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Thanks to Guest Editor Bob Woodling for help researching this page.

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There is no biographical file for pilot Snavely in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum (NASM), Washington, DC.

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RALPH ADEL SNAVELY

 

Ralph Snavely would ultimately become a Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force. However, the window through which we see him is a brief, few years in the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register, between Thursday, August 16, 1928 and Monday, May 11, 1931. During that period, and for a few years beyond, he was a lieutenant plying the skies between early military installations on the west coast and those east of Tucson. Like for many of his fellow military aviators, Tucson was a welcome stop for gas, a bite to eat and rest, and perhaps an overnight stay if their arrival was late in the day.

R.A. Snavely, WWII (Source: Web via Woodling)
R.A. Snavely, WWII (Source: Web via Woodling)

 

From August 16, 1928 to May 11, 1931, Snavely landed and signed the Tlucson Register five times. He wasn't a frequent visitor, rather his visits were spread across the entire period with some months in between. At each landing, his home base was either San Antonio, TX Kelly Field or San Diego, CA (probably Rockwell Field). He flew different aircraft each time.

Notably, on his first visit at Tucson, Thursday, August 16, 1928 at 11:10AM, he carried a major in the German Army, one Major Von Hagen. Based at San Antonio, they were westbound via El Paso, TX to Riverside, CA March Field. Their airplane, an Atlantic DH-4M he identifed by number as 23-732, was washed out a couple of years later on May 22, 1930 at March Field, Riverside, CA. He noted in the Register that his flight was a "Ferry."

To his next two landings he flew aircraft number 27-110, a Consolidated PT-1, and number 27-259, a Curtiss O-1B Falcon, which was damaged later in a taxiing acident at Kelly Field, TX March 9, 1931, about a year after he brought it through Tucson.

To his fourth landing on February 16, 1931, he flew solo in a Douglas aircraft, probably a model YO-31A, number 31-606. which was washed out some years later on February 25, 1937 at Brooks Field, TX. Below, from NASA, is a photograph of the Douglas YO-31A type photographed on June 4, 1932. As far as I can tell, this was not the airplane Snavely brought through Tucson. A couple of dozen high-quality photographs at the link show various aspects and details of this airplane during testing by NACA. NACA, the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, was the organizational precursor of NASA (the National Aeronautices and Space Administration), which now posts these historic NACA photos on its Web site. Note the large rock in the foreground of this unimproved taxiway, below.

The Douglas YO-31A, June 4, 1932 (Source: NASA)
The Douglas YO-31A, June 4, 1932 (Source: NASA)

And note also the unique wing braces and attachment points above the wing. Below, right, dated by NACA on May 26, 1932, is an aft-facing photograph of the wing attachment geometry. The pilot's straight-forward view (looking at us, out of the photo) was of the wings and struts. The compound curves of the wing roots were, at the time, difficult to fabricate in aluminum.

The Douglas YO-31A, Wing Root Detail, June 4, 1932 (Source: NASA)
The Douglas YO-31A, Wing Root Detail, June 4, 1932 (Source: NASA)

 

But, I digress. Snavely's final landing occurred on Monday, May 11, 1931. He flew solo in an unidentified Curtiss aircraft. Notably, he was part of a group of at least 28 pilots and their passengers who landed at more or less the same time flying Douglas or Curtiss aircraft. They all wrote in the remarks column of the Register, "In on May 11th 1931, Enroute to Dayton, Ohio for Air Corps Exercises." This was an early, mass logistical movement of military aircraft across most ot the country, one of several such movements captured in the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register. An earlier one during 1929, involving the U.S. Navy this time, is described at the biography page for Register pilot Homer Wick, and at the links there from.

A very nice Web summary of Snavely's early aviation experiences and military record is at the link. That site actually deals with Colt firearms. Snavely owned a .38 caliber Colt automatic pistol as his personal military sidearm. It is the pistol which is featured at the link, but his biographical information is excellent as well. Please let me KNOW if the link becomes inoperative. His military record, current to 1945 in the Army Register, is below.

R.A. Snavely, The Army Register, 1945 (Source: Woodling)

News coverage of Snavely is sparse, however his "troops" did make the papers as in the article from The New York Times (NYT) of April 26, 1944, below, left, and in the photograph immediately below. This photo was taken at Muroc Army Air Field during early 1944. It comes to us courtesy of the Mayo Historical Unit Archives (Rochester, MN), shared by Dr. J.B. Dean (University of South Florida, Tampa). According to J.B. Dean, the troops in the photograph are, L to R, "Col. Snavely, "Major" the St. Bernard (the Parapooch), Dr. E. J. Baldes (Mayo Aero Medical Unit, Rochester, MN), Dr./Col. Wm. Randolph ("Randy") Lovelace II (Chief of the USAAF Aero Medical Lab, Wright Field, Dayton, OH)--mentioned in the newspaper article, below), unidentified officer, Dr./Capt. George A. Hallenbeck (USAAF Aero Medical Lab, Wright Field, Dayton, OH) and Mr. Bertil H. T. Lindquist (Univ. of Minnesota--inventor of tensiometer used to measure Major's parachute opening shock force). The plane they are standing in front of is the B-17E "Nemesis of Aeroembolism" (AF41-2407), which was a high altitude research platform used by the Wright Field Aero Medical Lab during the second half of the war."

