A Tribute To Bob Hoover
Plenty of famous people have appeared on stage at Paramount Studios in Hollywood and some of them were there on Feb. 21 but it wasn’t an actor in the spotlight—it was aviation legend R.A. “Bob” Hoover. The tribute to the man Jimmy Doolittle called “the best stick and rudder man I have ever seen” was organized by Tom and Sharon Poberezny, Mike and Maria Herman, and Ron and Diane Fagen. The event celebrated Hoover’s aviation career of more than 70 years and included the premiere of the new documentary film “Perfecting Flight: Bob Hoover.” Also announced were the first inductees into the Hoover Hall of Honor, to be located at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus. As the 470 guests walked down a red carpet to enter the event, they passed a highly detailed, full-size replica of “Ole Yeller,” Hoover’s famous P-51D Mustang, in flight. Following the presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard and a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by country music star Dierks Bentley, dinner was served in a garden-like setting outside the Paramount Theater.
The program inside the theater began with Tom Poberezny introducing the hosts for the evening’s celebration: Harrison Ford, Captain James A. Lovell, Sully Sullenberger, Tracy Forrest, Randy Babbitt, Bill Fanning, General Lloyd “Fig” Newton, Captain Gene Cernan, Herb Kelleher, Sean D. Tucker, Clay Lacy, Joe Clark, Bruce McCaw, Rob Liddell, Paul Wood, and Ron and Diane Fagen. National Business Aviation Association President and CEO Ed Bolen said that representatives of NATA, ALPA, GAMA, HAI, EAA, GAMA and AOPA joined him in thanking Hoover for his many contributions to the industry and for inspiring so many people in aviation to follow their dreams. Poberezney commented that it takes more than one film to cover Hoover’s many achievements and noted that three films were in production. Kim Furst, producer/director of the Bob Hoover Project, talked about her film, “Flying the Feathered Edge,” then Harrison Ford introduced the screening of Daniel H. Birman’s film, “Perfecting Flight: Bob Hoover.”
The hour-long documentary, which was narrated by Ford and funded by Jim and Jane Slattery, touched on almost every facet of Hoover’s career, beginning with his interest in aviation as a teenager and his experiences in Army flight training. Hoover eventually flew as a fighter pilot during World War II, until his Spitfire experienced mechanical difficulties and was shot down by a Focke-Wulf Fw 190. Hoover was captured and spent 16 months in a German POW camp, but escaped by stealing an Fw 190, which he flew to safety in the Netherlands. After the war, Hoover became a test pilot at Muroc Army Air Field (now Edwards Air Force Base) and flew many of the United States’ first jet fighters. The film provides details of many of his test flights, including an assignment in an F-86 with an early fly-by-wire control system. Immediately after takeoff, the system failed and Hoover spent the next 40 minutes using rudder, throttle, speed brakes and flaps to bring the aircraft under control. He almost crashed several times, was encouraged to bail out by other test pilots in the air at the time, but eventually was able to land on a dry lakebed at Edwards. He rolled for 11 miles until the aircraft finally came to a stop.
Working for North American Aviation, Hoover began to fly airshows in the P-51D Mustang. When North American merged with Rockwell International, Hoover began flying his famous aerobatic routines in the Shrike Commander 500. Many Commander sales were a direct result of his performances on the airshow circuit. The film also highlights Hoover’s work with Sean D. Tucker, and shows Hoover providing guidance and advice to young Air Force test pilots at Edwards. After the screening, producer Birman spoke about how the film was made. He explained how Ford invited him to participate in the project, and talked about filming the sequence where 91-year-old Hoover performs aerobatics one last time in a Sabreliner business jet. Finally, it was time for Hoover to take the stage, escorted by the Marines. A violinist appeared on stage and began to play a somber tune, when Hoover suddenly shouted, “It sounds like funeral music to me!” As if on cue, the violinist quickly switched to a song Hoover enjoyed—“The U.S. Air Force.”
Herb Kelleher, co-founder of Southwest Airlines, got a big laugh from Hoover when he said that if Hoover had spent more money on engine maintenance, he wouldn’t have had to make all those dead-stick landings the grand finale of his airshow routine. After Hoover shared a few stories with the crowd and thanked them for attending, Sully Sullenberger announced the names of the first eight inductees to the Hoover Hall of Honor: Neil Armstrong; Lee Atwood, former president and CEO of North American Rockwell; Captain Eugene A. Cernan, the last man on the Moon; Jacqueline “Jackie” Cochran, holder of more speed and distance records than any other pilot; James H. “Jimmy” Doolittle; Burt Rutan; Dick Rutan; and test pilot Drury Wood. Burt and Dick Rutan, Cernan and Wood appeared on stage and thanked Hoover for selecting them as the first inductees. Other members will be added to the Hall in the future. In addition to hosting the Hall of Honor, two $25,000 Embry-Riddle scholarships in Hoover’s name were announced. One will go to a student at the university’s Daytona Beach campus and the other will go to a student at the Prescott, Ariz., campus. The organization to honor Hoover also announced a $10,000 donation to preserve Hoover’s legacy at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Speaking on behalf of his family, Hoover’s son Rob thanked the crowd for attending. He also commented that he doesn’t fly because “his father is a tough act to follow.” When the Marines were asked to escort Hoover off stage, there was one more surprise. Unbeknown to Hoover, every guest in the theater had been given a straw hat that was similar to Hoover’s own famous hat. The hats were hidden under the theater seats. On cue, the entire audience quickly put on a hat, stood up and tipped their hat to Hoover. It was one more honor for one of aviation’s best-loved heroes—a 470-straw-hat-salute.