That time an F-14 Tomcat pilot made a super low flyby on USS America

Feb 12 2014 - 14 Comments

In 1988 a naval aviator performed a remarkable flyby with his F-14 Tomcat

The stunning image in this post will probably remind our readers the famous scene of Top Gun (when Maverick buzzes the tower with his F-14 Tomcat during a high speed flyby):

Maverick: “Tower, this is Ghostrider requesting a flyby.”
Tower: “Negative Ghostrider, the pattern is full.”
Goose: “No no, Mav this is not a good idea.”
Maverick: “Sorry Goose, but it’s time to buzz the tower.”

But the true story behind the picture above is quite different. In fact this photo was taken on the 1988 Dependents’ Day Cruise of the USS America (CV-66) and the F-14 Tomcat driver who performed this incredible super low, super close pass is Dale “Snort” Snodgrass, a pilot who has become synonymous of Tomcat.

Grown at Long Island, Dale’s dad was a test pilot and “Snort” set a new standard within the naval aviation program becoming the first flight school graduate to be selected for the newly formed F-14 pipeline as explained by Snodgrass himself in the book Grumman F-14 Tomcat Bye-bye, Baby…! :

“I was the first ensign to complete day/night Tomcat quals, right out of flight school. I was rewarded with the privilege of picking up a brand-new Tomcat at the factory for delivery to the west coast. To make the flight truly historic we stuck another ensign in the RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) seat.”

Before arriving to the Naval Air Station (NAS) Miramar, Dale and his RIO made a fuel stop at Luke Air Force Base (AFB): “We’d let the Air Force get a close-up look at the Tom. We were the first F-14 ever seen at that huge base. A general came to greet us at the VIP parking ramp. Luke was scheduled to receive its first F-15 Eagles the next day. At that time no one under the rank of O-4 major had flown the Eagle. Let’ em get a load of a real fighter, Navy style! The final flight over to Miramar was short, so we whacked the Air Force a final time with a sunset takeoff. Zone V (which was the maximum afterburner thrust setting for TF-30 engine) burner to 20,000 feet and still over their runways! The departure controller watched in amazement and then asked our aircraft type. My RIO responded, “We’re an Eagle Eater, Baby…!”

In the Navy, Dale amassed more hours in the F-14 than any other pilot, and is considered the “highest time Tomcat pilot”, with over 4,800 hours and more than 1,200 arrested carrier landings and for 14 years he has flown F-14 demos that people still talk about today.

Nowadays “Snort” is still in the air shows circuits and he is qualified in the F-86 Sabre, P-51 Mustang, F4U Corsair, T-6/SNJ Texan, MiG-15, MiG-17 and MiG-21.

About the low pass over the USS America, “Snort”, at the time Executive Officer (XO) of VF-33 Starfighters, released this interview 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 ½ miles 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 (by an ABE3 who was the petty officer of third class Sean E. Dunn that was in charge in Launching & Recovering Equipment) who worked the flight deck on the USS America. Just as an aside…the individual with his arms behind his back is Admiral Jay Johnson” who became the Chief of Naval Operations for the Navy.”

At this point one question may raises in our minds: was the tactical demonstration well performed the day after this training? Take a look at the photo and judge by yourself.

By the way, the image on top is the one of the flyby, the one here below depicts the rehearsal..

Snort practice

Image credit: U.S. Navy /Aviation Boson’s Mate

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  • Pooter Bilbo

    Eagle eater my ass.

    USN F-14 Kills
    2 Libyan SU-22 Fitters

    2 Libyan Mig-23 Floggers

    1 Iraqi MI-8 Hip

    USAF F-15 Kills
    5 Iraqi Mig-29 Fulcrums

    7 Iraqi Mirage F-1’s

    8 Iraqi Mig-23’s

    2 Iraqi Mig-21’s

    1 Iraqi ll-76

    2 Iraqi SU-25 Frogfoots

    3 Iarqi SU-7/17

    1 Iraqi MI-24 Hind

    2 Iraqi SU-22 Fitters

    2 Iraqi MIG-25 Foxbats

    4 Serbian Mig-29 Fulcrums

    1 Afghan MI-24 Hind (F-15E)

    Stop drinking the tomcat cool-aid folks. The F-15 has a higher top speed, range, payload, rate of climb, service ceiling, and thrust to weight ratio than the F-14. It also can pull more g’s, retain energy better due to lower wing loading, and is absurdly more combat proven than the tomcat. In fact the only evidence of the tomcat’s effectiveness comes from the two-bit air force of a country that can’t even lie about it’s own fake stealth fighter well enough to fool amateur aircraft enthusiasts on the internet. (Iran if you were wondering)

    This article is so quintessentially navy–it has everything:
    Reminiscing about the good ole days with the tomcat? Check.
    Wildly irresponsible and risky PR stunt? Check.
    Unfounded claims of superiority? Check and Check.

    • NOMIGS

      Recently found the following.
      If the following is anywhere nearly accurate, I would have to say that Tomcats have
      smoked more aircraft (total of 128) than all the Eagles ever in service (total of 105), US and abroad.

      As for real combat, Tom Cooper over at ACIG ( while writing his book on Iranian F-14’s in the war against Iraq, came across a document (under the Freedom of Information Act) which indicated the the Saudi AF told the F-15 pilots to stay away from a certain area of the Northern Persian Gulf because the day before an Iranian F-14A shot down Tu-22M Blinder. The Blinder was traveling at Mach 2.0 and the F-14 went to Mach 2.4 to intercept the bomber. The Phoenix Missile travelled 87 miles (140 Km) to make the kill. The Iranian AF had 123 confirmed kills by their F-14’s. The Phoenix Missile had fifty-four confirmed kills (plus seven unconfirmed kills), sixteen confirmed kills with the Sparrow Missile and, twenty-five with the Sidewinder Missile.

