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

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 above picture 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 up in 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 at Naval Air Station Miramar, Dale and his RIO made a fuel stop at Luke Air Force Base: “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 he 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.

Dealing with 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 raise: 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



  1. 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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!

    • The Eagle has an excellent record. With that said, after the first Gulf war, there were more than a few Eagle drivers who stated that their kills were because of the Tomcat. The Iraqi pilots would get lit up the AWG-9 radars and turn tail and run…directly into the F-15s’ area of responsibility. As one Eagle driver put it, “It was like shooting fish in a barrel.” The Tomcat had to have had some kind of success for the Iraqi’s to fear it that much.

    • Ate Eagle…

      May I add an addendum to your comment.? The Tomcat is/was an extremely capable bird for such a large aircraft. Still, you are correct. The F-15 Eagle (Particularly the F-15C) is an entirely different class of jet with a different mission. The F-15C’s unofficial motto “Not one pound for air to ground” is testament to the Eagles Mission. It’s a predator. The F-15C is a pure example of an aircraft that was built for one purpose… To Dogfight.
      The F-15C does one thing… It kills jets dumb enough to come up and play. All the other variants of F-15 are also ground attack birds. The F-15 Strike Eagle being the most prolific. And a new F-15 sporting conformal fuel tanks, cantered vertical stabilizers, RAM applied to the airframe. 4 internal weapons storage bay’s, stealthy radar, etc, etc…

      They call it the F-15 Silent Eagle and it is my opinion that this is an aircraft that could be purchased by the USA from Boeing to augment the over 400 F-22 Aircraft that were cancelled back when everyone though Russia and China were going to be our BFF’s forever….. Fookin Idiots…..

      Anyway… The F-22 fly’s away from the line at around $160 million per jet. Because of all the legacy parts that can still be used on the F-15SE (Silent Eagle) the jet fly’s away from Boeing at $100 million per jet. Saving $50 million and sill getting a fighter jet that when well flown will smoke anything under the Sun save an F-22 that is also well flown. It isn’t as capable as the 22. But we still get the right number of jets with one minor detail, we get 2 different jets that are each best in class.

      While the F-15C is a pure Fighter…..
      The F-14 Tomcat was/is a Naval Fighter/ Interceptor. It was built to protect US Carries and their escort ships. Much like the A-10 was built around that 30mm Rotary Cannon. The F-14 was built around the AIM-54 Phoenix Missile system. Suffice to say the AIM-54 and the radar that control is a brilliant missile system. It was a “Go Away” sign to any Soviet Birds who would have toyed with a carriers airspace without showing a “stand-down” posture. The Tomcat was very fast, could go mach 2.5 and eat up the space between the jet and the threat. The Phoenix was mach 3.7. They can hang as many as 8 AIM-54’s on a Tomcat. Along with a couple of sidewinder missiles and a nasty 20mm gun. The Navy could get 1 of the 10 Carrier wings with 2 squadrons (VF 10-12 per squadron) or F-14 Tomcats on a Nimitz class carrier. 20 to 24 Tomcats with 6 Phoenix Missiles aboard each jet can create one hell of a problem for any aircraft attack, particularly far out to sea. If you have never seen one of the video’s of an F-14 crew working the jet and hanging ordinance n it you are missing a treat. Those guys can mount 6 AIM-54 and two sidewinders so fast it is ridiculous. Then fire them off the deck even faster.
      The F-14 was a great jet. One of the “Great Ones”…. But here is the truth. The F-18 Super Hornet can and did fly rings around the F-14. Lift more of, and more versatile payloads… I won’t go into ANOTHER JETS details. You can always look for yourself. But all thins being equal… The F-18 Super Hornet is MUCH closer in performance and capability to the F-15 the the F-14 ever came. The F-18 is an elite aircraft.

      • the f-18 burns too much energy, has a shit combat radius and can never catch up with an f-14 no matter how much after burner you gas up. The f-14 surely is the older brother of the f-15, but the f-18 super hornet is no match for the f-14. Every tomcat pilot will say that. It may have been expensive, but it was built for one specific purpose, a purpose that has not been fulfilled since the last tomcats were shredded into scrap metal.

        Every navy guy will tell you this. The plane is heavy and big because it’s a NAVY fighter. F-15s are not meant to deal with the tug and pull of a ship landing. But with proper upgrades that Grumman proposed the f-14 would have still been EXTREMELY relevant today and it would have been A LOT cheap to produce/maintain. But again, it was built to do one thing and be able to get it out the hangar quickly to fight for the ships, which left little care for the pricetag for maintenence costs. But with proper SLIGHT redesigning the tomcat can fly again with no risk to taxpayers.

        The super hornet, and I’ve done my research, it’s great, but it’s not perfect. We should use them still, but we do not have air superiority with a F/A-18. We had it with the f-14 and that’s why Iran’s F-14 tomcats was just snapshotted flying with a Russian bomber over ISIS targets in syria. It’s because the plane still kicks ass and can keep up with the f-15s and do a better job IMHO than the super hornet. It’s the truth.

        We got fucked over when they got rid of the tomcat, and we got fucked over more with the f-22 raptor which is in fact a nice plane but way too expensive and only few of them still remain flying in the airforce, and of course we have the marine’s f-35 shitter. That’s not really necessary to explain. The f-35 is piece of shit.

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

    • 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.

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

  4. 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.

    • 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-

      • Assuming Eagles even got to merge without being taken down by Phoenix. So be just a little fair, please.

      • Of course an eagle pilot is going to say that. Who believes for a second that they’d be lamenting, “Boy, that Tomcat would get us most of the time…”

    • As far as kills, it helps the Eagle IMMENSELY that Israel bought the Eagle and not the Tomcat. Otherwise, the totals wouldn’t be anywhere near so lopsided.

  5. The article says the fly-by was done during a 1988 Dependents Day Cruise. This is a surprise to me. Perhaps he did two (identical) fly-by’s. I was on the USS America with the F/A-18’s (VFA-82 Marauders) for 1989’s Med/Indian Ocean Cruise. I was on the aft/port flight deck and took the attached picture of his approach for the fly-by. I would have taken more & better pictures, but this was 1989 and I had a click/wind 35mm camera. I tried to get a close up pic off the port side but when developed it was blue sky… he was doing 400mph(ish). Blinked and he was gone. I was a green shirt, always thought that was me in the article’s picture, but can’t be sure.

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