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Airborne's Annual April 1st Episode

Wed, Jan 24, 2007

Aero-Legend Bob Hoover Turns 85!

ANN is pleased to celebrate the 85th birthday of Robert A. "Bob" Hoover... a dear friend to all of aviation and a true legend to all those who love to fly. Born January 24th, 1922, Hoover remains an extremely active and passionate believer in aviation, and is currently involved in a number of exciting aviation enterprises that utilize his extensive experience in the aviation and aerospace world.

In recognition of his many contributions to aviation as well as our endearing friendship and affection for the man himself, ANN listeners can hear an interview with Bob this Friday morning... which will also be ANN's 1000th Aero-Cast audio program.

A man who has been a part of so many milestones in aviation history simply deserved to be part of one more.

For those who may have heard the legends, the stories and the rumors, we're pleased to attach some excerpts about Bob written by ANN Publisher Jim Campbell, in his exhaustively-researched book on Hoover's years-long struggle with the FAA over their persecution of him in 1991 -- when a few allegedly misguided Feds decided that the uniquely talented Mr Hoover was simply too old to fly anymore... and from whence many in the aviation world set about to prove to them that this was anything but the truth.

After incredible turmoil, great expense and no end of emotional upheaval, Bob returned to active airshow work on November 4th, 1995... when Jim walked him out to his airplane and saw Bob set out to do what he had always done... fly as well -- or better -- than anyone alive... and to do so in a way that brought pride and satisfaction to flyers the world over.

Hoover, Huh? So, Just Who IS This Guy? Why All The Fuss?

Excerpted From Jim Campbell's "Air Of Injustice", the Definitive Tale of Bob Hoover's Fight With The FAA Over His Right To Fly -- Published in 1999

Who is Bob Hoover? Why is anyone making such a fuss about this guy as to devote a whole book to him? And a book that's only about three years of his life (albeit turbulent ones)?

If you've been anywhere near the aviation world for the last fifty years or so, it would be hard not to have heard about Bob Hoover, a man who can easily lay claim to the title "living legend". Hoover is to aviation what John Kennedy was to politics... a beloved symbol of what the best is in an industry where being good is a life or death situation. In the aviation hierarchy, this guy is pretty much at the top of the ladder.

If that's not impressive enough, this is also one of the guys who made our life better by risking his -- first in WWII and later as a test pilot who helped advance the aviation art a fair degree by testing the newest, most risky aircraft proposals to ever hit the skies.

As a matter of fact, when Chuck Yeager made that momentous first flight through the Sound Barrier in 1947, it was Bob Hoover who was following him closely and keeping an eye on his welfare... and was very nearly the man who made the flight that made Yeager a household word, had he not been caught buzzing a civilian airfield (fly-boys will be fly-boys...) and earned a small slap on the wrist from his superiors.

It is Yeager, himself, who pretty much defines the skill level reached by Hoover. Having occasionally worked with General Yeager for nearly 15 years, I can tell you that this is a man who does not praise others easily. He has a very strong personality, no lack of confidence and ego, and does not suffer fools or amateurs for more than a second (take my word for it...).

This is not to unduly criticize the General, because there is no question that it took an extraordinary amount of confidence and skill to strap himself to some very dangerous airplanes and come back, time after time after time... so do understand that when I say "confidence" I do not mistake that for undue arrogance. Regardless, General Yeager tends to praise others sparingly, simply because he has flown with the best and worked with some of the keenest minds in the world, and there are not many people who can measure up to that standard. So... when General Yeager called Bob Hoover "the best pilot I ever saw...", understand that there may be no higher praise for a pilot than that.

What has endeared him to the general public, though, whether or not they even remembered his name, are the airshow performances he has given to millions of people -- doing things with airplanes that would cause even the best pilots in the world to shake their heads in wonder. And he keeps doing this, year in and year out and is doing so today... even though this legendary airshow pilot, test pilot, fighter pilot and aviation ambassador is now over 77 years old. Wow... 77 years old, huh? (Editor's Note: That's not a typo, please remember that this was excerpted from 'Air of Injustice,' published in 1999). That sounds pretty old until you realize that there are a number of older citizens doing critical work who are far older... heck, Dr. Michael DeBakey is still doing critical heart surgery... and he's OVER 90 years old.

One story, actually occurring at the same airshow that got him into such hot water to begin with, tells a lot about Hoover and about those who admire him. Further, it involves some pivotal characters in this drama... and may have served as the decision factor for one FAA person to step forward and put his career on the line when it became obvious that Hoover was in trouble.

