Robert Anderson “Bob” Hoover, one of our greatest pilots, passed away on October 25, 2016, at age 94.
Bob Hoover spent many decades as a U.S. Air Force fighter pilot during World War II, and test pilot and air show pilot afterwards.
One of the most interesting stories about Hoover occurred during the latter stages of WW II. He was shot down over Nice, France, and spent sixteen months in a POW camp. Much of that time was in solitary confinement because of his many attempts to escape. He finally did escape the camp, managed to steal a German Focke Wulf 190 fighter, and flew to safety in The Netherlands. Of course, his fear was that he would be shot down while flying the enemy aircraft.
By the time he reached Holland, Hoover remembered
“My gas tank was registering close to zero”.
Then he had to worry about possible retribution by local residents on a “German” pilot.
“All of a sudden pitchforks came at me from every direction.”
However, he told the driver of a passing British truck,
“I hope you can help me. I’m a Yank; they think I’m a Kraut!”
They quickly drove off with Hoover as their new passenger.
For his service during WW II, Bob Hoover received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier’s Medal for Falor, the Air Medal with clusters (multiple awards), Purple Heart, and the French Croix de guerre, which honored those who fought with the Allied against the Axis forces at any time during World War II.
Over the years, Hoover has been called a “pilot’s pilot”. One reason is he revolutionized modern aerobatic flying and has been referred to in many aviation circles as one of the greatest pilots ever to have lived. Jimmy Doolittle said Hoover was “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived”.
Indeed, Hoover is found as #10 of the “51 Heroes of Aviation” after more well-known pilots such as Neil Armstrong (#1); the Wright brothers (#2); Charles Lindbergh (#3); Chuck Yeager (#5); Jimmy Doolittle (#6); and Amelia Earheart (#9). And in the Centennial of Flight edition of “Air & Space/Smithsonian”, he was named the third greatest aviator in history.
Bob Collin’s wrote in his tribute that Hoover had met “Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager, Jacqueline Cochran, and Neil Armstrong”. In addition, he had also met Eddie Rickenbacker and Yuri Gagarin, the Russian astronaut. All of these great pilots spanned what he called the “golden age of flight.”
According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs statistics, 620,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2016. But now there is one less.
God Speed Bob Hoover! We all salute you for your service to our country.
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