Aviation legend, airshow performer, and test pilot Robert A. “Bob” Hoover, 94, will be honored April 2 with the unveiling of a life-size bronze statue that will join his North American Rockwell Shrike Commander 500S already on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Hoover’s likeness, created by sculptor Benjamin Victor, will be waving a signature straw hat, evoking memories from the thousands who saw Hoover alight on the ramp in a suit and tie to similarly end his dead-stick aerial routines.
Hoover was well-known for performing engine-out 16-point rolls to demonstrate proper energy management before rolling to a silent stop in front of cheering airshow audiences. “It was as graceful and fluid as a cat stretching its back,” wrote aerobatic pilot Debbie Gary in a Smithsonian Air & Space profile.
“So many people love and admire Bob Hoover and the moment seems right for all of us to join together and celebrate this great occasion,” said Greg Herrick, president of the Aviation Foundation of America, in a news release. The foundation is the 501(c)3 organization responsible for the statue and its fundraising.
In filmmaker Kim Furst’s Flying the Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project, the pilot told movie audiences that as a child he knew he was born to fly. His aviation accolades since that time are inescapable.
After Hoover was shot down and captured in World War II, the young pilot stole a German fighter and escaped to the Netherlands. After the war he was involved in the Bell X-1 flight testing program and later taught flight concepts to active-duty, reserve, and national guard airmen. The man who Gen. James “Jimmy” Doolittle said was “… the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived” was a test pilot for North American, the company that claimed fame with its P-51 Mustang, F-86 Sabre fighter jet, F-100 Super Sabre, and Sabreliner business jet.
Hoover was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Soldiers Medal for Valor, Air Medal with Clusters, Purple Heart, and the French Croix de Guerre. He flew 58 World War II missions before being shot down, and has piloted more than 300 different types of aircraft in his flying career. Hoover’s last full aerobatic show was performed in 1999 when the then-77-year-old pilot performed loops, rolls, and power-off maneuvers.