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This article was originally published on July 14, 2016.
Hundreds of us were stopped dead in our tracks – awestricken by an alien spaceship-looking thing that was literally floating over our heads.
Turns out it was no spacecraft. It was the international airshow debut of Lockheed Martin’s F-35B Lightning II.
The world’s most advanced fighter jet performed a long-awaited flyby on Tuesday at England’s week-long Farnborough International Airshow.
Wait. A flyby?
Calling this a flyby would be like calling the Mona Lisa a “lovely painting.”
A typical flyby wouldn’t have drawn such a crowd. From the first thunder clap of the jet’s engine, the airfield was lined with exhibitors who’d left their booths and folks who otherwise might’ve been wheeling and dealing for a fleet of airliners.
Instead, we got to see a beautifully choreographed F-35B flight performance the likes of which we may never see again.
After flying across the field, the plane slowed down, approached the crowd and came to a hovering stop.
Its engine is designed to swivel downward and now it pointed down 90 degrees – blasting 18,000 pounds of thrust at the ground, keeping the plane in the air.
Then, in a moment that reminded me of that alien spaceship scene in 1977’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” the pilot turned the plane’s nose toward the crowd – like an attempt to communicate.
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Its lights blinked on and off as it moved from stage left to right down the row of people lined up along airfield barricades.
The pilot slowly spun the aircraft in place in a complete 360-degree turn.
Jeez, what a showoff.
Then, for a moment, the plane remained in place. Perhaps the pilot was looking down at us, while we – jaws properly dropped, eyes properly popped – looked up at the pilot.
It looked like – no, it definitely was – magic.
Finally, it had to end.
The F-35B floated higher, pointed its nose toward the southwest and began moving forward while retracting its landing gear.
Gaining speed, within a few seconds the jet was gone.
I turned to an older gentleman standing next to me.
“It blew me out of the water,” he said.
But Farnborough touts itself as “the world’s greatest airshow.” So that can’t be this event’s only “wow” moment.
Here are four more:
‘Big Daddy’ goes out for a stroll
Something odd was happening at one of the swanky suites where aircraft makers host their guests. It was raining, but people on the deck facing the airfield weren’t coming inside to escape the bad weather.
I had to investigate.
Once I stepped out on the deck I immediately saw what was going on.
“Big Daddy is going next,” said a woman standing on my right.
This woman was clearly an avgeek. She ignored the drizzle and pointed her iPhone toward the giant whale of a plane getting ready to takeoff.
“Big Daddy” was the world’s biggest airliner: the Airbus A380.
Over the course of the next few minutes, that fat boy would put on quite a show – performing aerobatic moves for a plane its size that would never be attempted outside the realm of an airshow.
Low passes. Super tight turns – especially for a big guy like that.
As it passed overhead, you could hear Big Daddy’s four engines revving up for the next stage of the pilot’s short performance.
So we forgot about the rain as it dampened our clothes and we watched this building with wings blot out the sky.
With canards in the front, deltas in the back, the Eurofighter Typhoon’s design sets it apart. Seeing it go through its paces at the airfield qualified for me as a moment of pure wow.
This fighter jet was created in a collaboration between Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. This year it’s being retasked to carry new weapons, including Paveway bombs as well as Brimstone and Meteor missiles.
Typhoon’s performance was set against a backdrop Tuesday of dark clouds, making the orange glow of the jet’s twin engines stand out that much more.
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‘A fat porpoise with wings’
As one guy I overheard at Farnborough put it, “It looks like a fat porpoise with wings.” Yeah, OK, but it’s a beautiful fat porpoise with wings.
The Antonov An-178 is a twin-jet utility transport aircraft with unique lines and a sweet demonstration routine.
At one point the 18,000-kilogram (39,700-pound) plane flies nearly straight up in the sky to near stall conditions and then delicately rolls over for a recovery. Wow!
Although this is the first time the An-178 has come to Farnborough, it’s already showed off at shows in Paris and Dubai, where Saudi Arabia’s air force agreed to buy 30.
The second Airbus A350XWB ever built is still showing off.
Wow moment No. 5: A super steep takeoff for the A350XWB test plane they call MSN002.
During the twin engine plane’s performance this week at Farnborough, it started steep and then moved on from there with gracefully done tight turns and other unusual maneuvers you’d never see at your local airport.
The A350 is designed for long-haul flights and is made mostly of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic — which is super strong and lightweight.
The next version of the A350 – the A350-1000 – is expected to enter service in 2017.
Are you at the airshow? Did we miss your favorite “wow” moment at Farnborough? Tweet us at @CNNTravel and let us know what it was