Farnborough Grammar School

Prospect Avenue, Farnborough, Hampshire

Telephone : Farnborough 539

The Farnborough Airshow, Hampshire

By Paul Lamont : F.G.S. 1958-1964


An integral part of CJS and F.G.S. life was the annual Farnborough Air Show, in early September (can’t remember if it was before term start). This was heaven for all boys, like me, who wanted to grow up to be fighter pilots. All it took for a small boy to be a supersonic aeroplane was to run around with his arms straight behind at 45°! As I lived in Fleet Road, Cove, the main Waterloo to Southampton rail track was at the bottom of our garden. For some reason I thought it was a good idea to get a flattened penny by sneaking through the wire fence, putting it on the main line just before an express train passed, unfortunately I never got one. I assume now, because the train wheel was like a big tiddlywink and it got flipped, God knows where, I gave up after losing four pence. Being that close to the power of steam thundering by and all the air activity I was consequently torn between fighter pilot and steam train engine driver.

For the Air Show Week we had free seats for the air displays and the anticipation of seeing the elusive Bournemouth Belle steam trains. The highlight of the air display being the aerobatic team (forerunners of the Red Arrows) doing a “finale bomb burst” with one of the jets coming straight at us, very low, just above the plantation trees.

The Air Shows had started in 1948 (as I was only two and only just arrived in Cove the aircraft noise and fumes must have permeated into me at that early age). It was an exciting time seeing and hearing Hurricane replaced by Hunter; Spitfire by Swift; Lancaster by Vulcan; Wellington by Valiant; Halifax by Victor! Not sure about the predecessors of the Gloster Meteor and Javelin, English Electric Canberra and the ill fated De Havilland 110.

Passenger planes were also exciting with the De Havilland Comet, the gigantic Brabazon, and serene Princess flying boat. There was also the Flying Wing and the Flying Bedstead, the Harrier prototype. I saw “the Vulcan roll and loop the loop”, it had to stay grounded at Farnborough after that.

I also enjoyed the Vulcans in “V formation” with small Avro 707’s in various colours, four eventually and I think the Vulcan was replaced in the formation by the prototype Concord without the “e”. Later years saw the English Electric Lightning (another quantum leap from the Hunters and Swifts) take off with full afterburners on fire from the two vertically mounted engines. The whole crowd resonated with the power and gasped as it stood on its tail, soaring vertically into high cloud.

It was a period when the world record for the fastest plane kept being broken and this was demonstrated at Farnborough with the sonic booms. I recall reading that the Fairy Delta 2 broke the magical 1000mph barrier at 1,132 mph, not at Farnborough and speed from memory not Google!

The “lowlight” occurred in 1952, with the De Havilland 110 crash. We were watching from around the back of the airfield, the Marrowbrook Lane side and as it broke up, I thought the engines were missiles fired as part of the display! As the parts started falling the crowd ran in different directions, I thought I was following the men I was with but suddenly found myself dragged in the opposite direction by the son (my sort of elder brother) of the couple we lived with and away from the spot where we had been standing. On that spot there appeared an approximately 6-8cubic foot piece of the cockpit with all the dials. We just stood looking at it as confetti size pieces of Perspex gently showered us for about 10 minutes afterwards. We were a bit put out; we had to wait even longer to see Neville Duke in his Hawker Hunter! We did not know at the time that anyone had been killed or injured and I never realized the potential danger I was in until years later.

For me, my dreams of being a jet fighter pilot where crushed at my RAF Officer application medical; failed for colour blindness. So that’s why I could never see those numbers in those eye test patterns. The RAF said I could still apply for Ground Crew but I huffed off home (hindsight saw that as a very bad move).

Paul Lamont, F.G.S. 1958-1964 : March 2011


Strange you had no luck with pennies under the Southern locos Paul. Denley Cole and I never had any trouble with the Castle locomotives at Reading. I shall have to see if I can dig out some old Farnborough photos and maybe an old exhibition programme.

I remember being very impressed by the Fairy Delta II and the SBAC commentary will be etched in my mind for ever. “The FD2 is approaching us and over Littlehampton now” and two minutes later it nearly blew our heads off. Happy days! Like you, how could any schoolboy ever forget those magic numbers 1132?

My father who was involved in the engine design described the Lightning as brute force and ignorance. Stand it on its tail he said and it would go up like a rocket. What about the gyroscopic controls Dad?

I too saw the Vulcan roll and a few years later I happened to be underneath it when the Olympus test-bed version went over low just as it switched on re-heat. It blew me to the ground and ruined the photo I was trying to take at the time.

Malcolm Knight, F.G.S. 1954-1961



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