (BAe Hawks).

In 1988, glasnost came to Farnborough in the form of the striking MiG-29, which completely stole the show with its astounding manouevrability and stunning tail slides. This was only topped in 1996, when Sukhoi's thrust vectored Su-37 performed complete rotations in forward flight. The Russians also managed to recollect the earlier giants by bringing first their Antonov An-124 - then the world's largest aircraft - and in 1990 the ultimate, the six-engined An-224.

With all these changes, some things have stayed remarkably constant over the years - perhaps none more so than the unpredictable September weather, which has blighted so many flying displays but unexpectedly brightened almost as many. Perhaps that will change when Farnborough moves in 2000 from its established slot in the calendar, to July.

Source: Flight International