Pilot Journal
Thursday, May 1, 2008

Capt. Dale “Snort” Snodgrass

Gaining Positional Advantage

Captain SnodgrassCaptain Dale “Snort” Snodgrass (U.S. Navy, ret.), former Top Gun instructor, legendary F-14 Tomcat pilot and current air show superstar, is politely considering a question he’s likely been asked many times before: What’s the “right stuff” all about?
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Captain Dale
The F4U-5NL Corsair that Snodgrass flies was built in 1952 and was based on the U.S.S. Essex during the Korean War.
After 26 years in the Navy, Snodgrass had risen to the rank of captain and amassed more F-14 time—some 4,800 hours—than any other pilot. His next promotion would likely have been to admiral, trading in his jets for a desk.

“The corporate life—I guess that’s how you’d describe it—the jobs that I would have had weren’t really enticing to me,” Snodgrass says.

Fortunately, he was in a position to opt out of the service. He resigned his commission in 1999.

“When I left the Navy, I was in the right place on the air show circuit, with the ability to fly high-priced warbirds,” Snodgrass says.

The sun is a little lower in St. Augustine. We’ve driven over to Snodgrass’ hangar. The bifold door is open, and the P-51 and Corsair stare out, big diamonds in a tin can. The Corsair, wings folded like a butterfly, dwarfs the Mustang. The F4U had the largest engine and propeller ever mounted on a fighter up to that time: a 2,000 hp Pratt & Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp radial and a 13-foot, four-inch Hamilton Standard Hydromatic prop. The inverted gull wings, designed to accommodate the arc of the prop, are the Corsair’s signature feature.

Captain Dale
The 5NL incorporates electrical controls for its systems, including elevator and rudder trim, cowl flaps and intercooler doors.
With an assist from a pickup truck, Snodgrass’ ground crew pulls the Corsair out of the hangar and readies it for flight. This model—Corsair Bureau Number (BuNo) 124692—is owned by the Collings Foundation (www.collingsfoundation.org), an aircraft and auto preservation organization based in Stow, Mass.; it was restored by American Aero Services (www.americanaeroservices.com) of New Smyrna Beach, Fla. Snodgrass did the initial flight-testing following its restoration in 2003. It’s an F4U-5NL; the “Dash 5” variant was outfitted with a more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-2800-32(E) engine, increasing the horsepower to 2,450. It also incorporated electrical controls for many systems that were previously manually operated, including elevator and rudder trim, cowl flaps and intercooler doors.

“They tried to make this more jet-like,” Snodgrass says of the Dash 5. “So they made all the systems electrical—which probably cost them. The early electrics weren’t as good. You know, wires broke, and in more than one case, the trim ran away or wouldn’t work.”

“NL” designates night fighter. The exhaust stacks are outfitted with flash plates to prevent incandescent exhaust gas from ruining the pilot’s night vision. This Corsair was built in 1952, the year before production ended, and was based aboard the U.S.S. Essex during the Korean War, hunting adversary aircraft in extreme conditions.

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