After 70 years of achievements in aviation, the industry honored Robert A. “Bob” Hoover with its top award, the NAA Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy. Described by Jimmy Doolittle, a past recipient of the trophy, as “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived,” Hoover has flown, tested, and even crashed more airplanes than most any other pilot who ever lived.
The spectrum of aviation turned out Dec. 12 in Washington, D.C., at the Aero Club of Washington’s sixty-seventh annual black-tie Wright Memorial Dinner to honor the latest Wright winner. The dinner is held each year on the Friday evening preceding the Dec. 17 anniversary of the Wright brothers first powered, controlled flight in 1903.
The evening included a clip from Flying the Feathered Edge, The Bob Hoover Project, a new film by Kim Furst that is now available on DVD. The film recounts Hoover’s remarkable flying life and includes commentary by such well-known pilots as Harrison Ford, Dick and Burt Rutan, Carroll Shelby, Gene Cernan, Clay Lacy, Sean D. Tucker, and Air Force Col. Bud Day.
As the crowd of 750 settled in for dinner, Peter Dumont, president of the Aero Club of Washington, got up to make opening remarks. The mere mention of Hoover’s name brought the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation, one of several he would receive throughout the evening.
After an introduction by Cernan, commander of the Apollo 17 lunar mission and the last man on the moon—to date, Hoover, age 92, walked on stage unassisted to accept the prestigious award, which is given annually by the National Aeronautic Association. This year the award was given to Hoover “for distinguished service as a military pilot, test pilot, and air show performer; for advancing safety and precision in the art of flying, and for using his skills as an aviator as a tool to inspire and motivate generations of pilots worldwide.”
Hoover learned to fly as a teenager in Tennessee, not telling his parents about the flying lessons he was taking. He joined the Army Air Corp during World War II and became a fighter pilot in the National Guard. On his fifty-ninth mission, flying a British Supermarine Spitfire, he was shot down over Germany and spent 16 months as a prisoner of war before escaping and stealing a German Focke-Wulf 190, flying it to safety and freedom in the Netherlands.
At the dinner, well-known commentator and interviewer David Hartman interviewed Hoover on stage, teasing out stories of Hoover’s years as a test pilot, flying wing man to Chuck Yeager on the day Yeager broke the speed of sound in the Bell X-1. After a military career, Hoover became a test pilot for Allison Engine and later North American Aviation. He later was a demonstration pilot and airshow performer, thrilling millions of people over the years with his energy-management routine that had his Shrike Commander fly a whole aerobatic routine with the engines shut down, pouring iced tea while upside down, and rolling to a dead-stick landing to the exact spot from which he took off.
Recognizing Hoover with the Wright Award raised the bar for future recipients and increases the stature of the award for all those impressive previous winners.