The story of the Blue Angels F11F pilots that developed the team’s trademark Back-to-Back Pass maneuver

The two solo pilots on the 1958 team, John Damian and John Dewenter developed the back-to-back pass.

The origins of the F11F Tiger (redesignated F-11 in 1962) can be traced to a 1952 Grumman effort to modernize the company’s F9F-6/7 Cougar. Yet, in final form the aircraft departed sharply from its predecessor. Designed as a lightweight fighter, the development model of the F11F, first flown in July 1954, featured thin swept wings, incorporating spoilers instead of ailerons, coupled with an area-rule (coke-bottle shaped) fuselage design that enabled it to exceed Mach 1.

Blue Angels trades the F9F-8 Cougar for the supersonic F11F Tiger

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. Such was their capabilities that the F11F-1F Super Tiger, which incorporated a more powerful engine that enabled it to achieve a speed of 1,386.47 mph in level flight and reach a world record altitude of 76,828 feet, did not enter production.

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.

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

The back-to-back pass

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.

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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