Today’s Flight Plan
Bob Hoover- a legend. Haven’t heard of him? You should have. He is one of the best aviators of all time, and one of the few remaining pioneers in aviation.
This is a guy that Chuck Yeager says “is the greatest aviator I ever saw”. Jimmy Dolittle of Dolittle Raiders fame said Bob Hoover is “The greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived”.
Coming from those gentlemen, that’s saying something!
After being a highly decorated and valued pilot during WWII both in testing and in combat, Bob Hoover was shot down with a ‘lucky shot’. He then spent the majority of the rest of the war in a POW camp, forever trying to escape.
Two weeks from the end of the war, he did escape. His method of escape? A Fokke Wolf 190 with no seat cushion, that made it almost impossible to see over the dash. Flying into Holland, he bravely few this ‘enemy’ aircraft to safety.
That’s only the start. He would later be a test pilot for the Air Force, becoming very good friends with Chuck Yeager. Later he’d be a test pilot for North American, demonstrating the aircraft all over the world, and teaching pilots how to fly many of the iconic early era fighter jets.
Then, onto the record books as one of the most talented air show pilots of all time.
This guy has done it all- a true hero, legend, and pioneer of aviation.
Credit for this broadcast goes to EAA, who put on this presentation.
Major thanks to the amazing Angle of Attack Crew for all their hard work over the years. Our team works incredibly hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do.
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Chris: Welcome to the next AviatorCast Eight-Point Roll here celebrating National Aviation Day on this little snippet episode of the AviatorCast Eight-Point Roll. We have the Warbirds in review presentation which was an interview with Bob Hoover.
I didn’t do this interview myself. It was a professional interview that really did this interview but Bob Hoover was sitting next to his Ole’ Yeller P-51. It’s a yellow P-51 that is famous for breaking all kinds of speed records and very famous for being in many air shows back in the day as well.
This Bob Hoover guy is awesome. This is a can’t-miss episode. You can’t miss a snippet here of this Eight-Point Roll. I hope you guys enjoy it. It is going to set us up for the next eight-point roll which we will talk about as well.
I have to tell you I have been reading “Forever Flying” is the name of the book, an autobiography by Bob Hoover. I really, really enjoyed this book. It is literally one of those books that you cannot put down. I’ve really been enjoying it. It’s just been so much fun.
I hope you guys will enjoy listening to some of Bob’s story. I think it will inspire you to go and pick up his book. Not only that, go and see the film called the “Flying the Feathered Edge” and we’ll talk about that in the next Eight-Point Roll episode here coming up.
I hope you guys enjoy it. Here is Warbirds in review with Bob Hoover.
David: It is probably the most recognizable cape job Mustang in the world. Bob Hoover flew more than a thousand of air shows in this airplane and over 20 years flew it as the place-in-safety plane in the unlimited class in Reno. The plane still holds the track record and Bob flew it, speed record from LA to Daytona Beach, five hours and 20 minutes. John Bagley owns Ole’ Yeller now and flies it regularly in air shows. John, come and join me, would you please? John Beckley.
Hi. Bob Hoover. Is there anybody here who’s not heard about Hoover? That’s what I thought. For over 70 years, Bob Hoover has committed his life to aviation first and protecting our country as a fighter pilot in World War II and then he’s the most respected test pilot in the world.
As an air show pilot, he has thrilled millions. He’s inspired thousands to embrace aviation. He has earned every significant aviation honor. The most recent was last December in Washington DC. He received the National Aeronautic Association Wright Brothers Memorial Trophy at the Aero Club in DC.
He survived 16 months in a German prison camp. He escaped in April 1945. He’s commandeered Fokke Wolf 190 and flew it to freedom across Germany. He has flown hundreds of types of aircraft. He flew chase on the Bell-XS1 when it broke the so-called sound barrier back in 1947. He helped develop the F-86, F-100. He’s had numerous life-threatening accidents and bailouts.
Many, if not most pilots consider Bob Hoover to be the greatest living aviator in the world. Jimmy Doolittle called Bob “the greatest stick-and-rudder man who ever lived,” Bob Hoover.
