Bob Hoover’s name kept coming up as I researched Chuck Yeager’s exploits in breaking the sound barrier. I first learned of Hoover as I read Yeager’s autobiography written with Leo Janos. Recently Hoover’s name resurfaced as we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Yeager’s record breaking flight. Another anniversary will be marked tomorrow, one year since Bob Hoover left this earth. So who exactly was this friend of Chuck Yeager and what did he do?
Robert Anderson Hoover was born in Nashville Tennessee in 1922. He took private flying lessons before the Tennessee National Guard sent him for flight training with the Army. Soon he was flight testing in Casablanca during World War II.
Later, while over southern France, his Spitfire began to malfunction and he was shot down by a German aircraft. He fell into Nazi hands and spent the next sixteen months in Stalag 1, located in Barth Germany. Unlike the TV Series, Hogan Heroes, life in a German Stalag was not lots of jokes while the Allies ran the camp under incompetent German leadership. Life was hard.
Hoover’s legend began to grow in this camp. While his fellow prisoners staged a fight, Bob Hoover escaped from the camp. He made his way to an unguarded airfield. He slipped into an airplane being used for spare parts, an FW 190, took off and flew safely into Allied hands in the Netherlands.
After the war, Hoover was assigned to Wright Field in Dayton Ohio (now known as Wright-Patterson AF). Hoover became fast friends with Chuck Yeager, who absolutely loved Bob Hoover’s sense of humor.
Yeager tells the story of Hoover signing up for flight lessons at a local civilian field. Hoover played dumb with his lovely female instructor pilot. He pretended to be new to aviation and she patiently instructed him through the different phases of flight training. Hoover never let on that he was a test pilot during the day. Well, he did not let on until his solo. His instructor signed him off for the solo flight. As she watched from the ground Hoover took off and basically performed an air show overhead, nearly hitting one of the hangars in the midst to it all. The instructor was both shocked and horrified. Yeager and his buddies watched him from a distance and laughed his head off.
Shortly thereafter began the pursuit of the sound barrier. I will pick up on the Hoover story at that point in the next blog.