Military Wiki
Robert A. Hoover
Bob Hoover's 2005 Gathering of Eagles Lithograph
(USAF Image)
Nickname Bob
Born January 24, 1922(1922-01-24) (age 100)
Place of birth Nashville, Tennessee
Allegiance United States
Service/branch Seal of the US Air Force.svg United States Air Force
Years of service 1940–1948
Rank US-O2 insignia.svg First Lieutenant
Unit 52nd Fighter Group
Flight Evaluation Group
Battles/wars World War II
Korean War
Awards Distinguished Flying Cross
Soldier's Medal for Valor
Air Medal with Clusters
Purple Heart
Croix de guerre
Other work Test and air show pilot

Robert A. "Bob" Hoover (born January 24, 1922) is a former air show pilot and United States Air Force test pilot, known for his wide-brimmed straw hat and wide smile. In aviation circles, he is often referred to as "The pilots' pilot."

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.[1] He enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard and was sent for pilot training with the Army.[2] During World War II, he was sent to Casablanca where his first major assignment was test flying the assembled aircraft ready for service.[3] He was later assigned to the Spitfire-equipped 52nd Fighter Group in Sicily.[4] In 1944, on his 59th mission, his malfunctioning Mark V Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190 off the coast of Southern France and he was taken prisoner.[5] He spent 16 months at the German prison camp Stalag Luft 1 in Barth, Germany.[6]

Hoover managed to escape from the prison camp, stole an Fw 190, and flew to safety in the Netherlands.[7] He was assigned to flight-test duty at Wright Field after the war. There he impressed and befriended Chuck Yeager.[8] When Yeager was later 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.[9] He also flew chase for the 50th anniversary in an F-16 Fighting Falcon.[10]

He left the Air Force for civilian jobs in 1948.[11] This included a brief time with Allison Engine Company and finally test/demonstration pilot with North American Aviation where he went on to Korea teaching the pilots in Korean war how to dive-bomb with the F-86 Sabre, and visited many active-duty, reserve and air national guard units to demonstrate the plane's capabilities to their pilots. Hoover flew flight tests on the FJ "Fury," F-86 "Sabre," and the F-100 "Supersabre."

In the early 1960s, Hoover proposed the idea of promoting the North American name by demonstrating one of North American's most famous products, the P-51 Mustang fighter, at airshows around the country. The Hoover Mustang (N2251D) was purchased by North American Aviation from Dave Lindsay's Cavalier Aircraft Corp. in 1962. A second Mustang (N51RH), later named "Ole Yeller," was purchased by North American Rockwell from Cavalier in 1971 to replace the earlier aircraft that was destroyed in a ground accident when an oxygen bottle exploded after being overfilled. Hoover demonstrated the Mustang and later the Aero Commander at hundreds of airshows until his retirement in the 1990s. In 1997 Hoover sold Ole Yeller to his good friend John Bagley of Rexburg, Idaho. Ole Yeller still flies frequently and is based out of the Legacy Flight Museum[12] in Rexburg, Idaho.

Bob Hoover has set records for transcontinental and "time to climb" speed,[13] and has personally known such great aviators as Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, James H Doolittle, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.[14]

Bob Hoover is best known for his civil air show career, which started when he was hired to demonstrate the capabilities of Aero Commander's Shrike Commander, a twin piston-engined 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 would not 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 restarting the engines.

A few years after starting the show he began carrying passengers during the show. (The Shrike Commander carries six passengers.) These passengers became known as "Hoover's Heavers" due to the number who became airsick during the maneuvers.[citation needed]

With the advent of camcorders Hoover added a flourish to the act by pouring a glass of iced tea from a pitcher, while performing a barrel roll, a 1G maneuver.[15]

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 World War II fighter aircraft) joined up in line-abreast formation on Hoover's yellow P-51 Mustang, 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 dove 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.

Medical controversy

"Ole Yeller," flown by John Bagley at an air show in Rexburg, ID.