Tell me about the airplane now. When did you buy it from Bob?
John: I bought it in the fall of 1996. Bob called me up. He’d heard that I was into Warbirds, called me up. I couldn’t believe that Mr. Hoover had called John Bagley. I just bought a Sea Fury and I said, “I can’t afford one.” He said, “Can you afford to have dinner with me?” I said, “Yes, I can afford that.” Me and a friend, Jeff took a plane and flew down to Torrance. We had dinner with Bob and his lovely wife. After some negotiating, we wound up with Ole’ Yeller. Best investment I’ve ever made in my life.
David: Tell me, this airplane, how much is this life in the airplane when they came off the line at North America back in the 1940’s?
John: I don’t think any of them came off the line flies as good as this one flies because this one was done by Bob for 20 years. I’ve had Steve Himp flew this plane and he was amazed at how tight and how marvelous it flies.
This plane has the wet wings that Bob put in it to do the speed record. We have disabled them, taken the props out and stuff. It’s basically a stock airplane except it’s been refined by Mr. Hoover.
David: How much fun is this to fly when you fly air shows?
John: You don’t fly this plane. You wear it. It is part of you. You think barrel roll and it barrel rolls. You think loop and it loops. It is a national monument any Mustang used but this one particularly. It is a thrill to fly it every time we fly it because of what it is and Hoover flew it.
David: John Bagley, thank you, sir.
Bob, how are you this morning?
Bob: Great. Thanks.
David: Good to see you. Bob, what was it about aviation, flying, flying that was so irresistible to you when you first started to fly?
Bob: You probably could say it happened to me. I dreamed of flying from the time I was six or seven years of age. I’ve build model airplanes like so many of you. I was interested in aviation. I’ve dreamed of someday being a pilot. I’ve started my heroes but never dreamed it would ever be me. Charles Lindbergh, the list goes on and on.
At 16 I finally had gotten a job back in the Depression Era. Everybody worked hard and [06:41][Inaudible], pretty much like everybody else. I earned two dollars in that job and it goes to store at 16 years of age. I earned two dollars and found out I had to pick 15 minutes of flying time in one of the original Taylor Currans; all that for 15 minutes and two dollars.
I got in the airplane and as soon as the wheels left the ground I was dizzy as hell. I tell you I wanted to toss my cookie so bad, I thought I was going to die. I could hardly wait till the props stopped and I ran into the bushes, tossed my cookies. I got to tell you, that was the beginning of my flying career. Unfortunately, it lasted forever.
David: How’d you get over that, because obviously you did? I’m sure you weren’t flying Ole’ Yeller and coming out and tossing your cookies.
Bob: God! I tell you, I was soaked down in the dumps. It was all I ever dreamed of as a kid. Here I was 16 and that was what I really wanted to do was to learn and fly an airplane. I sat outside for myself and thought, “What in the world…” I’ve never thought of wanting to do anything except fly an airplane. I thought, “If you really want to do something and set your mind to it, you and only you can make that.”
For those of you who heard me ramble along about things kind of being…it is true. It doesn’t make any difference, aviation or whatever, if you set your mind to it and say, “I’m not going to take no for an answer,” only you and you only can make it happen.
To overcome it, I had to feel inside of myself. I said, “You’re going to go do it and if you toss your cookies every time you get into an airplane until you can overcome it.” Honest to goodness, I stuck with it.
One day, this doctor said, pulled me over the side of the runway and I did. I said, “What are we stopping here for?” He said, “I’m getting out.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Well, you’re on your own.” I said, “I’m not ready. I’m not ready. I have thought about it, how sick I am. I haven’t learned anything.” He said, “I knew it.”
Well, it’s your coffin. Each of you who settle in the first half. I spend a lot of time worrying about just flying the airplane and I wasn’t quite as sick but I still ran to the weeds when I get back. I’m excited but same thing. I was never a natural pilot. I was the worst student anybody ever had.
