As if escaping from a German prisoner of war camp wasn't enough, Bob Hoover took things to the next level when he befriended none other than record-setting test pilot Chuck Yeager...
On Tuesday we told the story of Bob Hoover, the legendary World War Two fighter pilot and aerobatics stuntman. Growing up in Nashville, Hoover used his earnings from his part time job to fund flying lessons, then taught himself aerobatics. He flew Supermarine Spitfires in World War Two before being captured and sent to - and escaping from - a prisoner of war camp. World War II had been an important period in his life, but Bob Hoover’s career within the aviation industry – and indeed his worldwide fame – was only just taking off…
After the war, Hoover remained in the aviation industry. Assigned to Wilbur Wright Field, Ohio as a test pilot, the next chapter of Bob's life would be almost as much of a wild ride as the first! It was at Wilbur Wright Field that he met fellow test pilot and record breaking Bell X-1 pilot Chuck Yeager. After introductions were made, Hoover and Yeager became closer friends; Hoover even became Yeager's back-up during the supersonic Bell X-1 programme, an accolade which was bestowed upon him by Yeager himself. On October 14th, 1947, Hoover flew the chase plane as his close friend broke the sound barrier. He also flew chase for the 50th anniversary of the Mach 1 flight in a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
In 1948, Bob Hoover left the air force. During his time serving, he had flown Spitfires in the war, been a prisoner for 16 months, escaped in the same aircraft that had gotten him captured, taught a new generation to fly and flown alongside his friend, the world's first pilot to exceed the speed of sound. At the age of just 26, Hoover had accomplished more than most could wish to in a lifetime.
But he wasn’t going to stop there.
Bob Hoover’s civilian life began when he worked as a test/demonstration pilot with North American Aviation. Even though he was now a civilian pilot, his main assignment was to travel to Korea and use his training skills to teach pilots in flying combat missions, including teaching them how to dive-bomb with the North American F-86 Sabre. Although Hoover flew in combat bombing missions over enemy territory, due to his civilian status he was not permitted to engage in air-to-air combat for the entire six weeks that he was there. As someone who had clearly been so hands-on with his flying in the past, it’s easy to imagine how frustrating Hoover must have found this hands-off approach.
Throughout the following decades, Bob Hoover’s career went from strength to strength. He was the experimental flight tester for the Navy FJ-2 jet fighter and the USAF F-86 and F-100. As of 1966, he was captain of the U.S. Acrobatic Team at the international competition in Moscow. In 1971, he became the only person to ever have served two terms as president of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Over the years, Bob’s achievements ensured that he became a world renown aerobatic pilot, and his P-51 was often the main attraction at the Reno Air Races. His flights were full of weird and wonderful manoeuvres, but he was also known for creating the stunt of successfully pouring a cup of tea while performing a 1G barrel roll. He truly demonstrated that there was absolutely nothing that he was incapable of when it came to him sitting in a cockpit.
Bob performed in his final air show on November 13, 1999. After 58 years of flying – and now at 77 years of age – he decided to hang up his air show wings. Of course, he went on to fly recreationally for many more years to come, before fully retiring from life in the air in 2003. Bob Hoover passed away in 2016 after a life which, we think it’s fair to say, was spent more in the air than on the ground! He had been the man that everybody wanted to see fly, and was described by General Jimmy Doolittle as "the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived".
If you haven't already, you can read part one of Bob Hoover's story here.