Legendary Tomcat Pilot Dale Snodgrass, AKA ‘Snort’ Died in Idaho Plane Crash

dale snodgrass

Dale Snodgrass, affectionately known as ‘Snort,’ was a tough US Navy pilot. His legendary career rivalled anything you’ve seen in the movies: he was considered ”one of the greatest fighter pilots of all time.” He died Sunday in a recently purchased Italian-made SIAI Marchetti SM1019 that crashed upon takeoff from the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport in Idaho.

Dale Snodgrass, AKA ‘Snort’

Tributes to Snodgrass poured in from all over the aviation world.

Recognition and respect also came from the U.S. Naval Institute, the International Council of Air Shows and countless other organizations and individuals Snodgrass’s life touched. Snodgrass was a frequent participant in air shows after his retirement from active duty, pleasing crowds worldwide with his flying skills.


Snodgrass didn’t just fly the F-14, he also flew the F-86 Sabre. He flew in combat, and in airshow demonstrations. On one of his most famous flights was at the USS America Aircraft carrier when he flew so close to the carrier people assumed he would be grounded for it. In actuality, it was a pre-approved, well practiced and planned flight maneuver.

Snort loved naval aviation and considered 1 v 1 air combat with guns only as “the pinnacle of flying an airplane”. During close air combat, “it was who can fly the best jet,” or more accurately, “who can cheat the best” he coyly mentioned. But even the most accomplished of aviators realize flying onboard the aircraft carrier at night is what sets naval aviation apart from its aviation peers. Super pilot Snort was no different: 

“Every one of those (night traps) I still get sweaty palms”, Snort remarked. Yes, Snort, we all do too (even us RIOs)…

The list of Snort’s career accomplishments is long. First nugget pilot selected for training in the F-14 Tomcat along with the most hours in the F-14 Tomcat for a pilot. A TOPGUN graduate and US Navy Fighter Pilot of the Year in 1985, plus a tour as Commanding Officer of VF-33 during Operation Desert Storm leading combat missions into Iraq. He rounded out his active duty career as Commander Fighter Wing Atlantic where he spearheaded adding precision strike capability for all Tomcats. In retirement, he would go on to fly some of the world’s most legendary aircraft on the air show circuit and was a founding member and pilot for commercial adversary services provider Draken International. But Snort stands above everyone else in one area: King of the Airshow circuit in the F-14 Tomcat…

We don’t make them that way anymore. Not because someone else can’t accomplish the same legendary airworthy things Snort did with a newer and more capable jet, but because of the place and time in which the folks like Snort flew and lived. It was a culture of swagger, exuded from the youngest maintainer to the saltiest of aircrew, brought on by the sexiest of fighter jets. Some refer to it as catching lightning in a bottle. One man was able to do just that. Cheers to you Snort—thank you for bringing us along. 

Joe Ruzicka, at The Drive

Truly sad that such an accomplished pilot who could fly fast jets without issues would perish in a single engine aircraft. Fair winds and following seas, Sir, you will be deeply missed.


Featured photo: ”This flyby by Dale Snodgrass was captured in 1988 by Naval photographer Sean E. Dunn from the flight deck of the USS America aircraft carrier. Considered one of the most famous aviation photos of all time, it shows Snodgrass’s F-14 with its wings vertical, seemingly far too close to the ship and the crew members seen in the foreground. U.S. Navy photo by Sean E. Dunn”

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