I must tell you, I overcame my sickness then, wanting to avoid it by flying as smooth as I could. Instead of making a quick turn, everything I did was to keep me from getting uncomfortable with nausea and I ended up being able to do it since. I would never have done it, wouldn’t even worked at it. I could fly upside-down and many of you have seen movies of it. I must tell you how important. It has smooth move to fly the airplane. I was always, gave me problems.
To this day, if I get in an airplane, I couldn’t spend five minutes…was not given for Sean Tucker, I admire and respect so much but he goes negative, negative party. To those of you who are not familiar with what the risk-taking is, we are not physiologically ready without an awful lot of work on your body’s strength and capabilities to do what he does because we have lost more pilots than you would ever imagine because they tried to go positive, negative in the cockpit.
You can’t transition without special training, issue physically, to be able to adjust your body to handling those forces that you’re receiving. We’d really lost an awful lot of people.
I was invited to fly the F-20 at the Paris Air Show. It was a brand new flight and they also called me at their extension, not government-sponsored. They put millions of dollars into it. They said, “We want you to fly because we know we’ll sell a lot when we make you fly.” As I had learned in competition at the Paris Air Show before and so I had to accept and head down and sell airplanes.
I said, “Well, do have more power than this?” They had built three of those airplanes. The first one was flown over to Korea trying to sell it to the South Koreans. The test pilot ordered them to do the inside. He’d do a positive, negative, positive. He was killed. The second airplane, the guy that readied it to go to the Paris Air Show and they were taking it over for me to fly. In the last where he was going to practice some…it was airplane-flying a little bit. He tried to positive, negative and we lost him.
Then the trip and the airplane got cancelled. I never got to fly the F-20. For those that did fly it, they said it was really a crackerjack airplane. I was most anxious to fly it because each of us likes to fly something new and something different. I missed that opportunity. I did that however with the F-5. The companies I worked for said it was not a conflict of interest. “You’re welcome to go out and demonstrate other companies’ airplanes. I did a lot of that all over the world.
I’d like to talk to you primarily about this sweetheart right here. John Bagley, you’re a lucky man. I admire John immensely and David Hartman, I’ve got to say something about you. We’ve been friends for so many years. I know his family. I had the privilege of flying…having this great man with me inside through one of my flight chair cause and his son was there, son and daughter, right?
David: How do you remember all this stuff? Wow.
Bob: Each of them…one was with Chuck Yeager and one was with Burt Anderson. We flew a formation on my first flight back on flight status; thanks to all of you members for getting me ungrounded after three years.
David: As you all can imagine, what a privilege that was to fly in an airplane with this guy, Hoover on experience.
Back to your aerobatics and teaching yourself not to get sick, you got your primary training and you’re with your instructor doing aerobatics. New to aerobatics, he goes and talks to this other instructors and says, “You know what? This guy flies aerobatics better than all of us. Let’s put him in charge of teaching acrobatics.” You were an instructor when you were a primary student.
Bob: I’ll never forget this guy said, my instructor, gave me an orientation flight and he didn’t know that I’ve flown an airplane. He said, “I want you to save places so you won’t get lost when you get up.” He was pointing out everything. He said, “Would you like to see a road?” I said, “Yes, sir.” We were flying [16:07][Inaudible] talking to, trying to converse with one another. He did a roll and he ditched out of it one wave below where it started. I thought, “Oh, boy. He’s busted his buttons.” They were near the ground.
He said, “Would you like to try?” I just did a quarter up and a smooth roll and came up. “Where did you learn to do that?” I said, “I taught myself.” “What else can you do?” I said, “Well, what would you like me to do?” He said, “Well, I don’t know; seems to me you’ve flown an airplane before.” He said, “Show me what you can do.” I said, “Have you ever done a four-point roll? He said, “What is a four-point roll?” So I did him one. I said, “Would you like to see an eight-point roll?” I showed him one.
