With a deafening roar the fighter jets catapulted off the US aircraft carrier and soared above the disputed South China Sea, as its admiral vowed that the mighty ship's presence was proof America still had regional clout.
"US presence matters," Rear Admiral John Fuller told reporters on board the USS Carl Vinson. "I think it's very clear that we are in the South China Sea. We are operating."
The Carl Vinson, one of the US Navy's longest-serving active carriers, is currently conducting what officials say is a routine mission through the hotly contested waters where years of island reclamation and military construction by Beijing has rattled regional nerves.
Following criticism that the Trump administration's commitment to the Asian region has been distracted by North Korea, reporters were flown onto the ship Wednesday as it sailed through the sea.
In a rapid series of take-offs and landings, F18 fighter jets roared off the deck, travelling from zero to 290 kilometres (180 miles) per hour in a dizzying two seconds.
Fuller, commander of the Carl Vinson Strike Group, said the 333-metre- (thousand-foot-) long ship's presence was a way to reassure allies.