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.[16][17]

Shortly before his revocation, Hoover experienced serious engine problems in a T-28 off the coast of California. During his return to Torrance, he was able to keep the engine running intermittently by constantly manipulating the throttle, mixture, and propeller lever. Just as he landed the engine froze. Hoover believed his successful management of this difficult emergency should have convinced the FAA that his capabilities were as good as ever.[18] Meanwhile, Hoover was granted a pilot's licence, and medical certificate, by Australia's aviation authorities.[19] Hoover's medical certificate was restored shortly afterwards,[17] and he returned to the American airshow circuit for several years before retiring.

Bob Hoover's Shrike Commander at the Udvar-Hazy Center

Following Hoover's retirement, his Shrike Commander is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Udvar-Hazy Center, in Dulles, Virginia.[20]

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."[21] 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.[22] He was also made an honorary member of the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds, RCAF Snowbirds, American Fighter Aces Association, Original Eagle squadron and received an Award of Merit from the American Fighter Pilots Association.[22] In 1992, he was inducted into the Aerospace Walk of Honor.[23] In 2007, he received the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Trophy.[21][24]

On 18 May 2010, R.A. "Bob" Hoover delivered the 2010 Charles A. Lindbergh Memorial Lecture at the Smithsonian Institute's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. The U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School conferred an honorary doctorate on Hoover at the school's December 2010 graduation ceremony.[25]

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 line personnel who mistook the piston-engine Shrike for a similar turboprop model, filling the tanks with jet fuel instead of avgas (aviation gasoline).[26] There was enough avgas in the fuel system to taxi to the runway and take off, but then the jet fuel was drawn into the engines, causing them to stop.

Once Hoover recovered, he widely promoted[27] 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).[28][29]


  1. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 15–16. 
  2. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 17. 
  3. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 37. 
  4. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 50. 
  5. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 65–67. 
  6. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 90. 
  7. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 88–90. 
  8. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 93. 
  9. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 110. 
  10. "Hoover Flys Chase for Yeager". Ohio University Post. 1997-10-15. Retrieved 2008-11-29. [dead link]
  11. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 137. 
  12. "Library of Planes: Old Yeller". Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  13. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 251–253. 
  14. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 247. 
  15. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 287. 
  16. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 278–279. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 Jon L. Jordan, MD, JD. "The Federal Air Surgeon's Column: Bob Hoover, the facts". Federal Aviation Administration. 
  18. Hoover. Forever Flying. p. 280. 
  19. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 281–282. 
  20. "North American Rockwell Shrike Commander 500S, Robert A. "Bob" Hoover". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved June 25, 2013. 
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Robert A. "Bob" Hoover and Hale, STS-121 Shuttle Team are Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum Trophy Winners". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 2007-03-07. Retrieved 2008-11-29. [dead link]
  22. 22.0 22.1 Hoover. Forever Flying. xiii. 
  23. "Hoover Biography". Aerospace Walk of Honor. City of Lancaster, California. Retrieved 2008-11-29. 
  24. "Recipients of the National Air and Space Museum Trophy". Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Retrieved 2008-11-29. [dead link]
  25. "That's Dr. Hoover to You". Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Enterprises. February/March 2011. p. 11. ISSN 0886-2257. 
  26. Hoover. Forever Flying. pp. 275–277. 
  27. "Six Aviation Legends To Be Recognized As 'Master Pilots'". Aviation Online Magazine. September 19, 2010. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  28. "The Causes and Remedies of Aviation Misfueling". Fedral Aviation Administration. July / August 2005. p. 20. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 
  29. "Aircraft Misfueling – A Continuing Threat". NATA Safety 1st eToolkit. July 18, 2006. p. 1. Retrieved June 24, 2013. 


  • Hoover, Robert A.; Shaw, Mark (1996). Forever Flying:. New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 0-671-53760-1. 

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