Bob Hoover - FU Hero
Bob Hoover. Remember when Gordo Cooper in “The Right Stuff” would pose the question, “Who’s the greatest pilot you ever saw?” I don’t think that most fighter pilots I know would argue the fact that Bob Hoover is one of the greatest pilots of all time.
Bob 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 Air Corps. During WW 2, he was assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52nd Fighter Group in Sicily. In 1944, on his 59th mission, his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by a 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 three failed attempts to flee from his German captors, Bob Hoover was running out of escape options. When a staged fight among the other prisoners diverted the attention of the prison guards, the former Stalag Luft 1 resident hopped a barbwire fence and went looking for the refuge of Allied territory. While he didn’t quite make it to Allied land on foot, Hoover did manage to find an abandoned Fw 190, which he cautiously flew to the then recently liberated Holland. It’s kind of ironic that the same aircraft that put him in prison was the one he flew to freedom. One things for sure, this guy has some big balls.
After the War, Chuck Yeager was asked who he wanted for flight crew for the supersonic Bell X-1 flight, he named Bob Hoover. Hoover was 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 in an F-16.
Bob Hoover is best known for his accomplishments as a Test Pilot and later an aerobatic demonstration pilot at air shows. Anyone who can go over the top in a Shrike Commander with both engines shut down, come back around and touch down on one wheel and then the other, pull to a stop at show center, and also possess the highly coveted skill of pouring a cup of tea during a barrel roll---Well let’s just say he might be the greatest pilot any of us has ever seen. Jimmy Doolittle referred to Bob Hoover as “the best stick and rudder guy who ever lived.” That’s not a bad endorsement coming from another FU Hero.
Hoover also served for many years as the official starter of the Unlimited-class races at the Reno Air Races. The race planes (mostly modified WWII fighter aircraft) joined up in line-abreast formation on Hoover's yellow P-51 Mustang, Old Yeller, and when in satisfactory order the spectators would hear over the PA his famous radio call, "Gentlemen, you have a race." Hoover's plane would pull up sharply into a vertical climb as the racers dived toward the first turn. Hoover would circle overhead during the race, ready to assist any race pilots with problems. In several cases, Hoover helped pilots with crippled race planes to a safe recovery by talking them down while flying in formation with them.
Bob Hoover is considered one of the founding fathers of modern aerobatics. In the Centennial of flight edition of the Air & Space Smithsonian, he was named the third greatest aviator in history. Sorry, but I think they got that one wrong. Bob Hoover has often been called a “pilot’s pilot” and the faculty at FU is proud to add Bob Hoover in our honored hall of FU Heroes.