In 2011, these flying machines soared

From the space shuttle to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner and next-generation tanker, along a trio of drones, these were the aircraft and spacecraft that mattered most.

Boeing KC-46A
Keep your eye on both of these aircraft in the years ahead: the KC-46A tanker and the F-35 jet fighter. Boeing

In 2011, Boeing's 787 Dreamliner carried passengers for the first time, and the space shuttle landed for the final time.

For aviation buffs and aerospace junkies, those were the signature events of the year. In the case of the shuttle, there were actually three such moments, and each time we got more verklempt: Discovery, Endeavour, and Atlantis all flew their final missions. But as the door closes on that 30-year piece in history, a window is opening to private space ventures like SpaceX and the newly unveiled Stratolaunch effort from Paul Allen and Burt Rutan.

Boeing got a lot of mileage out of the hoopla around its Dreamliner, but the company also scored a major win from the Pentagon with the $30 billion contract to build the KC-46A aerial tanker.

To borrow and bend a little from "The Graduate," however, we really have just one word for you: drones. As unmanned aircraft like the Predator continued to fly over places like Afghanistan, there were other cutting-edge robo-planes catching the spotlight, if not always for the right reasons--yes, we're looking at you, RQ-170 Sentinel, on the ground in Iran.

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by Bridget Carey