Josh Wakefield and Robert A. "Bob" Hoover
July 24, 2006 at EAA AirVenture 2006 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin

Robert A. "Bob" Hoover (born 1922) is a former air show pilot and United States Air Force test pilot. His personal trademark is a wide-brimmed straw hat and wide smile.

Bob Hoover learned to fly at Nashville's Berry Field while working at a local grocery store to pay for the flight training. He enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard and was sent for pilot training with the Army. He was sent to Casablanca where his first major assignment of the war was test flying the assembled aircraft ready for service. He was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52nd Fighter group in Sicily. After 58 successful missions, on the 59th his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf 190 off the coast of Southern France in 1944 and was taken prisoner. He spent 16 months at the German prison camp Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.

He managed to escape from the prison camp, stole a FW 190 (according to his own biography), and flew to safety in the Netherlands. After the war, he was assigned to flight test duty at Wright Field. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager. Hoover hoped to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, but unfortunately, a desperate bailout from an F-84 Thunderjet shattered both his legs, dashing his hopes of flying the X-1. Later when Yeager was asked who he wanted for flight crew for the supersonic Bell X-1 flight, he named Bob Hoover. Hoover was Yeager's backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program and flew chase for Yeager in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star during the Mach 1 flight, and flew chase for the 50th anniversary in an F-16.

He left the Air Force for civilian jobs in 1948. This included test/demonstration pilot with North American Aviation where he went on bombing missions with the F-86 over Korea, and visited many active-duty, reserve and air national guard units to demonstrate the plane's capabilities to their pilots.

Bob Hoover has set records for transcontinental and "time to climb" speed, and has personally known such great aviators as Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.

Bob Hoover is most well known for his air show career, which started when he was hired to demonstrate the capabilities of Aero Commander's Shrike Commander, a twin-engined piston business aircraft which had developed a rather staid reputation due to its bulky shape. Hoover showed the strength of the plane as he put the aircraft through rolls, loops, and other maneuvers which most people wouldn't associate with executive aircraft. As a grand finale, he shut down both engines and executed a loop and an eight-point hesitation slow roll as he headed back to the runway. He touched down on one tire, then the other, before landing. After pulling off the runway, he would start engines to taxi back to the parking area. On airfields with large enough parking ramps (such as the Reno Stead Airport where the Reno Air Races take place), Hoover would sometimes land directly on the ramp and coast all the way back to his parking spot in front of the grandstand without re-starting the engines.

A few years after starting the show, he began carrying passengers during the show after all, he reasoned, the Shrike Commander carries six passengers in comfort (though perhaps not as much comfort when upside down.) These passengers became known as "Hoover's Heavers" due to the number who became airsick during the maneuvers.

With the advent of camcorders, Hoover added a flourish to the act by pouring a cup of tea from a Thermos, while performing a slow barrel roll (a 1G maneuver). Video of this has been widely distributed, to the pleasure of Aero Commander enthusiasts.

Hoover also served for many years as the official starter of the Unlimited-class races at the Reno Air Races. The race planes (mostly modified WWII warbirds) joined up in line-abreast formation on Hoover's P-51 Mustang, and when he had them in satisfactory order the spectators would hear over the PA his famous radio call, "Gentlemen, you have a race." Hoover's plane would pull up sharply into a vertical climb as the racers dove toward the first turn, and Hoover would circle overhead during the race, acting as airborne traffic controller in case of mishaps.

Bob Hoover is considered one of the founding fathers of modern aerobatics, he was described by Jimmy Doolittle as, "... the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived." In the Centennial of flight edition of the Air & Space Smithsonian, he was named the third greatest aviator in history.

During his illustrious career he was awarded the following military medals: Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldier's Medal for Valor, Air Medal with Clusters, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. He was also made an honorary member of the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, American Fighter Aces Association, Original Eagle squadron and received an Award of Merit from the American Fighter Pilots Association. In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor. In 2007, he received the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum Trophy.

Josh Wakefield and Bob Hoover at EAA AirVenture 2005 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin

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Last updated: Sunday, June 17, 2007 01:09:51 PM CST.  All images are Copyright Josh Wakefield and may not be reproduced without express written permission.  All rights reserved.