|Bob Hoover, center, shared flying stories with about 1,000 of his AirVenture fans on Tuesday. His recognizable “Ole Yeller” Mustang furnished the perfect backdrop, courtesy of its new owners.
A crowd estimated at more than 1,000 friends of Bob Hoover formed a relaxed circle 360 degrees around the famed aviator Tuesday to hear him regale them with thrilling and humorous vignettes from his remarkable flying career.
Bob’s philosophical, often self-deprecating style, showed why he remains so beloved.
Hoover explained that the Shrike Commander showed promise, but sales were stagnant. Hoover decided to see what he could do in a business plane like the Shrike.
“Energy management is the trick,” Bob said.
The result: a smooth aerial demonstration that astounded viewers.
His precise energy management of the Shrike included a series of dead-stick maneuvers culminating in a silent rollout in front of the awed crowd.
The Shrike’s reputation was enhanced with the Hoover touch, and sales jumped to eight or nine—from about one a month, he recalled.
Survival of the fleetest
Bob flew his trademark P-51 Mustang to air shows around North America, looking down on rugged terrain.
He pondered what he would do if he ever lost power in the P-51 over inhospitable terrain and made mental notes that he would drop the gear at the last minute and go for a high angle of attack stall into terrain. That escape plan came into play in the Shrike when the piston twin was inadvertently serviced with jet fuel at a California show.
As he got airborne, Bob checked instruments. “Everything looked good: rpm, temperature, manifold pressure,” he said. But the Shrike did not develop enough power.
“I couldn’t turn back; I wasn’t high enough.”
Hoover picked the only escape route.
“I went down in this ravine…I had plenty of glide speed.” He lowered the Shrike’s landing gear and prepared for a nose-high mushing impact. One of his passengers questioned whether they would survive. “I kinda think we have a real good chance,” Bob told him.
Test pilot Bob checked the drain on one of the engines and found jet fuel instead of avgas. Bob comprehended circumstances that led the fueler to use the wrong stuff.
“I really felt strongly that nobody should say anything unkind to him,” Bob told his AirVenture audience. Hoover asked to talk to the fueler so he could tell him: “I want you to know we all make mistakes…and I want you to service my airplane tomorrow.” Bob departed in a different aircraft with no gas hiccups.
Ole Yeller years
Referring to his famed P-51, parked to his right, Hoover said, “Ole Yeller there has seen a lot of situations that were very concerning to me.” The current Ole Yeller is the third Mustang Bob campaigned on the air show circuit. The first had an engine failure while inverted with gear and flaps out, 900 feet from the end of the runway at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Bob managed to half snap roll the Mustang near stall speed, plunking it down in mud that covered the canopy and windscreen.
Number Two met an untimely end when it was inadvertently serviced with high pressure oxygen at 2,200 pounds per square inch. As he approached from a blind side of the hangar where his P-51 was being serviced, Bob heard an airport employee say something about “too bad about your airplane…,” Bob said. “I walked around and saw pieces of yellow….”
The servicer was knocked about 20 feet when a piece of Mustang hit him in the chest.
And still more calamities came.
During a 16-point roll he was performing at the Reno National Championship Air Races, the P-51’s seat belt broke while Bob was inverted over the runway. “I went right into the canopy upside down.” Bob said he could reach the stick, but his feet were now on the seat and nowhere near the rudder pedals. “I just kept pushing forward on the stick,” Hoover explained.
Finally gaining enough altitude, he dished out a half roll, saving his life again.
Always an escape plan
While a POW, Hoover watched Luftwaffe FW-190s flying nearby, and he determined he would escape in one. Bob helped create a diversion to enable his escape. “I got a bunch of people to stage a fight, and the Germans were watching that and we escaped,” Bob said. It was made easier as some of the German guards were already defecting to avoid capture by the Soviets.
Bob and another POW made it overland, hungry enough to risk stopping at a house to ask for food in the chaotic last days of the war. A woman who spoke only broken English fed them, and ever-gracious Bob wrote her a note to give to the approaching Allies to indicate she had helped POWs, and should be treated well.
“She handed me a small gun with three cartridges,” he remembered.
Bob and his compatriot stole bicycles and weaved in and out of Soviet-held territory in their quest to return to the West.
Encountering a still-active Luftwaffe airfield with FW-190s in various states of repair, Bob inspected them until finding one with some damage, but not enough to ground it. With the pistol pointed at him, a German mechanic, white with fear, started the FW-190 for Bob and indicated how to operate the landing gear.
Not wanting to arouse the Germans by a long taxi to the runway, Bob roared directly out from the revetment. He was airborne without a parachute, trapped under a low ceiling and worried any American might shoot him down.
Aiming generally toward Holland, Bob figured, “I’ll see windmills. I’ll know I’m in friendly territory.” Hoover put the German fighter down in an open field, ground looping it to avoid flipping it over. “I sat there thinking how dumb I was,” he told the AirVenture crowd.
Approaching Dutch farmers with pitchforks tended to confirm that assessment; they believed him to be German.
A passing British patrol extricated Bob.
Final words of wisdom from this great pilot: Know your own limits and the limits of your aircraft, and “you can live for a very long time.”