The Royal Air Force’s Hawker Siddeley Harrier jumpjet was always a fan favor at the annual Bex air display in Bex, Switzerland, beginning in the 1970s, when the RAF would send a Harrier plus a small crew to show off the aircraft’s unique capabilities to the population of the small town nestled in the foothills of the Swiss Alps. In 1980, the Harrier demonstration team pushed the “WOW!” factor to a whole new level with their brand spanking new GR.3 Harrier during the first day of the airshow.
Bex’s aerodrome doesn’t have a fully paved runway today, just as it didn’t in 1980. Instead, it possesses a small taxiway leading from the apron where the main airfield hangars are was laid down, ending in the threshold of the grass strip that serves as the runway. Baack in 1980, when the RAF’s Harrier demo pilot powered up his aircraft from the apron and taxied it over to the runway, he didn’t realize he was about to commit thousands of dollars of property damage with just a simple forward movement of his left arm.
While the crowd waited with bated breath for the stunning display that would soon unfold right in front of them, the Harrier’s pilot completed his final checks before taking off. When throttling up (pushing the engine’s throttle lever forward), the steadily increasing thrust pouring out of the Harrier’s rear-facing thrust vectoring nozzles apparently succeeded in tearing up and lifting off the taxiway behind the runway’s threshold, lifting it gloriously in the air before it settled in a cloud of dust. The culprit was the Harrier’s Rolls Royce Pegasus 11 engine, rated to produce 21,500 lbf of thrust. I have a feeling that if an F-35B were to make an appearance at the Bex air display today, it would melt the ground beneath it, as its Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-600 engine can output over 40,650 lbf in hover mode… a little under double of what the Harrier GR.3 could!