It is hard to believe famed aviator Bob Hoover has passed.
Of the world’s “Greatest Generation,” 16 million served in uniform during World War II. As of this year, approximately 620,000 still survive and they are dying at a rate of about 400 per day. Today, Mr. Hoover was one of those 400 or so souls released from these earthly constraints.
Born in January 1922, Hoover’s rise to the top of the aviation pyramid began much the same as with others. He learned how to fly at Berry Field in Nashville, working at a grocery store to pay for his flying lessons. Afterward, he enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard and acquired orders to pilot training.
During World War II, he had more adventures than most. His first assignment was test flying Spitfires in Morocco. Later, he flew combat missions in Southern France and was shot down on his 59th mission. After that, he spent 16 months as a guest of the Germans at Stalag Luft 1. When things got a little crazy toward the end of the war, he saw a chance to escape by stealing a Focke Wulf 190 and flying west.
After the war, he went back to his passion of test fli.ght. He left the military and eventually started flying for North American Aviation. During the Korean war, Hoover went to Korea for six weeks to teach the F-86 pilots how to use the airplane in air-to-ground attacks.
In the early 1960s, Hoover started flying the airshow circuit with the P-51. The first airplane, N2251D, was destroyed in a ground maintenance accident. The second P-51, purchased in 1971, is still flying today.
In addition to routines flown in the Mustang, Hoover also flew quite the airshow routine in the Aero Commander Shrike Commander. His act in the Shrike was perhaps one of the most memorable of all air show acts. He impressed fans and audiences all over the country with the routine that included aerobatics in the business aircraft with both engines shut down.
There were other airplanes, too. He performed airshows in T-28s, the Sabrejet businessliner, and more. There was no question about Hoover’s skills and abilities – he was perhaps, the greatest airshow pilot of our time.
©2016 J. Clark