“It’s not risky at all with practice… it was my opening pass to a Tomcat tactical demonstration at sea,” Dale “Snort” Snodgrass, US Navy F-14 pilot.
And, as told by Sierra Hotel Aeronautics, no, Snort was not grounded.
Snort wrote in 1998: ‘I am amazed that after nine years this photo is being scrutinized with such fervor. The photo is in fact real. It was taken during a dependent’s day airshow aboard the USS America in the summer of 1988. I was Executive Officer of VF-33, the Captain of the America was JJ Coonan. It was of my opening pass in the F-14 demo. This photo indeed has a surrealistic quality. I believe it is due to the focal length of the camera used. There is no doubt that this pass was an aggressive low level maneuver, however, it was briefed to the Airwing Commander who happened to be Captain JL Johnson. Currently he is the Chief of Naval Operations. In fact the officer standing on the flight [deck] with his hands behind his back adjacent the LSO platform is CNO.’
Growing up on Long Island, Dale’s dad was a test pilot and gave Snort his Introduction to aviation. As told by Erik Hildebrandt in his book Anytime, Baby! The last Navy F-14 Tomcats, after high school, Dale attended the University of Minnesota where he studied Biology and enrolled in the NAVY ROTC program to become a pilot.
After achieving his B.S. in Biology and successfully completing ROTC training, Snort set a new standard within the naval aviation program by becoming the first flight school graduate to be selected for the newly formed F-14 Tomcat pipeline. In the F-14 RAG he became the first nugget ever to carrier qualify (both night and day). In 1985, the US Navy selected Snort as ‘Fighter Pilot of the Year.” As the best F-14 pilot in 1986, Grumman Aerospace awarded Dale “Topcat of the Year.”
During “Operation Desert Storm,” Snort was CO of VF-33. Leading 34 missions as overall Strike or Fighter Lead in 12 operational Fighter Squadron/Wing tours, he was awarded honors including a Bronze Star for Leadership and Valor. In September 1994 he became Commander of all US Navy F-14 Tomcats for Fighter Wing Atlantic.
In the Navy, Dale accumulated more hours in the F-14 than any other front-seater, and was the “highest time Tomcat pilot,” with over 4800 hours and more than 1200 arrested carrier landings.
Retiring after 26 years as a Naval aviator, Dale “Snort” Snodgrass continued to broaden his cockpit experiences as a warbird pilot. Having flown F-14 demos at airshows for 14 years, he has additionally qualified in the F-86 Sabre, MiG 15, MiG 17, P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, Curtiss P-40, T-6 Texan/Harvard and 8KCAB Super Decathlon. Dale has been designated one of only ten USAF Heritage Flight Pilots. Captain Snodgrass has performed in over 850 airshows over the course of 20 years and was surface-solo and formation-aerobatics qualified. Airshow fans loves to watch Date fly his trademark low level banana pass because as some say: “he keeps the grass mowed between the runways.”
Lately Captain Snodgrass served as Draken International’s Chief Pilot, Director of Deployed Operations and Congressional Liaison.
Sadly, Snort was killed on Jul. 24, 2021 in the crash of a SIAI Marchetti SM.1019 in Lewiston, Idaho. According to AvWeb, details remain sketchy. The SIAI-Marchetti SM.1019 is an Italian STOL liaison monoplane built by SIAI-Marchetti for the Italian Army, and based on the Cessna O-1 Bird Dog.
However, that shot off of the America is very widely used and most people seem to initially think it is either an edited photo, or a risky maneuver.
Instead as Snort explained to John Sponauer, ‘It’s not risky at all with practice… it was my opening pass to a Tomcat tactical demonstration at sea. I started from the starboard rear quarter of the ship, at or slightly below flight deck level. Airspeed was at about 250 knots with the wings swept forward. I selected afterburner at about 1/2 mile behind and the aircraft accelerated to about 325-330 knots. As I approached the ship, I rolled into an 85 degree angle of bank and did a 2-3 g turn, finishing about 10- 20 degrees off of the ship’s axis. It was a very dramatic and, in my opinion, a very cool way to start a carrier demo. The photo was taken by an Aviation Boson’s Mate who worked the flight deck on the USS America.’
A former VF-33 Aviation Electrician recalls on YouTube;
‘I was there. I was an Aviation Electrician in VF-33. I remember being on the flight deck at the time. I was our shops troubleshooter. Believe it or not this was not the craziest thing he’d done. Once in Key West the squadron was doing flight ops and maneuvers against other aircraft. Snort brought his F-14 back with a couple panels missing and calfax’s that held panels down were missing or loose.
‘After viewing video he was in a tight extremely high G turn shooting the other aircraft. He stressed the plane to its limits. Needless to say that F-14 was down for some time. He always said “give me guns.”
‘RIP Snort honor to serve.’
Here’s the video of Snort’s legendary super low Banana pass.
Photo credit: U.S. Navy