Watch him fly!
Bob Hoover was the International Aerobatic Club Hall of Fame inductee for 2009, and we published a feature on him in the January 2010 issue of Sport Aerobatics Magazine. For those of you who missed it, pick up a copy of his book Forever Flying.
From combat flying in Spitfires during World War II to flying chase on the Bell X-1, Bob Hoover had a front-row seat to aviation’s heyday. Be sure to click the videos below to get a taste of the kind of flying he performed over the years.
Probably one of Bob’s most high-profile deeds came about at the conclusion of the 1966 International Aerobatic Competition held in Moscow at the height of the Cold War. The following excerpt is directly from the prologue of his book Forever Flying:
Strapped securely in the cockpit of the super-sleek Yak-18, I glanced out at the Soviet dignitaries standing on the ramp. They were celebrating their overwhelming victory over the United States in the 1966 International Aerobatic Competition. “I’ve got a surprise for you, Ivan,” I thought as I checked out the instrument panel in the unique Soviet plane.
Despite my years of experience as an accomplished aerobatic pilot, I’d never participated in a formal aerobatic competition. That had made it even more of an honor to be named the non-flying captain of our team.
Unfortunately, I’d experienced ten days of frustration watching the power-packed Yak outduel our nation’s finest aerobatic pilots. We’d come out the big loser in the Cold War propaganda battle. Now that the competition was over, the pompous Soviets had agreed to let me, as a courtesy, fly their crown jewel.
Over a million Soviets, and reporters from around the world, were positioned at TushinoAirport in Moscow for the closing ceremonies. I was sure they all expected me to taxi out and take off in a normal fashion. Instead I added full power for takeoff and held the plane close to the ground.
The Yak had plenty of airspeed. I lifted the plane off and raised the nose slightly until the landing gear was up.
Rolling the aerobatic plane, I leveled off upside down and aimed dead center for the thirty-foot-high dike surrounding the airport. It looked as if I were going to blast right through it, but an instant before reaching the dike, I raised the nose of the Yak, leapfrogged the dike, and flew out of sight still upside down.
A smile came to my face. I knew I’d caused confusion on the ground. To stay low and out of sight of the crowd, I rolled the Yak right side up and headed back around the airfield alongside the MoscowRiver below the height of the dike. I was sure everyone would be looking for a fifty-foot-high fireball to blossom somewhere on the other side of the dike from where I had disappeared from sight.
I remained at ground level out of sight until I reached the other side of the airport. Then I turned back toward the dike and rolled the plane upside down again. I could feel the adrenaline rush as I flew down directly in front of the crowd. Then I put the Yak-18 through the same series of pinpoint aerobatic maneuvers that had been demonstrated for so many years at air shows all over the world. It was a delight to fly. No wonder our pilots never had a chance.
I was performing at near ground level even though I was aware that Soviet pilots were not permitted to fly aerobatic maneuvers below three hundred feet. After a touchdown on one wheel, an aileron roll, and a touchdown on the other wheel, I landed the Yak. I was a little nervous about the reception I’d receive from the Soviets, but I’d proven my point. Now everyone would know that the American pilots were just as capable as the Russians and that the plane had made the difference in the competition.
The Soviets immediately took Bob into custody after wresting him from a screaming, adoring mob of Russians. Unlike his capture to the Germans during WWII, he was released without harm this time. Bob Hoover is a living legend.