Top pilot who stole plane to escape WWII prison camp dies

Top pilot who stole plane to escape WWII prison camp dies

Robert A. “Bob” Hoover, a World War II fighter pilot who became an aviation legend for his flying skills in testing aircraft and demonstrating their capabilities in air shows, has died at age 94.

Hoover, who lived in Palos Verdes Estates, California, died early Tuesday, said Bill Fanning, a close family friend for many years and fellow pilot.

“He was every pilot’s icon,” Fanning said, recalling his friend as one of the premier test pilots of the 1950s and ’60s. “Bob tested everything. He flew them all.”

When the National Air and Space Museum conferred its highest honor on Hoover in 2007, the museum noted that Jimmy Doolittle, leader of the famed 1942 bomber raid on Japan, had once described Hoover as “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.”

“We lost an aviation pioneer today,” Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man on the moon, said in a Twitter post. “He could do magical things with an airplane. He was the best.”

Hoover, who began flying in 1937 at Berry Field in Nashville, Tennessee, almost came to an early end. While serving in the Army’s 52nd Fighter Group in Sicily during World War II, he flew more than 50 missions before being shot down. He survived the crash and spent months in a prisoner-of-war camp before he escaped, stole a German fighter plane and flew to safety in The Netherlands.

Early U.S. jet-powered warplanes such as the P-80 and F-84 were tested by Hoover, who then became a backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program and flew the chase plane when Chuck Yeager became the first to break the sound barrier in 1947.

Hoover also tested the XFJ-2 Fury, which was developed for the Navy and Marine Corps, and the F-86 Sabre, an Air Force fighter, among more than 300 types of aircraft he flew in his career, according to the National Air and Space Museum.

He later brought his flying prowess to the public in aerobatic performances using such aircraft as North American Aviation’s P-51 Mustang and Aero Commanders.

His Shrike Commander 500S, now ensconced in the Air and Space Museum, changed from an ordinary business-style propeller plane into an aerobatic star with Hoover at the controls during a so-called energy management routine. With both engines off he would do a loop, roll, 180-degree turn and land.

In the early 1990s, the Federal Aviation Administration pulled Hoover’s medical certificate for failing a neurological exam that followed a performance at Aerospace America air show in Oklahoma City. Hoover fought the decision, and even went to court, and in 1995 he received a restricted medical certificate.

That year he returned to the skies and delivered his signature performance at Daytona Beach, Florida.

“It felt good to be performing in front of my countrymen again,” he said at the time. “I’m just glad all that is behind me and that justice and fairness prevailed.”

A recipient of numerous honors, Hoover was among the 100 heroes of aviation honored in 2003 at the First Flight Centennial celebration.

“It’s fair to say that anyone who ever had the privilege of flying with Bob, saw him perform at an airshow, or who heard him speak, was affected tremendously by the experience,” said Andrew Broom, executive director of the Citation Jets Pilots Association.

The association, in conjunction with the Bob Hoover Legacy Foundation, provides scholarships in Hoover’s name to students attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Article Originally published here.

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12 comments


  • buzz alpert. Sgt, E-5

    Yes, this is a blog for Marines, but that doesn’t mean we cannot honor a man who honorably served his country from another military branch. All of us had a part to play in keeping our nation free and each person made a contribution of some kind toward that goal, large or small. I would think we Marines could salute a guy who did his duty with pride and courage and that doesn’t detract from the Corps’ contributions that made America the greatest country to have ever existed on the planet earth. The Marine Corps doesn’t have to beat its own drum, our record speaks for us. Semper Fi to all of you and God Bless all the men and women who served our nation, especially the Marine Corps!


  • Paul Prosise

    OV 10 Bronco was the last plane I photographed for a NAA magazine called Skyline. It was really an interesting airplane. Cannot remember what Marine Base, but they were testing putting recon Marines in the fuselage in back of the pilot to bail out behind enemy lines. Can’t remember how many they could squeeze in there, but I sure wouldn’t have liked to try it! They were also testing shooting Polaroids of the enemy’s position. Then they would fly back to friendly lines and then drop the photos in a container.


  • Frank J. Hyatt Sr

    While stationed at MCALF (now MCAS) Camp Pendleton I had the honor to meet Bob as he came in to show the capabilities of the North American Rockwell OV 10 Bronco’s of VMO 2. He took up the Squadron CO and flew a small air show with him which WOWed the younger pilots then let the CO out and did the “EXTENDED SHOW” and really gave the Young Turks a lesson on :their aircraft” with the grand finally of a dead stick loop starting just over center fiel and finishing there with no engines and the propellers feathered. The Oh’s and Ah’s were numerous from the pilots with many a “My GOD I did not know the plane would do that”!!! When he came back to the Weather Office to get his DD 175 Brief to fly out (I was a weather observer then) I asked him how hard was it to do his patented “three place landing” where he hit every tire on the runway one at a time and he laughed and said “I do it so often now it is second nature to me now”. He left in his pristine North American P 51.


  • Paul Prosise

    How strange that the story “1st 75mm Anti-Aircraft (SkySweeper) Battalion in 29 Palms, CA” after mine was about Bob Hoover, one of my heroes. After I left the Marine Corps I started working for North American Aviation, a dream job for me. One of my first assignments after being promoted from the Photo Lab to Photographer was to do a series of aerial photographs over California, Nevada, and Arizona. It took about three days. On the second day Bob Hoover was the pilot of the Turbo Commander aircraft we were using. He introduced himself as Bob Hoover and that he would be my pilot for the day and said that he was anxious to check out the Turbo Commander that came with part of the merger with Rockwell International. After the flight after I got back to the office one of the other photographers asked who the pilot was on my flight. When I told him it was Bob Hoover he was really surprised as he was the Chief Test Pilot for NAA. Then the other photographer told me about his first flight with Bob Hoover flying out of the Palm Springs Airport in a SaberLiner. Bob Hoover did a barrel roll right after take-off and the guys said he almost had to change his shorts! On further inquiry, I found out that Bob Hoover was one of the big heroes of aviation. Have never forgotten him to this day.


  • JAG

    Enjoyed this story love it for its true historical value, Keep our American history marching on ! OVER !


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