"Major" the Parapooch, With Fellow Troops (Source: Mayo Historical Unit Archives (Rochester, MN), shared by Dr. J.B. Dean (University of South Florida, Tampa))
"Major" the Parapooch, With Fellow Troops (Source: Mayo Historical Unit Archives (Rochester, MN), shared by Dr. J.B. Dean (University of South Florida, Tampa))

 

Major the Parapooch, The New York Times, April 26, 1944 (Source: NYT)
Major the Parapooch, The New York Times, April 26, 1944 (Source: NYT)

 

 

Two years later, near November 19, 1946, Snavely's wife was involved in an airplane crash while enroute from Munich, Germany to Pisa, Italy. She and eleven others were marooned in the Swiss Alps at 11,000 feet when their Army transport went down on a glacier southwest of Interlaken. Snavely, who was Chief of the Air Division of the American Command in Vienna, Austria at the time, was in charge of rescue operations, and took part in the search and rescue, piloting a B-17 for aerial observation. All passengers were alive and accounted for; two were injured.

The New York TImes of November 25, 1946 reported that Swiss fliers made nine trips in ski-equipped aircraft and brought the survivors out on November 24th. They had been marooned five days, surviving on snow melt and chocolate bars. Mrs. Snavely was in a state of shock, but otherwise uninjured. General Snavely flew up to the glacier and accompanied Mrs. Snavely back to Interlaken. Several other articles appeared near the same date that described the rescue progress.

R.A. Snavely, Headstone, San Antonio, TX (Source: findagrave)

 

Born in Aurora, MO on January 5, 1898, Snavely lived a long life. He passed away Friday February 10, 1995 at age 97 in San Antonio, TX. His headstone is at right. He served in three U.S. armed conflicts: WWI, WWII and Korea. He is buried at the Fort Sam Houston Cemetery in San Antonio.

The 1900 U.S. Census, Snavely's first, placed him and his family living in Aurora, MO. His father was a Mine Operator. He had one sister, Edna M., age 7. The 1910 Census cites him living in Campbell Township, Greene, Springfield, MO at 860 Robberson Avenue with his parents and sister. His father is still a "Miner."

In 1920, the Census placed him at age 21 living with his family at 725 Madison St., Campbell Township, Greene, Springfield, MO. His sister had moved away. His father's occupation was listed as "Baker" in a "Bake Shop." Snavely was listed as an "Aviator," with no indication of for whom he worked.

In the 1930 Census, Snavely, age 31, was recorded as married at age 26 to Alberta Mae Keeler (1906-1995). If you do the subtraction, that would make his year of marriage 1925. However, his date of marriage was given as July 3, 1923 in his obituary, below. Regardless, his occupation in 1930 was listed as "Soldier" in the "Army." He and Alberta lived in San Antonio, TX on the Army base at Kelly Field. His wife was not employed outside their home. They had two children, Ralph A. Jr. and James Edward, but neither of them were accounted for on the 1930 Census form. Ralph, Jr. was born in 1926 and died in 2014. Elsewhere, James' birth and death dates are listed as 10/24/1927-10/23/1969.

The 1940 U.S. Census listed him and his family living in Montgomery, AL. He was employed as an "Officer" in the "Army," earning $4,500 per year. Their sons were aged 13 and 12 years. Snavely was appointed as captain in 1935 and was a captain in 1940. His further rise through the ranks occurred during WWII.

Other than the link above, I have no in-depth information about Snavely's WWI or WWII experiences, or of his personal life from the end of WWII to his passing. The news obituary, below, provides a surface view. Snavely's obituary appeared in the San Antonio Express-News (TX), Monday, February 13, 1995. He preceded Alberta Mae in death by about a week. According to FindaGrave, she passed away February 22, 1995.

Ralph A. Snavely Sr. was a loving family man whose distinguished military career included serving in three wars and becoming a brigadier general in the Air Force. Snavely died Friday at 97.

Born Jan. 5, 1898, in Aurora, Mo., Snavely attended Teacher's College in Missouri before joining the U.S. Navy in 1918, said his daughter-in-law, Charlene Snavely of Castroville. After spending a short time overseas during World War I, Snavely returned to Missouri to establish a commercial flying company in 1920.

Three years later, Snavely moved to San Antonio to join the Army Air Corps. While in San Antonio, Snavely met his future wife. He married the former Alberta Keeler on July 3, 1923, at Kelly Field. Snavely remained at Kelly Field as a flying instructor until the start of World War II. He was stationed in such places as London, Italy and Austria during the war.

"He was sent to London to observe the German bombs," his daughter-in-law said. "It was a high-priority job." In 1944, upon his return to San Antonio, Snavely returned to his station as commander of operations at Kelly Field and remained on active duty during the onset of the Korean War. He retired in 1952, ending a distinguished 34-year military career.

"He loved hunting and fishing," Snavely said. "He owned a ranch out near Medina Lake, and he loved to go there with his family." Other hobbies included golfing and spending time with his grandchildren. "He liked to joke with his grandchildren (and) tease them," Snavely said. "He enjoyed telling them stories of his history, especially of his early days of flying."

Snavely is preceded in death by a son, James E. Snavely. Other survivors include his wife; a son, Ralph A. Snavely Jr. of Castroville; and nine grandchildren.

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THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 02/02/16 REVISED: 06/12/16

 
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