FAA Inspector Norbert Nester spent one day at the show in the company of his nine-year-old son, Randy. He remembers that "Bob... was just standing there having a cold drink, when I stepped over to him (without identifying himself as an FAA Inspector) and I asked him if he had just a minute to visit with my son and I. (He was) just as congenial as he could be. I introduced my son... I said, 'Randy this is Mr. Bob Hoover, and you may not remember it in the future but I would encourage you to remember this day and this time because you are getting to meet one of the all time greats in the aviation industry.

I didn't expound on all of Bob's records and all that other stuff. I just tried to make an impression on my son that here was a man that really stood well above most everybody else in the industry. He has been recorded in the history books... history is going to be very kind to Mr. Hoover. He was on the forefront and cutting edge of so many aviation events, records and different things he did... so I made it a point for him to realize that he was someone special, that he really should acknowledge this and try to remember.

Bob was a little bit embarrassed by this as he was humble about it all.
He said, 'Well yeah, I have done a few things. It is a pleasure to meet you Randy', and stuck his hand out. I stepped away and I just let them stand there and talk. They visited for oh, I don't know, 5-10 minutes... something like that... and you could see there was some interaction going on between them.

The next thing I know my son comes over and he said, 'Is it okay if I go with Mr. Hoover?' I said sure, go ahead. Well, Bob walked him out across the flight line, took him over to his famous Shrike, opened the door, climbed in, and sat down in that airplane with my son for about the next 15 minutes or so. I guess he answered every conceivable question the kid could ever have about flight."

Nester was particularly amused at this event because he specifically remembers Bob asking, 'Have you ever seen a Commander or Shrike?' Randy looked at him with the straightest face and said 'Nope!'.

Well, I have to admit being really amused with this because Randy had been in a number of Commanders and around those types of planes... But he looked at Mr. Hoover with the straightest face and got quite the guided tour.

You've got to understand my son is pretty sharp, and he knew a golden opportunity when he saw it!

So... Bob Hoover took him over to the Shrike, while I did my best to keep a straight face. Bob told me, 'That kid, he asked about everything in that airplane, no doubt about it'. He spent some time with Randy and made the kid feel really important and special, like a kid should feel when they get a chance to meet somebody like that. When they came back, Bob shook hands with him and he said, 'Randy it is a pleasure to meet you. I was glad we got to visit. Keep up your interest in flying... and off he went, leaving my son feeling like someone special. That's something he'll never forget!"

By the way, Bob did NOT know that this kind was the son of an FAA Inspector at the that time... this is just the way that he is.

That's a great story... and it says a lot about Bob Hoover, the man. The most amazing part of this, though, is the fact that Bob has done this hundreds of times for children all over the world... whether they are the sons of FAA Inspectors or not... each time trying to inspire them to do great things with their lives and to treasure the world of aviation.

So... What Is this Guy's Story?

Bob Hoover was born in January 24, 1922, in Nashville, TN. His schooling was uneventful, with grades ranging from C's to B's, though mathematics was occasionally his most difficult subject. He started flying at age 16 at Nashville's Berry Field, earning the money through odd jobs at a local grocery store.

Enlisting in the Tennessee National Guard after graduation from high school, Bob was selected for Army pilot training, where the loops and rolls he had taught himself during his civilian training were practiced in earnest. Upon graduation, Bob was sent to England. Following the invasion of North Africa by the allies, he was reassigned to Casablanca where he started testing all types of aircraft that had been transported overseas on ships and then reassembled onsite. This, mind you, at the tender age of 21!

Assigned to the 52nd fighter group, stationed in Sicily, Bob got to fly with one of the only two Spitfire outfits in the Army's Air Force. He flew 58 successful missions, but his luck was not so good on the 59th, getting shot down off the coast of southern France. Hoover spent sixteen months in Stalag Luft 1, in a German prisoner of war camp, where he quickly started planning the first of many escape attempts that quickly earned him the enmity of his captors.

Escaping again shortly before the end of the war, Bob finally made it home by stealing a German fighter plane to help him work his way home. Unfortunately, the aircraft he stole only made it part of the way to safety, because in Bob's rush to escape, he did not have the luxury of stealing an airplane with a full tank of gas...

Following his return to the USA, after the end of the European portion of the war, Bob was soon assigned to the flight test division at Wright field, where he test flew and evaluated many captured Japanese and German airplanes. This experience quickly qualified him for additional testing involving the latest new aircraft being developed by the Air Force. It was during this time that Bob met one of his friends, another highly-regarded test pilot, one Chuck Yeager, who was also starting to make a name for himself.

