by Bob Collins
One of the greatest pilots in the history of aviation died this morning, according to reports.
Bob 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.
A lot of the greatest pilots who ever lived will tell you that Hoover was the greatest pilot who ever lived.
And he was, if you were ever lucky enough to witness a Bob Hoover performance at an air show in the United States when he flew, for example, his Shrike Aero Commander. As destiny would have it, I was sufficiently lucky to have seen Bob Hoover a full five times.
As a German POW, Hoover escaped Germany by stealing an airplane. Balls of steel.
After being shot down in 1944, Hoover spent 16 months in a Stalag Luft I, a German prisoner of war camp on the northeastern coast of Germany, according to the National Aviation Hall of Fame. Hoover jumped a barbed wire fence while the guards were distracted by a staged fight. He stole a lightly-damaged Focke-Wulf Fw 190, flying it to freedom before ditching the plane in a field in the Netherlands.
Bob Hoover’s North American T-28 Trojan trainer.
The winner of hundreds of military and aviation awards, including the prestigious Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy in 2014, Hoover died Oct. 25 in Los Angeles at age 94. While frail in recent years, he lived at home and relatively pain free until the last few days, according to close friends.
Known for his ability to tell one engaging aviation story after another, Hoover loved interacting with pilots and prospective pilots, often going out of his way to speak to children, encouraging them to follow their dreams. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do it,” Hoover said during the presentation of the Wright Trophy. “You learn how to do it. You figure out how to do it. And you are the only one who can make it happen…. Don’t give up if that’s what you really wish to do.”
Let us look at Bob Hoover in action. In 1986, for example, when the below video was shot, Bob Hoover was 64 years old. That, ladies and gentlemen — to be blunt — is a stud.
How many people customarily performed actual aerobatics in a two-engine plane? Yes. That would be one: Bob Hoover.
He was called the “best stick and rudder man who ever lived.” Hoover lived and survived by his senses — not like the digital pilots of today whose human-to-metal contact is limited by electrons and joysticks and glass cockpit screens. You don’t truly “fly” a plane today — you mostly program it and wait for the autopilot to take charge. You are a human “course changer” and “altitude changer.” You are a backup. You are extraneous. The difference, say, between Airbus and Boeing. Joysticks vs actual yokes.
Bob Hoover — who had to fight and conquer air sickness — became the kind of human whose spatial consciousness, inner ear and sense of presence exceeded that of 99.9% of most mortals. Today’s cockpit occupiers are primarily programmers entering numbers. They know it and it makes them simultaneously sad and appreciative to have, truly, the very last jobs in aviation before fully autonomous aircraft take over.
They know it. And they all wish they’d been Bob Hoover.
A precise aviator, Hoover famously was able to pour a glass of iced tea in the middle of a barrel role. Hoover’s famous green and white stunt plane sits prominently under the wing of the Concorde supersonic airliner at the National Air and Space Museum Annex in Chantilly, Va.
God bless you, Robert Anderson “Bob” Hoover.
God bless you, R.A, “Bob” Hoover.
When a person gets to do what one actually loves to do, they are truly blessed.
Fair skies and following winds. Be forever flying, sir.
I love you, dad.