Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the UK can lead the world on zero emission aviation, as he reflects on ‘three happy years in the cockpit’ of government in an address to the Fansborough Air Show yesterday
It is fantastic to be here at Farnborough, the scene of many of the most exciting developments in the history of powered flight.
It was here that the de Havilland camet ushered in the jet age, here that the world first saw the Vulcan bomber, a beautiful machine I remember from my childhood, and here that spectators saw first the amazing aeronautical ability of the Typhoon, which I experienced myself last Thursday.
With the help of wing commander Paul Hanson I took off from RAF Coningsby, straight up like a vertical firecracker. We slipped the surly bonds of earth, as the poet Magee puts it, and danced the skies on laughter silvered wings.
We flung that eager craft through footless halls of air, and generally put it through its paces, I can tell you. And after a while the wing commander said to me: “Do you want to have a go?”
And I said: “Are you sure? It seems very expensive to me. We only have 148 of them and they cost about £75m a pop.”
And he said: “Don’t worry, you can’t break it”.
I thought: “Oh well, famous last words”.
So I pushed the joystick right over to the right and we did an aileron roll and then I hauled the joystick right back and we did a fantastic loop the loop, and then I did a more complicated thing called a barrel roll, in which I pushed the stick up and right a bit. We started to pull a few Gs, as they say.
And when I came back to consciousness I could see the sea getting closer and closer. And I started to dream about the incredible forest of wind farms I could see, and I thought about the way this government in the last few years has been reclaiming doggerland, harvesting the drowned prairies of the North Sea, and harvesting them once again with gigawatt after gigawatt of clean green energy, helping to deliver a long term sustainable solution to our energy needs, ending any dependence on Putin whatsoever.
This reverie must have gone on for a while, because my colleague said, “I am taking back control now”, and we headed happily home.
I was absolutely stunned by the Typhoon, because it is now more than 25 years since I first flew a fast jet. I went out, thanks to the RAF, to Seymour Johnson air force base in North Carolina and flew an F15E Strike Eagle, and I remember sitting in that cockpit and looking at wires running either side of me that were attached to pedals at the pilot’s feet and were pulling the flaps, and I looked at that and I thought this really isn’t so different from a sopwith camel.
And on Thursday last week at Coningsby I asked them afterwards, as you ask about what would happen in a fight between a tyrannosaurus rex and a killer whale what would happen in a fight between a Typhoon and an F15E Strike Eagle. They said it would be no contest.
Almost 30 years ago when I went up in a F15E, the Strike Eagle seemed to me to be the last word in strength, power and aggression. But compared to the Typhoon, according to the RAF, it would be so motionless and defenseless that a dogfight, in the brutal words of one Typhoon pilot, would be like clubbing seals.
So the lesson I draw is about the scale and the pace of technological change. It was only 85 years ago that my grandfather was flying Wellington bombers with equipment so primitive that you really have to marvel at the bravery of the men and women who were involved in that war.
In fact he used up quite a few Wellington bombers AS he crashed twice – the second time into a church. I am afraid he was always prone to religious doubts.
I marvel at the bravery of that generation and let’s face it – it was only 120 years ago that this whole enterprise began – of heavier than air powered flight – in machines, barely more than a century ago, that looked like laundry baskets lashed together with leather and canvas and propelled by lawnmower engines.
If you can go from a laundry basket to a typhoon in a century, I just want you to imagine what the next 20 years and the next 50 years will bring. I want you to know that this government believes in British aviation and British technological genius and its power to bring jobs and growth across our whole country, uniting and leveling up across the whole country. And that is why we are investing so massively in defense, the biggest uplift since the end of the Cold War, and that is why I am so obsessed with the FCAS with Team Tempest and everything that involves I think it is a fantastic project.
There are already 560 UK companies playing their part more than a thousand apprentices and new graduates involved, and I am a passionate believer in the potential of our burgeoning partnership – not just with Italy, but with Japan an incredible thing to be doing now 80 years after the end of the Second World War.
Of course, FCAS is not just a plane. It is a whole platform for technological change and industrial spin-offs of all kinds because the combat aircraft systems of the future will be very different even from the Typhoon. Some of them will be manned, some of them will be crewed and some of them won’t be and in developing these new technologies and maintaining the air superiority that we have luxuriated in for so long and which is so crucial for our long term security
I want our country to be in the lead and then on this scorching day, with the thermometer about to blow and temperatures here apparently higher than the Sahara, there is the next great technological challenge, which is how to send a plane across the Atlantic without burning tons of kerosene, and adding to the carbon tea cosy that is heating our planet to destruction.
We know that we must fix it, we know that time is running out. That is why one of the first things I initiated three years ago was a project called Jet Zero in which I think many of you are participating and thank you very much for what you are doing – a zero carbon plane.
People think it’s impossible. They say, pigs might fly. Well, let me tell you this is not only the country that built the first jet engine, but the first plane across the Atlantic. And in 1909, a pilot by the name of John Theodore Cuthbert Moore Brabazon took off with a six week old piglet in a waste paper basket tied to the strut of a Short Brothers biplane.
We showed that pigs could fly a hundred years ago, and we are going to fix zero carbon aviation as well. Not just because it’s right for our planet but because it will drive jobs and growth around the country. And that is why, today, we are investing a further quarter of a billion today in UK aviation technology and innovation.
And so, in conclusion, I want you to know that after three happy years in the cockpit, and after performing some pretty difficult – if not astonishing – feats, [from] getting Brexit done; restoring this country’s ability to make its own laws in Parliament; vaccinating our population faster than any other comparable country; ensuring the fastest growth in the G7; being the first European country to give the Ukrainians the vital military help they need see off Putin’s aggression; not to mention, cutting neighbor crime by 31 per cent, the lowest unemployment for almost 50 years; [rolling out] gigabit broadband from seven to 69 per cent households in this country; and many, many other statistics – I am now going to hand over the controls seamlessly to someone else.
I don’t know who, but whoever it is, I can tell you, that the twin engines, the great Rolls Royce twin engines of this Conservative government will roar on – fantastic public services and a dynamic free market economy – each boosting the other and developing millions of tons of thrust.
There could be no better example of that relationship that symbiosis between government and the private sector than the aviation industry.
And if you want a final example of this government’s ambition I give you not just FCAS, not just Jet Zero but space flight as well this year. If all goes well, we will launch the first UK satellite in history to enter space from UK soil, as Newquay becomes this country’s equivalent of Cape Kennedy, shortly to be followed by Shetland as well.
And I leave it to you to imagine who, at this stage, I would like to send into orbit. Perhaps a volunteer could be found from the green benches of parliament. I leave that entirely to your speculation.
But for now, with so much to look forward to in this incredible sector, and with the UK at the leading edge of progress not just for our national security, the security of our friends and neighbors – not just for our economic prosperity around the whole country, but for the protection of the planet itself – I declare this great Farnborough air show open.
Boris Johnson is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom