As pilots and caring humans we should all aspire to be more like Bob Hoover. What an incredible person and pilot he was and what an example of a life well lived. (Safe journeys West Bob.) From the young WWII P-51 fighter ace/patriot to early jet test pilot and then amazing airshow genius, he did it all and in an elegant and gracious manner.
“Bob Hoover was so much more than a great pilot. He was a great man and a model for what our community can and should be.” AOPA’s Mark Baker
To live constantly on the edge of disaster for so many years and die peacefully at 94 bears clear testimony to Bob’s piloting skills and also his risk management acumen. He performed every show with a joy, passion and precision that was unmatched in the industry. He was quoted as saying “Someday I might die in one of these shows. But you know what? It’ll take the mortician a week to get the smile off my face!” Because he pursued excellence in everything he did (but especially flying) Bob survived some incredibly challenging situations; his skill, courage and ingenuity brought him through every crisis.
And though aviation can unfortunately be a business of big egos and “me first” personalities, Bob Hoover was always a gracious and sharing mentor throughout his career. His kindred spirit Sean D. Tucker clearly credits Bob Hoover with saving his life as a result of his early fatherly advice! As a younger air show pilot, aggressively pushing the edge, Sean relates how Bob Hoover approached him at an airshow and clearly explained how Sean’s days were limited if he did not build a little more margin into his flying routine. Though not apparent to us mere mortals, Tucker admits this sage (and initially unwelcome) advice saved his life more than once when mechanical issues cropped up unexpectedly. “I would not have made it without him.”
Aerobatic performer Patty Wagstaff also cites Bob Hoover as an important mentor and coach throughout her career: “If I wasn’t sure how to handle a situation, I would always think, ‘How would Bob handle that?’ ” Fortunately, aviation at our level involves a lot less risk. But Bob’s example can work for everyone in our flying and our interaction with other pilots.
I would encourage all pilots to aspire to be “more like Bob” both in pursuing excellence and professionalism in every flight AND in promoting safety and keeping watch over our fellow aviators. Please take a page from Bob’s playbook and both build a safety margin into your flying (pursue excellence) and also put a friendly hand on the shoulder of any pilot you see on the road to disaster; “friends don’t let friends fly unsafe!” (How many times have we mumbled the words “accident waiting to happen” but done nothing?) Your better piloting self and mentorship will truly be the best tribute to our amazing friend Bob Hoover!
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