A pair of F-86s, Hoover’s favorite aircraft, fly formation with an F-22.
Report and Photography by Bob Shane
October 25, 2016 marked the passing of R.A. “Bob” Hoover at age 94. He was one of the most accomplished and skilled aviators of our time. The really good pilots are referred to as a “Pilot’s Pilot.” This characterization is the definition of who Bob Hoover truly was. A fighter pilot, test pilot, flight instructor and air show pilot extraordinaire, Hoover did it all to perfection. Throughout his flying career he played an important role in the achievement of milestone projects such as breaking the sound barrier. He is widely considered the founding father of modern aerobatics. Hoover’s standard aerobatic routine in his Rockwell twin engine Shrike Commander business aircraft consisted of shutting both engines down, performing loops, rolls, one wheel landings and taxis up to the crowd live at air show center, all dead stick. His attire for this amazing display was a business suit and tie and his signature Panama hat. A genuine American hero, Hoover’s fighter aircraft was shot down during the Second World War. He was captured by the Germans and later escaped by stealing a German FW190, and flying into Holland.
Bob Hoover (left) and his friend “Schnoz,” Evergreen custom service rep, 1985
Life in the sky for Hoover was an adventure followed by the next adventure. He lived life to the fullest, always a perfect gentleman, inspiring everyone he came in contact with. A mentor to all aviators, he empowered fellow pilots with the knowledge they needed to stay safe in the air.
Danny Clisham, air show announcer.
The best tribute and celebration of life ceremony honoring this true American hero was held in November at the Clay Lacy Aviation hangar in Van Nuys, California. Over 1,500 people, consisting of family, friends and professional associates attended this very special event. The Masters of Ceremony, premiere aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker and air show announcer Danny Clisham, immediately established an upbeat atmosphere of joy and “unmitigated” happiness. This is what Hoover would have wanted. The list of speakers was distinguished. Many of them would be considered tops in their respective fields. The one thing they all had in common was who they considered to be their hero and that person was Bob Hoover. Everyone who spoke for the allotted two minutes had a special and moving story to tell about the time they spent with Hoover and the profound impact he had on their lives and professional careers in aviation. These interactions many times involved the imparting of Hoover’s knowledge and advice that probably saved their lives as a pilot.
Clay Lacy, founder of Clay Lacy Aviation.
The speakers included Clay Lacy (the founder of Clay Lacy Aviation), Harrison Ford (actor and pilot) and Brian Cochran (Hoover’s business partner) who said of Hoover’s attitude “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming: Wow what a ride!” Mike Herman, Hoover’s personal pilot who flew him to events in his CJ-3, stated that Hoover told him just before his death that he didn’t want to be in bed doing nothing. He wanted to be with his friends in aviation. Dorothy Cochrane, the curator of general aviation aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, is in charge of Hoover’s Shrike Commander, which is on display at the museum. She was there when Hoover landed the Shrike at Dulles and taxied it all the way to a stop inside the museum, a feat which the museum director proclaims was never done before and will never be done again. Randy Fry, founder of Fry’s Electronics, spoke of his first flight with Hoover in the Shrike Commander when Hoover caused his straw hat to float around inside the cabin then land perfectly on the back seat without ever turning around. Jonna Doolittle, the granddaughter of Jimmy Doolittle, spoke of what a gifted storyteller Hoover was and that her grandfather said Hoover was “the greatest stick and rudder man that ever lived.” Rich Lee, Chief of Flight Test for The Boeing, Helicopter Division, stated that Hoover was the reason he was still alive today. Other speakers included: movie producer David Ellison, test pilot Tod Erickson, Lt. General USAF retired Dan Druen, Neil Armstrong’s son Mark Armstrong, Kim Furst who directed the documentary on Hoover called Flying The Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project.
The first formation flyby consisted of a Sabreliner, two USAF Thunderbird F-16s, and a Canadian Snowbird Tutor.
Following all the personal tributes on the ground, all 1500 attendees moved outside to the flightline. There was an honor guard, rifle salute, folding and presentation of an American flag to the Hoover family and flyby tributes in the sky. There were tree separate flight elements. The first was a four ship formation consisting of a Sabreliner leading two U.S. Air Force Thunderbird F-16s with a Canadian Snowbird Tutor jet flying in the slot position. Hoover was given a very special honor.
The third formation flyby consisted of a Hellcat, P-40, Hoover’s P-51 “Ole Yeller” and a British Spitfire (The missing man formation)..
All three elite flight demonstration teams, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Canadian Snowbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels each made Bob Hoover an honorary member of their team. The second element consisted of an F-22 Raptor and two F-86 Sabre Jets. Hoover had flown just about everything, but the F-86 was his favorite. The third and final element consisted of a P-40 Warhawk, Grumman Hellcat, P-51 Mustang, and a British Spitfire. This was the ceremonial missing man formation.
Next on the agenda was a festive hangar party. The tribute did not end there. The party relocated to the Van Nuys Airtel Plaza Hotel and continued on into the evening.
Bob Hoover (right) and Dale Smith, founder of Evergreen International Aviation (left).
I think it is safe to say that there will never be another pilot as prolific, skilled and accomplished as R. A. “Bob” Hoover. The annals of aviation should reflect that the world has just lost the greatest aviator of our time.