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Farnborough: Where aviation struts and cuts deals

At long-running air show, aircraft makers strut their stuff while customers spend $47 billion. On display: Airbus' A380 and A400M, unmanned aircraft, and more.

The Airbus 400M, aka "Grizzly," flies over the Farnborough International Airshow.
The Airbus 400M, aka "Grizzly," flies over the Farnborough International Airshow.
Stephen Shankland/CNET

FARNBOROUGH, U.K.--Most trade shows will fit inside any old convention center big enough to accommodate the vendor booths, sales reps, and keynote speeches. But the Farnborough International Airshow needs a runway, too.

This weeklong show west of London is where the aviation industry goes to buy and sell airplanes, helicopters, and everything needed to build them. By Thursday, $47 billion worth of business had taken place as airlines placed orders for dozens of expensive jets. That may not match 2008's record level of $88.7 billion, but it's nothing to sneeze at.

The show itself, which takes place every two years, is a combination of work and pleasure. Prospective buyers can admire how little runway a skilled pilot needs to land the latest military cargo plane, right before gawking tourists can watch stunt planes, parachuting experts, and a rare 50-year-old Avro Vulcan jet, built to carry England's first atomic bombs.

The weekdays, which focus on the business part of the show, drew 120,461 visitors. The public part on the weekend is expected to bring in a further 160,000.

Farnborough has a long history: It was at the 1952 show where the Vulcan made its debut. And the site itself has a longer one, dotted with research labs that date back to the days of balloons and blimps that preceded airplanes. The 2010 show is the 47th.

The air show is run by ADS Group, a consortium formed by the gradual consolidation of groups devoted to aircraft, aerospace, defense, and security. Consequently, it has a strong military flavor, with defense contractors such as BAE Systems and Finmeccanica touting everything from missile launchers to body armor.

But aircraft are center stage.

Check the galleries for shots of the Airbus 400M, a military airlifter that can carry more than 40 tons of cargo, the Airbus A380, the mammoth double-decker four-engine jet that can accommodate as many as 525 passengers, and the collection of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), smaller pilotless machines gaining in military popularity. Take a look, too, at other assorted sights from Farnborough.