Honoring a Legend: ALPA Pilots Remember Bob Hoover

Robert A. “Bob” Hoover died Tuesday at the age of 94, marking the end of a legendary life in aviation. Widely regarded as the “pilot’s pilot,” Hoover flew 58 missions during World War II before being shot down and spending 16 months as a prisoner of war. He escaped from the POW camp, stole a German FW-190, and flew back to Allied territory.

After the war, Hoover trained as a test pilot and was backup for Chuck Yeager during the testing of the Bell X-1’s push to break Mach 1. He later became an aerobatic pilot—first flying a P-51 Mustang and later his trademark Shrike Commander—thrilling millions over five decades with his flight maneuvers and “managed energy” routines, including single-engine and engine-out aerobatics.

In his memory, ALPA pilots submitted their reflections and personal stories of the late Bob Hoover:

 I grew up in a flying family, and my earliest memory of airplanes was of a yellow airplane at an air show. Later, I was able to identify the type of aircraft in my memory. It was a yellow P51—only Bob Hoover. Much later, when Art Scholl died, I flew a 4-ship T-6 missing man formation with Bob Hoover during an air show to honor Art. Mr. Hoover was a gentleman and a pleasure to fly with during that formation, and did a professional military-style mission brief. I still feel honored to have been able to fly with him. It is still one of my favorite aviation experiences.—Capt. Lew Beck, Delta

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Bob Hoover in the late 1980s at the New England Escadrille air show at Concord, New Hampshire. Under the VIP tent for performers, I sat directly across from Bob. To me he was and always will be of rock-star status. I feebly mentioned that I never had flown in an air show before, in fact I didn’t even know what I was going to do.

He said, “Young man, don’t worry about it. Go out there and have fun and no matter what you do in that A-10, they will love it!” Then he said, “Someday I might die in one of these shows. But you know what? It’ll take the mortician a week to get the smile off my face!”

Then he told me this amazing story. He had been invited to go to the USSR to watch an air show and fly there. He flew one of the YAK aircraft, and immediately after takeoff Bob said he knew exactly how it would fly. He went straight ahead and in a mile or so came up on a hill, rolled upside down and pulled, disappearing from the crowd. He circled around the crowd by 10 miles or so and showed up behind the crowd going as fast as he could. He landed and pretty much went straight to prison as a CIA spy! He said he guessed the Soviets thought he was going to steal it, and wondered where he was for those several minutes when he went out of sight. After a week the State Department got him released and he went home. “It was worth it,” he told me. Anyway, he did a great show in the Shrike and then he strolled off in his straw hat . . . A great pilot, a legend, and a national treasure in the aviation world. —F/O Rick Mitchell, FedEx

I met Mr. Hoover at a reception at a local hotel and banquet center in Tulsa for air show participants. I flew a Sentry E3 from Tinker AFB in for a static display. I think that it was the summer of 1985. I remember that Mr. Hoover was very interesting, and he told us about some of his experiences during his aviation career. His air show demonstration was very impressive. —Capt. Doran (Arch) Archuleta, Mesa

 A lifetime ago, my best friend and I flew the air show circuit as the Skylark North Glider Aerobatic Team. We had performed earlier in the same day that Jerry Chadic stuck an F-18 in the dirt at the MCAS El Toro air show. Bob Hoover was the next act scheduled to fly. Everyone was dazed and confused; nobody seemed to know what to do after the crash.

 Then came a radio call from Bob at the departure end of the runway in his Shrike Commander: “Are we going to fly an air show or what?” He alone refocused everybody and flew a flawless routine, right after a bad air show accident. I will always remember him as a true professional, a real pilot’s pilot.—Capt. Alan Arakelian, Envoy


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