“What else can you do?” I did a lot of other things. Finally, he was shaking his head and we got on the ground and he was still shaking his head. He said, “I never had a student who could fly like that before. I can’t believe what I’ve just experienced.” He went in to the commons. He said, “I’ve got a problem with one of my students. We’re just washing out. You don’t understand.” That’s how it all happened.
When I got ready to graduate from primary flight training, none of the rest of the classes knew what was going on except for instructors. I had nothing but check rides with the instructors and things I had learned. It was the last day when we were going to get a little stiff that say that we were going on to advanced training and issued a prime.
The instructors told me that it would be a great thing for all the members in your class to know what you have been able to do. We were going to put on a show right here out of the airport down the road. I did.
I met my Waterloo because I went to basic and everything I knew at the seat of my pants. I felt it. I can see it. When I had to go on instruments, I couldn’t believe what I was feeling and what I was looking at the instrument panel. I thought, “This is the end of my flying career. I won’t be able to do instrument flying.” Again, I put this “If you want to do it bad enough, figure out a way to do it.” So I did. I pass it along for what it’s worth.
David: Let’s look at aerobatics just for a minute. 1966 International Competition, Moscow and you were hailed as the honorary leader of the American team. The Russians have this fabulous plane they had designed and built. They did indeed win the competition. Out of respect, they asked you if you wanted to fly it. What happened?
Bob: This one will surprise you. I never dreamed it would really work out. I was invited by the government on the things…I was doing security works from time to time on special missions. I had number of those in my life where I would…even as a civilian, me working for the government. In this case, I was hoping that I would be able to get a ride in what was called the E-266, was the king MiG-21.
I had met a general who was an aristocrat in the old regime of Russia before the Marxist days and he was a very upfront person, his family were. He’d been educated in England. I’ve met him at the Paris Air Show in 1965. We became very good friends there. He confided a lot of things in me. I knew what I could talk about and what I couldn’t talk about. I gave him tidbits of info on things that have already been written up in aviation week and other proper occasions.
What I could say was we were getting something new and in the meantime I was training about what was to become the MiG-21. He was testing it personally. He was a very talented guy, a very private person, dressed immaculately. We got on so well that I thought, “Well, I look forward to seeing you when I get over there in Moscow,” in our conversations.
They wouldn’t let him get near me because they knew he’d been friendly with me at the previous year at the Paris Air Show and they were concerned about….maybe they were worried about him wanting to leave Russia and so was the CIA but he never had any intention nor did he ever reveal anything to me that was already valued [22:12][Inaudible].
But they did recognize who I was at the Paris Air Show. They had made certain that they all got to know me because of what they’ve seen me do there at the show. They offered me this opportunity. I had watched them for several days trying to think competition. I knew every maneuver they could do, how long they could stop, how long they could fly and burn it. I’ve never flown the airplane, intractable gear, everything was operated by pneumatics and their plane was designed for no other purpose but to win the world competition. Their pilots had no occupation except to the government to fly their airplanes and fly as best as they could.
They did a superb job. Excuse me. They did win the competition from 17 nations involved. I think we were number nine. We had Bells. This airplane was built for no other purpose except to win that competition. Boy, I had it just nailed. I watched what they did. The limits were that you could not come below 300 feet and certain rocks that they operated in as it was all aerobatic competition. Our airplanes were no match for anything. We had the home Bells. Turns out that when they invited me to fly their airplane…I had met Gagarin and a whole bunch of them.
David: That’s Yuri Gagarin, the cosmonaut.
Bob: It turns out that I did everything I wasn’t supposed to do.
David: What did you do, Bob?
Bob: Well, they say while this was taking place, it had a dike all the way around it because it was a river and in bad weather it would sometimes run over to the airport. We built this dike. I went up for about, I’d say 180 degrees around it out in the airfield to keep the water from coming out of it and flooding the airfield.
One million people were in the crowds. There was no…everything…people were just…I don’t know. We did the climb. They showed no emotion when the Russians won the competition. They gave them a vase of flowers and hardly got an applause. They announced I was going to fly and as soon as I took off, the crowd just got out of control.
