PARIS — Aviation enthusiasts were quick to spot the few American-made military aircraft that did fly at this year’s Paris Air Show.
No fixed-wing plane currently operated by the U.S. military took to the skies. Drone-maker General Atomics brought a new Predator B, better known by its Air Force designation, MQ-9 Reaper. But the unmanned vehicle remained grounded.
Two other U.S. planes flew, including the World War II-era P-38 Lightning fighter and the C-121 Super Constellation transporter, both made by the predecessor of Lockheed Martin Corp. But those types of propeller-driven craft completed their final military missions decades ago.
The only aircraft in U.S. service today that flew at the event was an export version of the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, made by Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., part of Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp.
The U.S. fighter fleet, including the F-15, F-16, F-18 and F-35, was entirely absent.
The U.S. drastically scaled back its presence at the world’s biggest international air show, as the Defense Department froze spending on such events amid federal budget cuts. The move allowed European arms makers, especially Russia, to take center stage.
Still, Pentagon officials and U.S. company representatives attended the event to capitalize on upcoming opportunities in locations such as Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.
United Technologies Corp.‘s Sikorsky brought the S-70i to the show to market the chopper to potential international customers, especially Poland. The country next year plans to pick a firm to build as many as 70 combat support helicopters in a potential $3 billion deal that’s among the biggest opportunities on the international rotorcraft market.
United Technologies Corp.‘s Sikorsky is competing for the order against AgustaWestland, part of Rome-based Finmeccanica SpA, and Eurocopter, part of Leiden, Netherlands-based European Aeronautic Defence & Space Co.
General Atomics plans to sell an unarmed version of its Predator unmanned system to the United Arab Emirates and other countries in the Middle East as part of a plan to boost international sales, a vice president said.
The drone, called the Predator XP, is equipped with radar and sensors to offer wide-area surveillance but not weapon systems such as laser-guided bombs or air-to-ground missiles, according to Christopher Ames, director of international strategic development for General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc., based near San Diego.
The company made an effort to display a new Predator B at the show, Ames said. “I’m told we’re one of the only U.S. companies displaying an actual aircraft,” he said. “We worked hard to make it happen.”
The classic planes were also brought to the show by the private sector. The P-38 is actually the restored White Lightnin’ aircraft owned by the Austrian company, Red Bull GmbH, which makes the popular energy drink, Red Bull. The C-121 “Connie” is owned by the luxury Swiss watch maker, Breitling SA.