I suppose that anyone who is a pilot can make this claim about any number of pilots, however; it is wise to consider the source of the claim when assessing the validity of the observation. None other than Jimmy Doolittle, himself a terrific pilot, made this observation about one R. A. Bob Hoover, a modest man of accomplishment, who could easily be described as an “airplane whisperer” if such a thing existed. Mr. Hoover died on October 25, 2016 at the age of 94, in Los Angeles, Ca.
So how does a boy from Nashville, Tn., earn the descriptive noted by Gen. Doolittle? I will fill in some of the blanks for my readers. As a very young man, Mr. Hoover worked at a grocery store to earn money to take flying lessons close to his home. He was a quick study and loved to fly, an aptitude that landed him in U.S. Army flight training. Mr. Hoover advanced quickly in his training and was soon stationed in Sicily, flying the British Spitfire in action against the Luftwaffe. A German ace, Siegfried Lemke, another tremendous fighter pilot, shot Mr. Hoover down when his airplane was experiencing mechanical problems. Lemke had already been credited with 96 aerial victories. Mr. Hoover spent the next 16 months in a German POW camp, before escaping and making his way to a German airfield where he promptly stole a German FW 190, the same type aircraft that was used to shoot him down, that he flew to the Netherlands.
Mr. Hoover then began test flying various military aircraft, including the F-86 Sabre and the F-100 Super Sabre fighters, which he demonstrated in Korea during that conflict. His fighter flying exploits encompassed the F-15 before this phase of flying was over for him. After the military, he began show flying, dazzling crowds across America with unbelievable exploits in various types of aircraft, including the venerable P-51 Mustang. His ability to precisely control an airplane may never be matched, including his legendary ability to pour tea from a pitcher into a glass, backhanded, while executing a complete loop in an airplane. He could accomplish this without spilling so much as a drop of tea!
The awards and accolades poured in during Mr. Hoover’s lifetime as an aviator. He won the Distinguished Flying Cross, The Soldier’s Medal of Valor, a handful of air medals, a Purple Heart and the French Croix de Guerre. He was a honorary member of the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Canadian snowbirds. In 1988, he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He was awarded the Living Legends of Flight Award in 2006, which was renamed the Bob Hoover Freedom Flight Award. Mr. Hoover received the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Trophy and the National Aeronautic Association’s Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. To cap it off, the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School conferred him as an honorary doctorate in 2010.
When asked about his legendary status, Mr. Hoover remarked that he had been in the right place at the right time, but was familiar with being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Pilots certainly can relate to this casual observation. His ability to handle an airplane were unmatched, and made him famous, but his kindness and genteel nature made him beloved. Mr. Hoover was not only the greatest stick and rudder man that ever lived…..he is a part of the fabric of America.