What I did, I took off. I observed them flying it on those days and I just decided to think about…retract the landing gear and I just pulled it up the nose, rolled it upside-down and stayed inverted and I came to the dike and nobody could see on the other side of the dike. I stayed inverted till I got right to the dike, pushed up over the dike and then down, upside-down on the other side, flew right side up right where they could see me and went all the way around the airport.
They sent the fire trucks over there at the airport. I came all around. Everybody’s gotten over here and I came back over their heads over there and I came right back on the deck. I did everything they did only I did it upside-down.
David: You taxi in to the ramp and what happened then?
Bob: When I got to the ramp, they had no crowd control. They came to the airplane and I was trying to get out of it. I couldn’t stand upright. I just waited there. I thought to run the story of the airplane. I was panicked about that because I knew I hadn’t hurt the airplane. I was stretched around just trying to get out of the cockpit so I didn’t. I just held them and finally got some troops in there. They were beating people with their rifles, the butts of their rifles, beating on anything.
I’m sure there must have been some broken feet because when the pass ended through the crowd, and I’m talking about a million people out there. It was so crowded and pandemonium and people were running and yelling and screaming. I thought, “Oh, boy. I think I had a pass in that.” These armed people showed up and put the guy that was dressed with some kind of a badge on and he said, “You’re under arrest.” I said, “Well, I have an opportunity to kind of taxi in the embassy.”
Of course all of this was coordinated. They said, “No. We can’t tell you anything. I can only tell you you’re under arrest.” Boy, they finally beat people on the way and got a pass in it, got me to call in by one of their people and I followed them. I said, “Where are you taking me?” “Well, we’re going to the hotel first and on to the airport.” All of those things they told me but, “Don’t worry. We’ll get you out.” I was, “Uh-oh.”
I got to the hotel. They locked the door and posted these military people at the gate with guns and said, “You can’t come out of the room.” I got welcomed. I took a shower and got dressed and finally somebody knocked on the door. They said, “We’re about to take you out.” I said, “Where are you taking me?” “We don’t know but the car’s waiting outside. You’re still under arrest.”
Well, it was in a big theater where they were going to have the awards dinner. Gagarin was on a microphone and he has had a pretty fair amount of vodka. He looked up and saw these uniformed people marching straight through the lobby because it was opened up. It was curtains. He yelled something in Russian. The guards turned around, looked around and he said, “In here.” He was the biggest, natural aviator they had; first man in space, Gagarin.
In the cups as I’ve mentioned, I came in and he yakked and yakked in Russian. Finally, somebody interpreted a little bit of what he had to say. It was something like this and he was something like the head of what we call administrator of FAA. He took the microphone and he said, “He has violated every safety rule that we’ve ever had and every rule that we had for a competition. I think that he’s been very lucky to have survived a flight like we’ve all seen and I’m certain he could never duplicate that again. We’re going to forgive him.”
Gagarin had me up on stage by then. We shook hands. I have had some vodka with him. I didn’t mind at all. That was the end of that. I’ll tell you, you’ve never seen a more relieved person in your life than me the next day when I got on a commercial flight and said goodbye.
David: Bob, you were shot down flying a Spitfire. How did that come about that you were flying a Spitfire and not a Mustang or any of our other aircraft?
Bob: Well, I joined the service at 18. I only had a high school education but I learned fast. All were trained aged from 21 to 18 because we were building airplanes faster than we could make fighter pilots. They decide they had to have more pilots. Soon there were 2,000 of us in the United States.
When they lowered the age and we were all enlisted men and Carroll Shelby, the famous race car driver was a classmate of mine and we talked about it a great deal. We weren’t getting a fair shake because we could fly but I knew more about it than cadets that were made second lieutenants.
Here we’d already learned how to shoot rifles and do every other thing that has to do with the military. Yet, we were only sergeants. We were cleaning the trains, the toilets, peeling potatoes, washing dishes and these fancy pants are still flying airplanes.
I was made a flight leader right up when I hit the fighters and they found out that I knew what I was doing and I was an instructor just right on. I was teaching people how to fire their guns and how to fly in formation.
