On October 25, 2016 the great USAF fighter pilot, test pilot and airshow star, Bob Hoover, died at 94. You can find all kinds of coverage about Bob on the web, so take a few minutes to get clued in about this wonderful aviator, who counted many Canadians as good friends.
Beginning early after the war, several RCAF pilots taking USAF test pilot courses at Wright Field in Ohio and Edwards AFB in California were the earliest Canadians to get to know Bob Hoover. Thereafter, many others were honoured to know him professionally in the USAF, and as members of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots. Bob usually showed up at SETP annual symposia, where there invariably was a Canadian contingent.
Bob was renowned on the Canada-US airshow circuit. Canadians enjoyed his displays at such annual events as the Abbotsford International Air Show. He became a great friend of Canada’s Snowbirds, eventually being inducted by the team as an “Honourary Snowbird”. In 1988 he was inducted into the US National Aviation Hall of Fame.
In 1972 I spent a few days at one of the great aviation events of the era – “Transpo 72” at Washington-Dulles airport. Each day there was a list of exciting displays, including Bob Hoover doing his 3-plane demo. For “Show 1” he would take up his Mustang N51RH and wring it out, leaving the crowd greatly impressed. Then, he’d land and taxi to the ramp. He’d step out of N51RH straight into Bronco 71-3558, take off and fly“Show 2”. That done, he’d finish in Rockwell Shrike Commander N5007H (out of the Bronco, straight into the Shrike). For his finale, he’d shut down both Shrike engines, land “deadstick” and have just enough energy left in his plane to roll to the ramp. He’d exit the Shrike looking none the worst for wear, wave to the crowd and saunter across the ramp.
Bob Hoover’s lovely P-51 began as USAF 44-74739. It joined the RCAF in 1951 as 9297, then was sold back into the US in 1959, where it had a string of owners. In 1971 it was re-manufactured by Cavalier Aircraft in Sarasota, then was Bob’s 1974-1997. N51RH remained active in 2017.
It’s always sad to hear that the next Bob Hoover has “flown west”, for these are the magnificent citizens who laid the foundation of today’s aviation scene. In Dan Dempsey’s book A Tradition of Excellence: Canada’s Airshow Team Heritage, there’s a perfect quote about Bob from “OB” Philp. The RCAF “Golden Centennaires” were disbanding at the end of Centennial Year, and their CO – “OB” – was tallying all the congratulations pouring in. “In my opinion,” he wrote, “ the most gracious tribute came from Bob Hoover, probably the best demonstration pilot ever produced by the United States.”
Bob Hoover flew Shrike N5007H for 20 years. You can see it today on display in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum adjacent to Dulles airport. Here, Bob has just finished his 3-plane flight demo of May 27, 1972 and is walking towards the camera.
Elsewhere in Dan’s world-class book (make sure you have your copy, eh), the great RCAF fighter pilot and flight demo professional, Bob Hallowell (the RCAF’s “Red Knight” in the early 1960s) recalls flying formation one day with Bob Hoover: “We did a nice beat-up at Paine AFB in Washington with an American named Ben Hall leading in a green and orange Mustang – Hoover on left wing in an F-100 Super Sabre and myself on right wing in the Knight. The FAA didn’t like us much!” So, read up a bit about Bob Hoover on the web, you’ll be inspired. And … be sure you have A Tradition of Excellence, the book that’s at the top of my personal list as the best of them all. Order your copy online or download the order form here.