Bob Hoover

Bob Hoover

Infobox Military Person
name= Robert A. Hoover
born= Birth date and age|1922|1|24
placeofbirth= Nashville, Tennessee

caption= Bob Hoover's 2005 Gathering of Eagles Lithograph (USAF Image)
nickname= Bob
allegiance=flag|United States of America
serviceyears= 1940–1948
current position=
unit= 52nd Fighter Group Flight Evaluation Group
battles=World War II Korean War
awards= Distinguished Flying Cross Soldier's Medal for Valor Air Medal with Clusters Purple Heart Croix de guerre
laterwork= Test and air show pilot

Robert A. "Bob" Hoover (born 1922) is a former air show pilot and United States Air Force test pilot , known for his wide-brimmed straw hat and wide smile.

Aviation career

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. He was sent to Casablanca where his first major assignment of the war was test flying the assembled aircraft ready for service. He was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52nd Fighter group in Sicily. After 58 successful missions, on the 59th his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 off the coast of Southern France in 1944 and he was taken prisoner. He spent 16 months at the German prison camp Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.

He managed to escape from the prison camp, stole a Fw 190 [] , and flew to safety in the Netherlands. After the war, he was assigned to flight test duty at Wright Field. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager. Later when 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, and flew chase for the 50th anniversary in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.

He left the Air Force for civilian jobs in 1948. This included test/demonstration pilot with North American Aviation where he went on bombing missions with the F-86 Sabre over Korea, and visited many active-duty, reserve and air national guard units to demonstrate the plane's capabilities to their pilots.

Bob Hoover has set records for transcontinental and "time to climb" speed, and has personally known such great aviators as Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.

Bob Hoover is best known for his air show career, which started when he was hired to demonstrate the capabilities of Aero Commander's Shrike Commander, a twin-engined piston business aircraft which 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 wouldn't 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. On airfields with large enough parking ramps (such as the Reno Stead Airport where the Reno Air Races take place), Hoover would sometimes land directly on the ramp and coast all the way back to his parking spot in front of the grandstand without re-starting the engines.

A few years after starting the show, he began carrying passengers during the show — after all, he reasoned, the Shrike Commander carries six passengers in comfort (though perhaps not as much comfort when upside down.) These passengers became known as "Hoover's Heavers" due to the number who became airsick during the maneuvers.

With the advent of camcorders, Hoover added a flourish to the act by pouring a cup of tea from a Thermos bottle, while performing a slow barrel roll, a 1G maneuver. Video of this has been widely distributed, to the pleasure of Aero Commander enthusiasts.

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 warbirds) joined up in line-abreast formation on Hoover's P-51 Mustang, and when he had them 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, and Hoover would circle overhead during the race, acting as airborne traffic controller in case of mishaps.

Medical Controversy

His air show aerobatics career ended over medical concerns, when his medical certificate was revoked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the early 1990s. Some in the aviation community believed that the controversial suspension, reversed after legal proceedings, was actually a "stalking horse" in the ongoing debate over the mandatory retirement age for U.S. commercial pilots.

Ironically, shortly before the revocation, Hoover had proved his still considerable skills by making a difficult dead-stick landing in densely-populated Torrance, California, after his engine had failed miles out over the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile, Hoover was granted a pilot's licence, and medical certificate, by Australia's aviation authorities [cite book |last=Hoover |first=Robert A. |coauthors=Mark Shaw |title=Forever Flying |origyear=1996 |publisher=Pocket Books |location=New York |isbn=0-671-53760-1 |pages=281-282] , enabling him to fly in any part of the world other than the United States.Hoover's FAA medical certificate was eventually reinstated, but the damage had been done — he was unable to get the insurance necessary to perform, due to the company's fears. Hoover continued to fly his P-51 Mustang at shows, sometimes in tight formation with Yeager, but the Shrike Commander act was over.

Now that his air show career is over, his Shrike Commander is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy center, in Dulles, Virginia (

Honors and recognition

Bob Hoover is considered one of the founding fathers of modern aerobatics, and was described by Jimmy Doolittle as, "... the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived." In the Centennial of flight edition of the Air & Space Smithsonian, he was named the third greatest aviator in history.

During his illustrious career he was awarded the following military medals: Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldier's Medal for Valor, Air Medal with Clusters, Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. He was also made an honorary member of the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, American Fighter Aces Association, Original Eagle squadron and received an Award of Merit from the American Fighter Pilots Association. In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor. In 2007, he received the Smithsonian's National Air & Space Museum Trophy.

Hoover Nozzle and Hoover Ring

A perhaps-undesired recognition is the "Hoover Nozzle" used on jet-fuel pumps. The Hoover Nozzle is designed with a flattened bell shape. The Hoover Nozzle cannot be inserted in the filler neck of a plane with the "Hoover Ring" installed, thus preventing the tank from accidentally being filled with jet fuel.

This system was given this name following an accident in which Hoover was seriously injured, when both engines on his Shrike Commander failed during takeoff. Investigators found that the plane had just been fueled by a line boy who mistook the piston-engine Shrike for a similar turboprop model, filling the tanks with jet fuel instead of avgas (aviation gasoline). There was enough avgas in the fuel system to taxi to the runway and takeoff, but then the jet fuel was drawn into the engines, causing them to stop.

Once Hoover recovered, he widely promoted the use of the new type of nozzle with the support and funding of the National Air Transportation Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association and various other aviation groups (the nozzle is now required by Federal regulation on jet fuel pumps).


External links

* [ Bob Hoover video in which he pours tea while performing a barrel roll] from [ Alexis Park Inn & Suites' video library]
* [ Audio interview with Bob Hoover]
* [ Energy conservation video]

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