This one day I was going out on the gunnery range and hit my target. All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion and I was on fire. The whole front of the airplane was burning. I pulled up and I couldn’t get up enough to bail out. I was over the water. I had to ditch it. Of course the luckiest thing in the world, I saw a fishing boat. I thought, “If I can hopefully get that fishing boat to see me, I’ll get rescued.”
Well, I ditched it and I was flying a P-40. That was heavy, the P-40. It’s got a big scoop on its nose there which is where you get the air for your radiator for cooling your engine. Of course it’s electric-cooled engine, the same as the Allison and all the engines in the airplanes. Nevertheless, I was underwater by the time. I couldn’t even think about it. I got one big deep breath of air. That’s good for submarine people. I couldn’t look around, nothing but water. I unfastened the safety belt bolted on the reason to have it on that canopy and I thought, “I’m going to drown right now because see, I couldn’t breathe.”
I pulled my Mae West. They pulled me there, popped me right out of that cockpit, parachute still strapped on, came up to the top. I looked around and I was surrounded by fire. They were all over, everywhere in a circle but it was a new shape, certainly it was out. I got my first gasp of air and started coughing out all the water I’ve swallowed. I looked around and said, “I got to get out of here through that door.”
I tried to swim, parachute was still on me. I got through that opening. Sure enough, the boat did see me and they were inventorying me. There were five men who managed, they pulled me out of the water. They said, “I thought an airplane just landed on the beach over here.” It was down in Florida. It was one of those hard beaches, like the kind they used to race cars on.
The airplane was in good shape. It was my commanding officer. He had not seen anything except the fire and the fact that I ditched. He landed on that beach to pick me up. I didn’t know then that this happened. He took me to the beach right where the airplane was. I got out and got to board the airplane with him and off we went.
He said, “I’m going to get a barge in here with a crane on it. We’ll get the boat.” The water is only about 50 feet deep and we could find out what caused that failure because we didn’t know what had happened. I said, “I think the silver bearing because I was told they had replaced one of the bearings in the gear complex to silver from some other metal. I bet that’s what’s happened. It probably failed.” His response was, “We’ll find out.”
The next morning, I checked in. He said, “Let’s get over and look at the airplane. They got it out.” They formed a path for him. We went over. It was full of bullet holes. I tell you that the wings were riddled. The seal behind the pilot was full of holes where bullets had hit it and I didn’t even know it. I just thought I had to have an engineer expose it.
The colonel that I report to he said, “Boy, I’m hard-pressed. It will be the end of that pilot’s career, the one who was behind me who didn’t see me. What do you think I ought to do about it?” I said, “I think he got turned at fixation. He didn’t mean to shoot at me. He didn’t see me. He was concentrating on hitting the target. It would be a shame to end his career. Who in the world would shoot down a friendly airplane?”
He said, “I like the way you think.” I said, “Well, sir why don’t you ship him out before he could have a chance to have an accident investigation?” He said, “That’s a hell of a good idea!”
David: Bob, back to when you were in combat, when you were shot at and captured by the Germans, how hard did you try to escape when the Germans had you?
Bob: David, I never gave up. First thing I did, and this is kind of funny for those of you who don’t know but believe it or not, we had an escape kit. It was a kit about like so. It was rubber-encased, very thick rubber and it could float of course. Within it, it had a compass. It had a saw blade that was encased in rubber.
Believe it or not, you inserted it in your rectum and it was a saw blade encased in rubber so that if you got captured, you can saw your way out through those bars and get free. It had a map that was crossed out, some map of the area where you were fighting so you knew exactly where you were at the time you were shot down.
I had this little thing. I’ve been floating in that cold ice water in February. The Mediterranean Sea is just like the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles in the winter time. It gets pretty God darned cold. My fingernails have turned to rubber and I couldn’t bite it with my teeth and couldn’t get the thing opened.
Here’s this ship coming at me. I had shot down one of their airplanes and they were looking for him and for me. It was a good-sized ship. It was a Corvette type. The ramp came down and the boat came by me. I was trying to tear this thing up so they wouldn’t get it as if they didn’t probably hundreds of them, of bombers cruising others by them.
