Robert Anderson "Bob" Hoover (January 24, 1922 – October
25, 2016) was a United States Army Air Forces fighter pilot in World War II,
USAF and civilian test pilot after the war, flight instructor, aviation
record-setter, and air show pilot for nearly 50 years until his retirement
in 1999. Known as the "pilot's pilot", Hoover revolutionized modern
aerobatic flying and has been described in many aviation circles as one of
the greatest pilots ever to have lived.
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.
During World War II, Hoover was sent to Casablanca, where his first major
assignment was flight testing the assembled aircraft ready for service. He
was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52d Fighter Group in Sicily. On
February 9, 1944, on his 59th mission, his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire
was shot down by Siegfried Lemke, a pilot of Jagdgeschwader 2 in a
Focke-Wulf Fw 190 off the coast of Southern France, and he was taken
prisoner. He spent 16 months at the German prison camp Stalag Luft 1 in
After a staged fight covered his escape from the prison camp, Hoover managed
to steal an Fw 190 from a recovery unit's unguarded field — the one flyable
plane being kept there for spare parts — and flew to safety in the
Netherlands. He was assigned to flight-test duty at Wilbur Wright Field
after the war. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager. When Yeager
was later asked whom he wanted for flight crew for the supersonic Bell X-1
flight, he named Hoover. Hoover became 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. He also flew chase for the 50th anniversary of the Mach 1
flight in a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Hoover left the Air Force for civilian jobs in 1948. After a brief time with
Allison Engine Company, he worked as a test/demonstration pilot with North
American Aviation, in which capacity he went to Korea to teach pilots in the
Korean War how to dive-bomb with the F-86 Sabre. During his six weeks in
Korea, Hoover flew many combat bombing missions over enemy territory, but
was denied permission to engage in air-to-air combat flights.
During the 1950s, Hoover visited many active-duty, reserve, and Air National
Guard units to demonstrate planes' capabilities to their pilots. Hoover flew
flight tests on the FJ-2 Fury, F-86 Sabre, and the F-100 Super Sabre.
In the early 1960s, Hoover began flying the North American P-51 Mustang at
air shows around the country. The Hoover Mustang (N2251D) was purchased by
North American Aviation from Dave Lindsay's Cavalier Aircraft Corp. in 1962.
A second Mustang (N51RH), later named "Ole Yeller", was purchased by North
American Rockwell from Cavalier in 1971 to replace the earlier aircraft,
which had been destroyed in a ground accident when an oxygen bottle exploded
after being overfilled. Hoover demonstrated the Mustang and later the Aero
Commander at hundreds of air shows until his retirement in the 1990s. In
1997, Hoover sold "Ole Yeller" to his good friend John Bagley of Rexburg,
Idaho. "Ole Yeller" still flies frequently and is based at the Legacy Flight
Museum in Rexburg.
Hoover set transcontinental, time-to-climb, and speed records, and
personally knew such great aviators as Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker,
Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil
Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.
Hoover at the final launch of SpaceShipOne in 2004
Hoover was best known for his civil air show career, which started when he
was hired to demonstrate the capabilities of Aero Commander's Shrike
Commander, a twin piston-engine business aircraft that had developed a 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 would not associate with executive aircraft. As a grand finale, he
would shut down both engines and execute a loop and an eight-point
hesitation slow roll as he headed back to the runway. Upon landing he would
touch down on one tire followed gradually by the other. After pulling off
the runway, he would restart the 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 restarting the engines.
He was also known for creating the stunt of successfully pouring a cup of
tea while performing a 1G barrel roll.
Hoover died on October 25, 2016 near his home in Los
Angeles at the age of 94.
A memorial service and celebration of life honoring Bob Hoover was held on
November 18, 2016, hosted by aerobatic legend Sean D. Tucker and world
renowned pilot Clay Lacy at the Van Nuys Airport. Nearly 1,500 family and
friends attended the memorial, with speakers such as Hollywood icon Harrison
Ford, film producer David Ellison, Jonna Doolittle (granddaughter of Jimmy
Doolittle) and many others. The event culminated with the United States Air
Force Honor Guard presenting the American Flag to the family, coincident
with a three-element fly-over. The lead element featured a Rockwell
Sabreliner, similar to that which Hoover flew during airshows, along with
two F-16s from the United States Air Force Thunderbirds and a Canadair
CT-114 Tutor from the Canadian Forces Snowbirds. The second element featured
the USAF Heritage Flight with a Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and two F-86
Sabres, and the third and final installment featured a four-ship World War
II warbird flight, with the P-51 Ole' Yeller pulling up in the missing man
formation on the final note of Taps.