By Tom Demerly for TACAIRNET.com
Iconic airman, test pilot, air racer and airshow demonstration pilot Bob Hoover, died today. He was 94 years old.
Hoover’s remarkable career spanned the golden age of aviation that included WWII, breaking the sound barrier and the proliferation of military and civil jet aviation.
Most people will remember Bob Hoover as a captivating airshow demonstration pilot in the twin-engine general aviation Rockwell Aero Commander, an aircraft Hoover made famous by flying demonstrations at airshows that defied multi-engine flight profile norms including a remarkable dead-stick (engines off) segment of his demonstration routine.
Hoover was a poised and animated airman, humble compared to many of his contemporaries. He was often seen wearing a wide-brim plantation hat that became his trademark.
Bob Hoover’s somewhat lesser known, but more remarkable record in WWII included a bizarre escape from German held territory after being shot down. Hoover stole a German Focke-Wulf FW-190 fighter aircraft, a type he had never flown before, and escaped to Holland in it. He landed the aircraft in a field and retracted the landing gear during the roll-out to prevent a ground collision. Dutch farmers surrounded him before British soldiers discovered him. He was repatriated soon after.
Hoover also nearly broke the sound barrier in a piston-engine P-47 Thunderbolt during post-war flight tests in which two previous test pilots died. Hoover lost consciousness during one of the speed dives after his wings buckled with structural damage during the pull-out of the dive. Hoover survived after regaining consciousness minutes latter while still in level flight. The P-47 he was flying was damaged beyond repair in the dive and never flew again.
During the golden age of jet aviation Bob Hoover participated in early attempts to break the sound barrier. Chuck Yeager selected Bob Hoover in the critical role of chase pilot during his historic mach-busting first flight through the sound barrier on October 14, 1947. Hoover piloted a P-80 Shooting Star alongside Yeager during the Bell X-1’s launch from a B-29 mother ship.
Hoover’s Test pilot career continued in the U.S. Navy’s FJ-1 Fury carrier based single engine fighter, an aircraft similar in configuration to the U.S. Air Force’s F-86 Sabre. He also served as test pilot on the F-86 and the F-100 Super Sabre, the first operational supersonic fighter and the first of the “Century Series” of fighter aircraft that dominated the three decades of American fighter aircraft. Hoover was the first pilot to land an F-100 “dead stick” without engine power.
Following his test pilot career Hoover went on to become a headlining air race pilot in a highly modified P-51 mustang at the Reno Air Races.
Hoover’s industry accolades and service included two terms as the President of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots.
With the loss of Hoover the surviving members of this golden age of flight testing and air combat shrink by an enormous amount. His loss signals a close to an age of aviation that will never be repeated. Bob Hoover’s contributions touch every person on earth who has flown.