I was not trained that way. “Get rid of it. Don’t let them catch you.” I was trying to sink it. I couldn’t get it opened up. It froze back up. I was living in fear that they were going to get it which they did. I wouldn’t accept any pick getting picked up.
The big ship had to go out and make two rounds before the could get close enough to me, formed to reach out with a hook and grab my raft which was full of bullet holes. It did make me feel it had some protection but it wasn’t inflated and it was just that I was encased in it, looking out with my head. They hooked it, pulled me aboard and treated me very nicely.
I would never let them see anything because I was so well-trained by the Brits; stare down and refuse and don’t let them see any muscles change in your face or in fact in your eyes. We were trained to do that and I did it throughout my whole captured period. Enough of that.
*David:** Let’s move forward. Starlight One, Northern Germany after [42:48][Inaudible] or some boarder in Northern Germany and you escaped with a buddy. You got out even though you were advised by Eisenhower not to because the war was almost over. Eisenhower had said, “Don’t escape. We’re coming to get you.” You escaped anyway.
Let me back up just a minute. Who is Colonel Russ Spicer?
Bob: Oh boy. He was an angel. He was a full colonel that considered it the person with the rank of colonel who was most seeing you who was held the longest would be the person in command of whatever we were going to do. He was our leadership. There were 1,100 people when I arrived and when I left there were 10,000.
Russ came in and he got shot down over the North Sea. He’s had a successful bailout. It’s the middle of winter. The guy was quickly cared of, safety thing like an air bolt in flight by pulling a string on it. It inflated and you can sit on this thing like a dinghy. He did that. It was so freezing cold that he became unconscious.
He got washed to shore and the Germans found him on the beach still in that container. They nursed him back to health and then brought him into the prison camp. When he took over as the senior prisoner, he had a lot of interesting sayings like, “Don’t ever forget. We’re American citizens and these SOB’s are our enemies. Let’s don’t let them ever forget it. Even though we’re in captivity, make it so difficult it’s going to be a miserable life for everybody that’s trying to control us. Do I make myself clear?”
It hit me of course because I never met him or heard of him. When he finished the speech, he said, “One last thing, there was just a Panzer and I learned this from new prisoners coming in. We were pushing up frontlines forward so fast overcoming the Germans that we got run on our supply route.”
The Germans came in a Panzer and we have 1,000 ground soldiers who were captured. Instead of making them prisoners, they killed every one of them except two and they thought they were dead. They appeared dead. They weren’t.
There was a doctor; this was a very important thing, a British doctor who had helped two of these people that weren’t killed. He had replaced their skull bones with a silver plate and they were alive and their brains were okay. He said, “If I gave myself up to the Germans, I can save their lives but the Germans would not know how to treat these two injured men.”
He gave himself. He was a British doctor. He was the doctor I ended up with and he nursed me back to health for my injuries. I got blood poisoning. They were just scratches when it started out but malnutrition, not eating properly or any medication or cleanliness. After a few weeks I had infections. I was in bad shape. I had blood poisoning.
When I finally got to the main prison camp, I met this doctor for the first time. He had a memory that was photographic. He could read something and he told me, once he said, “Have you ever read this book?” I said, “No, sir. I haven’t.” He said, “Well, open it up. Turn to whatever page you want to and tell me what page you are on.”
I wondered what he was getting at and I opened it up. This is page 25 or 55, whatever it was and I opened the page up. He said, “What page?” I told him. Without looking at the book, he quoted me everything that was on that page. He’s got a photographic memory. I talked to him about it. He said, “I can remember things that most people can’t.”
I’ve manned up. He was a jokester. I had another prisoner with me when I was all infected and I was swelled up. He said, “You’re in pretty bad shape. Do you realize that?” I said, these were before the days of antibiotics for blood poisoning. He said, “I may have to do an amputation.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I may have to do you a new one of those things.” I said, “What?”
