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Farnborough: Impressive Orders to Match Spectacular Stunts?

Despite the United States’ dominance of the aerospace and defense industry, the UK’s biennial Farnborough air show, along with the Paris show, remains one of the biggest events on the calendar.

The F-16 is one of the world's most popular military aircraft, with the fighter jet sold to 24 countries, according to Lockheed-Martin. The US Air Force's F-16C pictured here was on display in the Department of Defense exhibition corral, where attendees had a chance to live out some fighter-pilot fantasies by getting a tour of the plane and the cockpit.The success of the F-16 contrasts with concerns about Lockheed's joint strike fighter program that has seen costs per plane balloon from early es
Photo by Sharon Lorimer
The F-16 is one of the world's most popular military aircraft, with the fighter jet sold to 24 countries, according to Lockheed-Martin. The US Air Force's F-16C pictured here was on display in the Department of Defense exhibition corral, where attendees had a chance to live out some fighter-pilot fantasies by getting a tour of the plane and the cockpit.The success of the F-16 contrasts with concerns about Lockheed's joint strike fighter program that has seen costs per plane balloon from early es

Held this year from July 9-15, Farnborough is unusual in incorporating both a five-day trade show and two days of aerobatics displays for the public, as well as thrill rides and interactive displays aimed at children.

Nonetheless, industry insiders will be watching the event with eagle eyes to keep abreast of who is winning orders from whom, and whether sales can match those seen at 2010’s Farnboroughwhen $47 billion worth of business was completed during the week. More than 1,400 exhibitors are expected from 40 countries, with 116 companies coming from the UK alone.

Below are some potential highlights of the event to look out for:

Aerospace

Boeing of the U.S. took the lead in grabbing headlines from rival Airbus when it confirmed its flagship 787 Dreamliner would be flying in Qatar Airways colors at Farnborough. Boeing will hope to clock up orders for its 737 MAX at the event, and may announce further details of its new 77x, designed to challenge Airbus’s A350, for which so far there are few orders.

Attention will still be on Airbus (a subsidiary of EADS ) however, given its recently announced plan to launch its first U.S. production linein Alabama. Industry players are eager to learn further details, in particular the rationale behind the plan, given that Airbus’s other production lines are in France, Germany and China. Airbus will also hope to restore confidence in its A380, which has been working through serious issues with wing cracks.

Defense

Despite depressed defense spending in both the U.S. and Europe, all the major players will be present at Farnborough with the exception of Northrop Grumman , which cited “affordability and cost reduction goals” for skipping the show.

Highlights will include the unveiling of the Saab Gripen’s new AESA radar, plus the Irkut Yak-130 making its debut appearance at Farnborough.

Airbus’s A400M transporter will be present, but will only give a static display due to engine issues, while the Russian Knight’s (the Russian Air Force’s aerobatics team) Su-27s have pulled out completely.

Space

Commercial space transport will be in focus at Farnborough after SpaceX’s Dragon proved in May that space travel is no longer just for governments by successfully reaching the International Space Station.

Double the numbers of space companies are expected compared to 2010’s show, with attention on the European debut appearance of Virgin Galactic’s tourist spacecraft SpaceShip2 — albeit in (full-scale) mocked-up form.

Virgin Galactic’s billionaire owner, Sir Richard Branson, hopes to fly tourists on SpaceShip2 by 2013, and flights can be pre-purchased for $200,000. Branson will give a press conference at Farnborough on Wednesday at which he is expected to announce changes to SpaceShip2’s design, plus a restart of Virgin Galactic Cargo, his project to launch small satellites commercially.

By CNBC.com's Katy Barnato

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