Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you Bob Hoover, the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived." That airshow introduction from General "Jimmy" Doolittle only scratches the surface of the military and civilian career of someone whom Brigadier General "Chuck" Yeager calls the "greatest pilot I ever saw. " Hoover learned to fly at Berry Field, just minutes from his hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. Sacking groceries for twelve and a half cents an hour, Hoover paid for his flying lessons at the age of 15 dreaming of his heroes Charles Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacker.
While beginning his military career as a tail-gunner trainee in the Tennessee ANG, Hoover transitioned to pilot training in time for the winds of war to draw him to Europe during WWII. There, he tested every front-line fighter and many bombers before they were released to combat crews. But combat burned in Hoover's heart, so he requested a transfer to the 52d Fighter Group flying Supermarine Mk V Spitfires. During his 59th mission and first aerial engagement, the external fuel tank jettison handle came off in his hand. Pressing his attack with the Focke-Wulf 190s, Hoover was fighting with "one hand tied behind his back." He traded gunfire until the weight-laden Spitfire's engine exploded.
Captured, he spent a cruel 16 months in Stalag I, repeatedly attempting escapes. His final effort brought freedom-unbelievably commandeering a German FW-190 and flying at tree-top level to Holland. Once he returned stateside, Hoover was hired by the North American Aviation Corporation to test and demonstrate numerous aircraft, including the F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre. During the Korean War, Hoover flew to Korea to show inexperienced combat pilots what the Sabre could really do. His flight and combat demonstrations earned accolades from commanders as pilot morale soared at the spectacle of an F-86 being flown to design limits.
Similarly, Hoover is recognized by millions as the premier air show performer in the world. He is renowned for the Energy Management Maneuver, where he shuts down both engines of his Rockwell Shrike Commander and performs a loop, eight-point roll, a 180-degree turn to a landing, then taxis to showcenter without ever restarting the engines! To date, Hoover has flown over 20,000 flight hours in over 300 types of aircraft. In nearly 3,000 airshows, he has flown before more people, in more countries, in more aircraft than anyone in history. He has been awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and numerous civilian awards including the Lindbergh Medal for lifetime achievement. Hoover currently resides in Los Angeles, California, with his wife, Colleen.
During a North American Aviation Corporation sponsored demonstration trip to inspire combat pilots in South Korea, Robert A. "Bob" Hoover broke company rules and pressed for combat with the 18th Fighter-Bomber Group flying the F-86 Sabre Jet. His assigned target was a bridge on a major road that had been missed repeatedly. Hoover, using his precision dive-bombing technique, put two bombs on target on his first pass, dropping the span. Hoover's link between flight test and fielded capability is legendary.