A Major Transition in Skillset &
the Embodiement of Our Nation’s Greatest Generation
“Great pilots are not made; they’re born.” – Anonymous.
This quote may or may not be true as applied to the general population of pilots, but it sure was appropriate as applied to the stick and rudder skills of Bob Hoover. A fighter, test and exhibition artist in the cockpit. His hands had such great touch that he could perform precision mere mortals would not even consider. His air show flying amazed his audiences unlike any of the tricks of his compatriots.
Mr. Hoover just died and it is not probable that someone will equal his talents.
From the Air & Space Museum:
Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, himself a pioneering pilot and famed World War II military strategist, called Hoover the “greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived.”
“Bob Hoover has been a source of awe and inspiration, who has provided a shared connection for generations of aviation enthusiasts,” Bolen said. “He was a national treasure, who was respected and beloved by history’s most significant aviation figures, and the millions who saw his air show performances or heard him speak.”
“The boldness and grace of Bob Hoover the pilot was matched only by the humility and graciousness of Bob Hoover the human being,” Bolen continued. “He was simply the best. Our aviation community has been fortunate to have such an extraordinary person with us for so many decades.”
“The death of Bob Hoover is a tremendous loss to the entire aviation community,” GAMA President and CEO Pete Bunce said. “Bob was a great friend and mentor to countless aviators in the military, manufacturing, test pilot, and airshow segments of our profession. No one else in history has had his ‘hands’ and knowledge of how to maximize the performance of an aircraft in all corners of the envelope. Bob inspired multiple generations to reach for the sky and the stars, and those of us who had the privilege of knowing him will never forget what a kind gentleman Bob was to all.”
“Even as Bob’s health declined in recent years, he rallied to attend every aviation event he could and spent numerous hours sharing his experiences and his aviation prowess with aspiring pilots, passing along his love and passion for aviation to future generations. As the United States prepares to remember the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor in December, Bob will particularly be in our hearts and thoughts as the embodiment of our nation’s ‘greatest generation.'”
Hoover was born in Nashville, TN, on Jan. 24, 1922, and learned to fly at Nashville’s Berry Field. He served as a combat aviator during World War II, then flew as a military and civilian test pilot before becoming a renowned air show performer. Recognized by his signature wide-brimmed straw hat, Hoover is often referred to as “the pilots’ pilot.”
During World War II, Hoover was shot down during a combat mission and spent 16 months as a prisoner of war before escaping by commandeering a German fighter aircraft.
Upon returning to the United States, he evaluated captured enemy aircraft and flight-tested U.S. combat airplanes, including the first jets. As an alternate pilot for the supersonic Bell X-1, Hoover flew the chase plane when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947.
During his military career, Hoover’s citations included the Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart, the Legion of Merit and the Prisoner of War Medal, among others.
After leaving the Air Force in 1948, Hoover became a civilian test pilot, working for North American Aviation and Rockwell International for more than three decades. Considered a founder of modern aerobatics, Hoover, who piloted more than 300 types of aircraft, is best known for his jaw-dropping aerial demonstrations in his Shrike Commander and famous yellow P-51 Mustang.
Though Hoover’s piloting skill can be attributed to his genes, even the most talented man or woman in today’s cockpit can and must devote substantial time to training and simulator work. The irony is that today’s planes involve infinitely more automation than Mr. Hoover’s aircraft, but today’s aviation professionals need to spend considerable time understanding the “autopilot” systems and the man-machine interface.
Mr. Hoover’s passing signifies a major transition in the skill set. The “stick and rudder”ability needs to coordinate well with the many systems which support the plane’s safety.