Josh Wakefield and Robert A. "Bob" Hoover
July 24, 2006 at EAA AirVenture 2006 - Oshkosh, Wisconsin (left) and 2005 (right)

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 Barth, Germany.

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.

 


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Last updated: Monday, February 10, 2020 09:46:46 AM CST.  All images are Copyright Josh Wakefield and may not be reproduced without express written permission.  All rights reserved.