Before the Jump Jet was retired and its flight manual posted online, Top Gear presenter James May rode in one and experienced the awesome aerodynamic freak show known as viffing: vectoring in forward flight, the Harrier's signature move.

Harriers are very old. They were introduced to the Royal Air Force back in those prehistoric days known as the 1960s, home to museum pieces like the Saturn V


rocket, the Ford GT40, and the Concorde. Similarly breathtaking to seeing either of these ‘60s relics for the first time is to witness eight tons of fighter jet suspended in thin air by nothing but jet exhaust, its wings useless, dead weight.

Viffing, the move demonstrated here, in the first episode of James May's Big Ideas, was put to devastating use in the Falklands War fought between Argentina and the UK in the Austral winter of 1982. Using this technique, Harrier pilots chased by Argentine Mirages could slow their jets very rapidly in flight and get behind their attackers in an instant, a decidedly handy maneuver in air-to-air combat. Handy it was for the British: no Harriers were lost in dogfighting during the war.


Before you worry about similar moves pulled on New York City, the photo here depicts the friendly and reconciliatory scene of HMS Invincible visiting NYC for Independence Day in 2004. Unless the British government is taken over by fringe elements who decide to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 by un-mothballing the Harrier fleet to prod along the eschatological predictions clustered around the end of the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar, the threat level of such a scenario is rather beige.

Photo Credit: Michael Pereckas, Jon Jordan, Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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