According to the Centennial Edition (March 2003) of "Air & Space Smithsonian" ,Bob Hoover was named the 3rd greatest aviator in history.
The following is the article that appeared in this issue, originally written by Patricia Trenner.
After his Spitfire was shot down by a Focke-Wulf 190 over the Mediterranean in 1944, Hoover was captured and spent 16 months in the Stalag Luft 1 prison in Barth, Germany. He eventually escaped, appropriated an Fw 190 (which, of course, he had never piloted) and flew to safety in Holland. After the war Hoover signed up to serve as an Army Air Forces test pilot, flying captured German and Japanese aircraft. He became buddies with Chuck Yeager; Hoover was Yeager´s backup pilot in the Bell X-1 program, and he flew chase in a Lockheed P-80 when Yeager first exceeded Mach 1.
Hoover moved on to North American Aviation, where he test-flew the T-28 Trojan, FJ-2 Fury, AJ-1 Savage, F-86 Sabre, and F-100 Super Sabre, and in the mid-1950´s he began flying North American aircraft, both civil and military, at airshows. Jimmy Doolittle called Hoover "the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived."
Hoover is best known for the "energy management" routine he flew in a Shrike Commander, a twin-engine business aircraft. This fluid demonstration ends with Hoover shutting down both engines and executing a loop and an eight-point hesitation slow roll as he heads back to the runway. He touches down on one tire, then the other, and coasts precisely to the runway center.
Despite the numerous awards accorded him, Hoover remains humble enough to laugh at himself. He notes in his autobiography, Forever Flying , that in the 1950´s, after showing off his Bugatti racer to the neighborhood kids, he asked, "Well, what do you think?" One youngster´s reply: "I think you´ve got the biggest nose I´ve ever seen."
Gen. James Doolittle, Retired: Montery County Air Show, 1988
"Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you Bob Hoover,
the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot alive today . . .
No, that´s wrong, let me introduce to you Bob Hoover,
the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived."
"I don´t think I possess any skill that anyone else doesn´t have. I´ve just had perhaps more of an opportunity, more of an exposure, and been fortunate to survive a lot of situations that many other weren´t so lucky to make it. It´s not how close can you get to the ground, but how precise can you fly the airplane."
According to Bob Hoover, "As you know, I’m very careful about lending my name to any enterprise, but I’m privileged to be on the list. I visited the team, looked over the jet, flew it and tested it. I found out how delightful the plane is to fly. On landing, I visited with Jim and told him it had the most docile handling qualities of just about any airplane I’ve flown. As I got acquainted with Jim and the staff, I was so impressed with their plans and desire to make it the most successful airplane on the market. When Jim asked me to become a member of his very successful team, I had no hesitation about accepting that responsibility because of my impressions from having evaluated the Maverick."
Bob Hoover has been flying for more than fifty years. He first learned to fly at Nashville´s Berry Field, paying for flight lessons with money he had earned while working at a local grocery store. Not long after this, Bob enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard, and later went on to Army Pilot Training during World War II. Upon graduation, he was sent to England. He then was sent to Casablanca, where he tested various airplanes. Bob was 21 at the time. He then was assigned to the 52nd Fighter Group stationed in Sicily. He flew 58 successful missions, before being shot down in his Mark V Spitfire off the coast of Southern France. He was captured by Axis forces and was held for 16 months in Stalag Luft 1, a German prison camp. He escaped by stealing a German plane and flying it to Holland. When WWII ended, Bob was assigned to Wright Field´s Flight Test Division, where he flew planes that were captured from the Japanese and German armies. He met another legendary aviator at this time, Chuck Yeager. Bob hoped to break the sound barrier in the Bell X-1, but unfortunately, a desperate bailout from an F-84 Thunderjet shattered both his legs, dashing his hopes of flying the X-1. When the X-1 finally flew, Bob was flying high chase in a Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star (number 485477).
He went on to be a civilian pilot for each of the branches of the service, even demonstrating dive bombing techniques in North Korea, which was enemy territory at the time.
Bob is one of the most recognized faces in aviation. He has flown more than 300 types of aircraft at more than 2000 airshows all over the world. He has set records for transcontinental and "time to climb" speed, and has personally known such great aviators as Orville Wright, Eddie Rickenbacker, Charles Lindbergh, Jacqueline Cochran, Neil Armstrong, and Yuri Gagarin.
Bob was awarded the following medals through his illustrious career:
Distinguished Flying Cross
Soldier´s Medal for Valor
Air Medal with Clusters
French Croix de Guerre
National Aviation Hall of Fame
International Council of Air Shows Hall of Fame
Society of Experimental Test Pilots
Kitty Hawk Award
Arthur Godfrey Aviation Award for Flight Testing
Wilinson Silver Sword of Excellence
Aviation Pioneer Award
Aerospace Hall of Fame
International Aerobatic Pilot of the Year
Flying Tiger Pilot Award
Lloyd P. Nolen Lifetime Achievement in Aviation Award
Cliff Henderson National Aircraft Exposition Award
Godfrey L. Cabot Outstanding Contributions to the Science of Aerospace Award
Bill Barber Award for Showmanship
Honorary Member - Original Eagle Squadron
Award of Merit - American Fighter Pilots Association
Honorary Member - American Fighter Aces Association
Honorary Member - Thunderbirds
Honorary Member - Blue Angels