Defying the Ground
Thomas Jones · The Farnborough Airshow
At some point in the early 1980s the father of one of my friends took a small gang of us to the Farnborough Airshow. I don't remember much about it, apart from a vague sense of the thrill of seeing the actual-size, actually flying originals of the shakily-painted plastic models of Second World War planes, pocked with dried glue, that hung from strings sellotaped to my bedroom ceiling and occasionally fell to the carpet with a feeble rip, crack and splinter in the middle of the night. (At around that time I read a wonderful children's book, title and author now forgotten, in which the narrative – and the young hero's world – shifted in a dreamlike way between the Second World War and the present. At one point the boy in the novel found himself flying one of his model planes over Nazi Germany, and couldn't drop the bombs because he'd stuffed them in with too much glue instead of making the plane properly. I could really relate to that.)
I was too young to realise that the flying display and other attractions laid on for the general public over the closing weekend at Farnborough – 'kids go free', thanks to Rolls-Royce; give me a child before he is seven etc – are just window-dressing for the serious business of the Airshow, which is about flogging planes. And business this year has been surprisingly good: more than $28 billion of orders placed so far; one of the cash happy customers is the Royal Bank of Scotland, all bailed out and ready for take off, which is spending a prudent $8 billion on a new fleet of private jets (sorry, 'family aircraft'). Financial crisis? Climate change? Tens of thousands killed in Afghanistan? Huh? Just watch those anti-aircraft laser guns go!