They worked a number of flight test projects together, including the Bell X-1 supersonic aircraft - the first aircraft designed to break the sound barrier, ultimately succeeding in 1947 with Yeager at the controls, and Bob Hoover flying as the backup pilot. An interesting footnote about this event... it seems that Bob was originally in line to conduct the supersonic trials of the X-1, but was bounced from the lineup after he had been caught making low passes over a civilian airfield for nonregulation reasons... in other words, he got caught doing a buzz job - one of a pilot's favorite pastimes. Bob was usually a stickler for the rules, but the one time he had some fun, he got caught -- and the course of history was changed as a result.

Bob left the Air Force in 1948, accepting a position with General Motors as a test pilot for high-altitude testing of their new line of Allison jet engines, as well as propeller development. Bob spent a year with them, but took a job with North American aviation in 1950 to conduct experimental flight testing for a whole new series of jet airplanes, including the F-86 Sabrejet, the Navy FJ-2 fighter and eventually, the F-100.

These were amazing times for early American Jet aviation, requiring highly-skilled pilots to investigate the performance and control ability of America's first front-line supersonic fighters. It was also dangerous work; during these years Bob had to deal with a number of emergencies and compiled an incredible reputation for being able to bring back airplanes that other pilots admitted that they would have bailed out of. He was the first man to fly the XFJ 2 Fury Jet and the Navy's T 28 trainer.

One of Bob's more pleasant duties was to take these fighters to locations all over the world and demonstrate their handling and performance to the fighter pilots who flew them on active duty. Bob developed incredible routines demonstrating the agility, performance, and ultimate capability of these aircraft in ways that impressed virtually everyone who watched him fly. It wasn't long until Bob's name became synonymous with the very top echelon of the pilot community. Beyond the normal call of duty, he also flew combat dive bombing missions with Air Force squadrons in Korea, demonstrating the capabilities of the F-86 over enemy territory.

He has also set a number of world aviation records including three climb-to-altitude records of a turbo-prop Commander, performed at the Hanover Air Show in West Germany in April 1978. He received the Arthur Godfrey Aviation Award from the Minneapolis Aquatennial for accomplishments in flight testing. In 1981, he received the Flying Tiger Pilot Award for his outstanding contribution to aviation. The Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce awarded him the 1982 Kitty Hawk Award. That same year he received the Wilkinson Silver Sword for his airshow work.
Another coast to coast record was set in a P-51 in five hours and 20 minutes from Los Angeles, California to Daytona Beach, Florida in 1985. Hoover also holds a number of world records in jet aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier's Medal, Air Medal and Purple Heart. He was presented the Aviation Pioneer Award as the world's most notable, decorated and respected living pilot by Parks College in St. Louis.

He received the Lindberg Award at the Smithsonian in May of 1986. In August of 1986, Hoover was honored during Bob Hoover Day at the 34th Annual Oshkosh Celebration by the Experimental Aircraft Association. He is also an Honorary Member of the Fighter Aces Association and the Eagle Squadron Association. In July of 1988, Bob was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in Dayton, Ohio along with other aviation and space pioneers such as; Neil Armstrong, James Doolittle, Barry Goldwater, Charles Lindbergh, Eddie Rickenbacker, The Wright Brothers, Chuck Yeager, Richard Byrd and Howard Hughes.

Hoover served as the back up and chase pilot to General Chuck Yeager on the X-1 flights. Yeager participated in the EAA program honoring Hoover along with other leading citizens of the aviation community. The recipient of countless awards and honors, Hoover is the only man to serve two terms as President of the exclusive Society of Experimental Test Pilots. He was the Captain of the United States Aerobatic Team, which participated in the 1966 International Competition in Moscow.

Hoover has flown over 300 types of aircraft in his career. In 1988, 1989 and 1990, he was selected as the Most Outstanding Airshow Performer of the Year and received the Number One Showmanship Award from the International Council of Air Shows for 1989. He was presented with the annual Cliff Henderson Memorial Award for contributions to aviation for 1989 at the Ohio Hall of Fame.

Bob Hoover, in over fifty years of flying, has performed many thousands of times in more different types of aircraft, in more countries and before many more millions of people than any other pilot in the history of aviation.

Hoover is a soft spoken gentleman, tall, lean and quiet... who never fails to amaze his peers and fans alike for the remarkable skill and enthusiasm he brings to his flying as well as his other business interests.

FMI: Read More ANN Stories Featuring Bob Hoover


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