Bob Hoover, one of the greatest pilots in the history of aviation died this morning.
Hoover, a World War II fighter pilot, a former Air Force test pilot, and the chase plane pilot for Chuck Yeager when he broke the sound barrier for the first time, was 94.
He revolutionized modern aerobatic flying and was referred to 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 test flying the assembled aircraft ready for service. He was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52d Fighter Group in Sicily. In 1944, on his 59th mission, his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by 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.
Hoover managed to escape from the prison camp by stealing a Fw 190, and flew to safety in the Netherlands.
He was assigned to flight test duty at Wright Field after the war. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager. When Yeager was later asked who 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.
Hoover left the Air Force for civilian jobs in 1948. This included a brief time with Allison Engine Company and finally test/demonstration pilot with North American Aviation where he went on to Korea teaching the pilots in 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 the plane’s capabilities to their pilots. Hoover flew flight tests on the FJ-1 “Fury”, F-86 “Sabre”, and the F-100 “Super Sabre”.
Hoover set records for transcontinental and “time to climb” speed, 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 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-engined business aircraft that 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 would not 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.
His air show aerobatics career ended over medical concerns, when Hoover’s medical certificate was revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the early 1990s.
(Video: The Bob Hoover Project)