On Feb. 21, leaders representing every aspect of the U.S. aviation community gathered for a gala at Paramount Pictures Studios in Hollywood, Calif., to honor famed aviator and aviation legend R.A. "Bob" Hoover.
The tribute played out before more than 470 attendees and included a red carpet reception, speeches and honoraria, dinner, and the premier showing of Perfecting Flight, a film by aviation documentary film maker Daniel H. Birman that provided glimpses into Hoover's career.
The Friday night event was the third in three. The first event, the Hoover's Heroes dinner, announced the first inductees into the Bob Hoover Hall of Honor. This inaugural class includes Hoover, Neil Armstrong, John Leland “Lee” Atwood, Burt Rutan, Dick Rutan, Drury Wood Jr., Capt. Eugene Cernan, James H. "Jimmy" Doolittle, and Jacqueline "Jackie" Cochran. The hall serves to recognize what these individuals have done and how they did it in hopes that their example will inspire future generations. The hall will be housed at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University’s Florida campus.
Earlier Friday, during lunch with Hoover and friends, students from nine aviation college and high schools from as far away as Florida ate and later asked questions and heard stories about Hoover's storied aviation career.
Cernan delivered closing remarks by summarizing Hoover's spirit when he told the audience to always, "Shoot [for] the moon—even if you miss, you'll land among the stars.” The evening ended with a hats-off salute to Hoover in recognition of his trademark Panama hat.
Hoover, who started flying at age 16 and has been cited by no less an authority than Doolittle as "the best stick-and-rudder man I have ever seen," told the audience he was largely self-taught, although he was inspired by barnstormer and aviation legend Roscoe Turner as a youth.
Plagued by airsickness when he first started flying, Hoover traded seats with another serviceman to get into a fighter cockpit and flew 38 missions before being shot down. He spent 18 months in a German Prisoner of War camp before escaping by stealing and flying a German FW-190 to Holland.
Hoover became a military test pilot in the early years of jet engines and was there on Muroc Dry Lake with Chuck Yeager when Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound in 1947. Hoover continued to use his flying skills as a test pilot and later as an airshow pilot for North American and inspired many a young person to pursue an aviation career.
The evening tribute was hosted by Tom Poberezny, Mike Herman, and Ron Fagen. The evening began with the Presentation of the Colors by the U.S. Marine Corp Color Guard from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar and the singing of the National Anthem by country music star Dierks Bentley.
Speakers such as U.S. Air Force General Lloyd "Fig" Newton, Harrison Ford, Sean D. Tucker, and Herb Kelleher spoke eloquently of Hoover's unswerving willingness to pass on knowledge learned during his many years flying and willingness to mentor other aviators.
Tucker, one of the most famous airshow pilots in the world said, "Without Bob Hoover's friendship and mentorship I wouldn't be alive. He never weakened in his commitment to excellence."
Ford told the audience that Hoover, "Shared his passion and his love of aviation with the rest of the world."
Speakers all mentioned Hoover's humility, drive for excellence, and sense of humor.