      Imagine how much better US Navy pilots would perform than the Iranians in a land-based, bogie-rich war, especially with the much expanded capabilities of the APG-71 and Phoenix/radar systems not provided to the Iranians.

      • Sean1978

        Just like I said, he talks all those air to air kills and knows the Cat did not have the opportunity to rack all of those up for the US because of engagements! Easy to win more of you fly more in combat! Common sense there. I agree with all you said, the Cat if given the opportunity would have been very successful in combat and still had a 4-0 record with minimal shots. If it were a few years earlier in Nam I can’t only imagine how successful it would have been, it came a little too late and was not used enough in combat during it’s prime.

    • Guest

      You forgot one:

      1 American UH-60

    • thebronze

      You forgot one for the F-15:

      1 American UH-60

      • NoMIGS

        Actually 2 Blackhawks. 24 perished.
        One with Amraam another with a Sidewinder.
        Unfortunate and very sad day for all.

        • thebronze

          I stand corrected. I will edit my original. Thanks.

    • Sean1978

      Yeah but it would help if the F14A had more opportunities to actually rack up those kills now wouldn’t it? I mean if it were not engaged in all those dogfights then how can it get more air to air kills for the US? It was 4-0, in the only dogfights it was in, so I assume if it were in more then it would surely have more air to air kills correct? You sound like you just don’t like the jet, you call them bias but then come off as an F14 hater.

    • Redeye80

      Maybe if the AF didn’t control all the airspace,who got in the airspace and who got the vectors,the count would be different. Just saying!

  • Pooter Bilbo

    Why would F-14’s ever be our backup plan? They couldn’t turn sorties for crap and were horrendously expensive to maintain.

    • Sean1978

      And more hating from this guy on the jet it seems, you act like it was the worst plane ever and the most expensive. The F35 is alot more and what are they doing with it now? Man come on the Jet was a very good jet in it’s time, no need to come in an article because you are an Eagle fan to hate on it.

  • Goan

    Both physicists and military members know the difference between a “boson” and a “bosun”, heh heh…

  • Ate Eagles

    F14’s and F15’s had completely different missions. This contributes significantly to the expected great disparity in kills over their lifespan.
    Both were great aircraft in their day, but the total kills have little to do with their capabilities
    Additionally there were almost twice as many Eagles made and a heck of a lot more of them flying over Iraq. They also operated from much closer airfields with rapid response time and flew mostly air superiority intervention missions. Many of the Tomcat missions took 1.5 hrs just to reach the combat area due to carrier location.
    Saying one is so much better than the other because of total kills is like saying

    For Pooter:
    The Toms wing loading was better at about 55 vs 68 or so for the Eagles so by your metric the Tom retains energy better. Thrust to weight is only slightly better in the Eagle and is offset by the Toms better wing loading. The rest of your stats, which slightly favor the Eagles, like top speed, range, payload, rate of climb, service ceiling are mostly insignificant in a no-holds-barred 1v1.

    Couple of points before covering some actual performance.

    How many Eagles have ever flow in blue water ops and landed on a carrier? Zero.

    How many Tomcats can do and have done the ground attack and air support/defense missions of the various Eagles? All of them.

    I am certain every single fully qualified Tomcat pilot could fly an Eagle and do it very well. Many, but certainly nowhere near all Eagle pilots could ever qualify to fly a Tomcat aboard the boat. Many otherwise very skilled Tomcat pilots never passed carrier quals and were washed out or reassigned. Numerous who successfully initially carrier qualified could not maintain their proficiency and died trying or were washed out. I know of many.

    Pooter, please if you ever personally flew an F-15 in ACM against a F-14D/A+, much less a old F-14A, please share your turning dogfight success stories with us with information about stores configurations of each respective aircraft. I am certain there were many Eagle drivers who at one time or another claimed victory on some Tomcat drivers, just not many I know. Most of the claimed Eagle victories of which I have knowledge were scored by a BVR Fox-1, followed by a knock-it-off.

    Ever hear of the APG-71 and the Phoenix missle? Soviet built MIg29’s would turn and run if the F14s lit them up over Iraq. The MIgs would come out and, to the Eagles fine credit, play not so successfully with them. What does that tell you?

    I personally fought many Eagles and never lost a legit 1v1 post merge ACM fight, with any kind of kill criterion. Fortunately, I mostly only ever fought them with a clean (no drop tanks) bird, which made a big difference on the A models.

    As for the Phoenix, we would never use it in DACT since the F-15 would be removed from the fight before getting a missle off. We obliged them with a more favorable ROE to them because Navy fighter pilots want to turn, and turn we did.

    Be willing to bet Snort and most others can say the same.

    Eagle eater? You decide.

    As a side note, can anyone out there remember anyone talking about the best flight demo they ever saw was done by a F-15? Not, Tomcats, hands down.

    • FrankW

      According to most F-15 pilots that I have spoken with, they say that at the merge they usually bested the Tomcat (A or D, although the D was more of a challenge). It was great that the Tomcat received more powerful engines in the GE -F110, however, you forget the Eagle (A and C version) actually had a thrust de-grade with the F100-220s. If the F-15 would have received the F100-229 or F110-129, there would be absolutely no comparison. So lets be a little fair here-