“Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you Bob Hoover, the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived.” That airshow introduction from General “Jimmy” Doolittle only scratches the surface of the military and civilian career of someone whom Brigadier General “Chuck” Yeager called the “greatest pilot I ever saw.” Hoover learned to fly at Berry Field, just minutes from his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. At the age of 15, he paid for his own flying lessons by sacking groceries while dreaming of his heroes Charles Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacker. After beginning his military career as a tail-gunner trainee in the Tennessee ANG, Hoover transitioned to pilot training in time for World War II. There, he tested every front-line fighter, and many bombers, before they were released to combat crews. Combat burned in Hoover’s heart, however, so he requested a transfer to the 52d Fighter Group which flew the Supermarine Mk V Spitfires. During his 59th mission and first aerial engagement with Luftwaffe fighters, the Spitfire’s external fuel tank jettison handle came off in his hand. Pressing his attack with the Focke-Wulf 190s, Hoover was fighting with “one hand tied behind his back.” He traded gunfire until the weight-laden Spitfire’s engine exploded. He was captured and spent a cruel 16 months in the Stalag Luft I prison camp, where he repeatedly attempted to escape. His final effort brought freedom: incredibly, he commandeered a German FW-190 and flew at treetop level to Holland. Once he returned stateside after the war, Hoover was hired by the North American Aviation Corporation to test and demonstrate numerous aircraft, including the F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. During the Korean War, Hoover traveled to Korea to show inexperienced combat pilots what the Sabre could really do. Pilot morale soared at the spectacle of an F-86 being pushed to the edge of its design limits. Similarly, millions have recognized Hoover as the world’s premier air show performer. He is best known for the Energy Management Maneuver, in which he shuts down both engines of his Rockwell Shrike Commander and performs a loop, eight-point roll, a 180-degree turn to a landing, then taxis to show center without ever restarting the engines! To date, Hoover has flown over 30,000 hours in over 300 types of aircraft. A veteran of nearly 3,000 airshows, he has likely flown in front of more people, in more countries, in more aircraft than anyone in history. His honors include the Distinguished Flying Cross and numerous civilian awards, including the Lindbergh Medal for lifetime achievement. In 1988, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. In 2007, he was inducted into the International Air & Space Hall of Fame at the San Diego Air & Space Museum. Mr. Hoover passed away on 25 October 2016 in Los Angeles, CA.
Mr. Hoover was first selected as an Eagle by the Air Command and Staff College’s Gather of Eagles in 2002 and subsequently honored in 2005 and 2013.