The Blue Angels F11F Back-to-Back Pass that thrilled SAC General Curtis Lemay

General Curtis LeMay threw his cigar down and said, ‘I don’t believe this.’

The Blue Angels traded the F9F-8 Cougar for the supersonic F11F Tiger in 1957.

As told by Nicholas A. Veronico in his book The Blue Angels a Fly-By History, The two solo pilots on the 1958 team, John Damian and John Dewenter developed the back-to-back pass.

Both planes pass down the show line in formation, one pilot flies straight and level and the other flies inverted. “We developed that maneuver and held it until the Andrews Air Force Base Air Show, because that’s where we wanted to show it,” Commander Ed Holley said. “Air Force General Curtis LeMay was there, and my public information officer was standing next to him. Reportedly, LeMay threw his cigar down and said, ‘I don’t believe this’.”

Shortly after the Andrews air show, the air force’s demonstration team, the Thunderbirds, was quick to adopt the maneuver.

Built as a lightweight fighter, the F11F Tiger was a superior performing aircraft, capable of Mach 1.1. In April 1958, an F11F-1F Super Tiger, of which only two were built, reached an altitude of 76,828 ft., establishing a world record.

Initial production F11Fs were delivered to the Navy in March 1957. In spite of its design performance profile, the Tiger saw limited service, its appearance coinciding with two of the most capable fighters of all time, the F8U Crusader and F4H Phantom II.

Tigers finished their service in the Naval Air Training Command and as demonstration aircraft with the Blue Angels, who flew the F11F during the period 1957-1969.

Photo credit: U.S. Navy via

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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