The Sneak Pass Edition
On aviation, diplomacy, and surprise
With Top Gun (and F-18s!) front-and-center in culture, thought this appreciation of the sneak pass was appropriate. -Colin (CJN)
Colin here. A friend of mine saw the Blue Angels for the first time in San Francisco. Hearing her recount this experience brought me back to my childhood in the Bay Area where I saw the Angels yearly during Fleet Week. It wasn’t just the choreographed air show—we also got to go on the Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Carl Vinson, and see an array of different ships and planes. All in all, it made for an incredible experience as a kid. I remember distinctly how loud the planes were as they screeched by, and also remember disappearing down a wormhole to learn everything about the F-18 Hornet.
The Blue Angels were initially formed as a tool of public diplomacy following World War II. According to Navy Online:
The vision to establish a Naval flight exhibition team came in 1946 from Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Chester Nimitz. In addition to boosting Navy morale and demonstrating Naval air superiority, there was a need to gain public and political support during a period of dwindling defense budgets.
A World War II fighter ace, Lieutenant Commander Roy “Butch” Voris, formed the first flight demonstration team with three flight instructors. Within a few short months of forming, they choreographed and performed the inaugural flight demonstration in Grumman F6F-5 Hellcats, painted a deep-sea blue with gold trim, to a delighted hometown crowd at Naval Air Station (NAS) Jacksonville...The air show season runs every spring through fall, with stops in approximately 30 locations across the U.S. and Canada; and typically including a stop at USNA during Commissioning Week.
The live shows today are stunning feats of airborne choreography, with many maneuvers leaving the planes a few feet away from each other. It’s not formation flying: it is stunt piloting at the highest levels, in F/A-18 Superhornets piloted by some of the most talented aviators in the Navy.
Why is this interesting?
They have a series of recurring tricks at each show. One of the classics is the sneak pass. Four planes do an interesting maneuver to distract, and another plane, having broken off much earlier, shoots past just under Mach 1 (around 700 miles per hour), from the opposite direction. Here’s what it looks like (ignore the person who slightly spoils the surprise)
Even though it’s a recurring bit, there’s something magical about the playful showmanship, coupled with the sheer power (and low altitude danger) of the sneak pass. It just doesn’t ever get old. (CJN)
WITI x McKinsey:
An ongoing partnership where we highlight interesting McKinsey research, writing, and data.
Addressing employee burnout. Employers have invested unprecedented resources in employee mental health and well-being. With burnout at all-time highs, leaders wonder if they can make a difference. Our research suggests they can. A new article outlines actions to address the issue.
Thanks for reading,
Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN)
Why is this interesting? is a daily email from Noah Brier & Colin Nagy (and friends!) about interesting things. If you’ve enjoyed this edition, please consider forwarding it to a friend. If you’re reading it for the first time, consider subscribing (it’s free!).