Bob Hoover is an aviation legend. He was a pilot and prisoner of war during WWII, a USAF test pilot who flew chase for Chuck Yeager’s flight to break the sound barrier, and a world-renowned acrobatic pilot. Hoover flew as the safety pilot for the Reno Air Races, and provided life-saving advice to numerous pilots of crippled aircrafts during the races.
I had the honor of sitting at the same table as Bob Hoover for dinner during the recent National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) Convention. At age 92, Bob’s wit and humor remains intact. After dinner, he shared with us an incredible story of his breaking a time-to-climb record in Germany involving complete instrument and radio failure, structural icing, and being chased by Russian MiGs.
Bob was attending the Convention to be presented the Meritorious Service to Aviation Award by NBAA. During the award ceremony, Bob Hoover shared a story that really confirmed the ability each of us have to ignite the human potential in another. When we spend a little time to inspire someone, we have the ability to make a positive difference in their life, and set them on a new path.
When Bob was a young man, he spent every dollar that he earned on flying lessons. When he wasn’t flying, he was hanging around the airport to watch the aircraft takeoff and land. One day, a beautiful aircraft landed that was flown by Roscoe Turner. Turner was a legendary air race pilot and Hollywood aviator who was famous for his flamboyant style. In fact, he had a pet lion named Gilmore who often flew onboard his aircraft.
On this particular morning, young Bob Hoover saw Roscoe Turner land his aircraft and walk into the aircraft building. Wanting to take a closer look at the aircraft, and especially the cockpit, Bob picked up a rag, walked to the aircraft, and started wiping bugs off of it. All of a sudden, Bob heard someone behind him shout “Hey, young man! What are you doing?” Bob replied that he just wanted to take a closer look at this beautiful aircraft. Roscoe Turner replied, “Well, you can’t see much from there. Go ahead and get in the cockpit.” Bob climbed into the cockpit and talked to Turner for several minutes.
Bob Hoover said that he never forgot the impression that sitting in that cockpit made on him as a young man. Throughout his career, he made a point of allowing children to sit in the cockpit of whatever aircraft he happened to be flying. Bob later found out that two of the boys that sat in his cockpit during the 60’s and 70’s later grew up to be the lead pilots for the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.
This weekend, Luck Companies is hosting the Rocket Derby for the local Cub Scout pack at our company hangar. The kids carve propeller-powered “rockets” and race them on a horizontal fishing line track. Each Scout and his family have the opportunity to climb aboard our company aircraft and sit in the pilot seats. When each of the Cub Scouts and his brothers and sisters sit in the cockpit of our aircraft and put on the headsets, I will be thinking about Bob Hoover, and how the seeds of inspiration can be planted by us to blossom far in the future.
Image Credit: © Depositphotos.com/Willard