He said, “Well, I might have just to do that but don’t you worry. We could do a lot of things in the medical world. I can take care of it but you’re going to have to kill me. If you want to get excited, do you want to have it happen when you raise your arm or turn your head a certain way?”
I had another prisoner in the bed next to me and he had a leg missing. The one on the other side had an arm and half of his face gone. They said, “Boy, I wouldn’t trade shoes with you for anything you wore.”
David: I’ll jump ahead with your escape. You found the German airfield mostly deserted. There was an airplane there. There was a kid you somehow got to start the engine for you. You took off. Where did you go? Where did you know how to go? How did you know how to fly a Focke-Wulf 190?
Bob: A fellow by the name of Gus Langspritz had been sent to Hayman. He was a test pilot from Wright Field. He had flown ten hours in the Focke-Wulf 190. He knew it from A to Z. He had talked, general captivity, letting him go on a combat mission and he got shot down. He was assigned to Wright Field and actually he was on per diem.
Here was a prisoner who the Germans didn’t know his background. He was just an air fighter pilot flying a single-engine airplane that got shot down. I’ve been in and out of Wright Field and that was my hope of assignment whenever the war ended and I wanted an education.
I got acquainted with him and we hit it off well. Finally, one day he confessed of what he was sent over to do in the conquest and then he confided in me about the 190. I told him that I have dreamed enough of someday escaping because there was an airfield not too far away that 190’s operating from it. My greatest dream was to get on board a 190 and fly it back to our lines.
Time went on after he showed me how to start the airplane, everything else in the sand. Many, many months later when I finally got traded in the war two weeks from it being over and it was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I’ll walk you through it. I was in a pretty shape. I’m telling you the truth. It was stupidity but I had done nothing but dream about getting out.
This Spicer inspired all of it by telling us what had happened. He was in solitary confinement with a death sentence. Every day of his life he didn’t know if today was the day for the firing squad. He was very cheerful about it. I was in a cell next to him for the first time and of course he was like a god to me because of his rank and I was in flight ops at the time. That’s about the lowest ranking you could get, once step lower than a second lieutenant.
Russ influenced me through the wall where we’re near the guards come to us. I was in a cell next door. He said, “Who’s my neighbor?” I told him. [53:28][Inaudible] “Don’t give up. I’m proud of you. You keep on giving these people hell. I want to see more of you so keep making it difficult for them to contain you.” David: You did. You got in the Focke-Wulf. You started it, took off. What then?
Bob: Well, I now realized I was more stupid than I thought I was. It was two weeks from being over. Airplane had swastikas on it. I had no parachute and I couldn’t find a cushion that would fill a cavity. That meant that when I got in it, I could hardly see. I was looking like this.
I decided I couldn’t take a chance of getting shot at. I was in an airplane. It was in a [54:35][Inaudible] and that’s where they hit all of the airplanes with a camouflaged coverage canvas over the top. Our constants would not know that there are airplanes underneath those things. We did the same thing.
I went from [54:52][Inaudible]. Airplanes were not flyable. I found one that was and had no bullet holes around the engine and it was full of fuel. There were holes in the wings and the tail but nothing threatening to find because it had been thrown in there. I decided this is the airplane. I had a gun that a lady had given us at a farmhouse. I’d written her a note and told her, thanking her for feeding us because we were starving to death.
On an open countryside, the Russians made the whole…captive. If you were a Russian and you were a prisoner of war, you were the same as dead. They didn’t want you back because you wouldn’t come back. They never kept locked there in their prisons back home. They killed them. Can you imagine that? They’re serving their country but they’ll kill them.
We’d never have made it if we were prisoners. We were in and out of the Russian lines. By the time I got to this airfield and the Russians weren’t there, I got this fellow to put the gun on him. I handed the gun to Jerry, the fellow who escaped with me. I said, “He did not ever want to fly again.” He tells the story better than I did.
He had the gun on the fellow and said, “If he doesn’t get airborne, you’re dead.” This poor guy just…it was in the winter time. Boy, he started shaking. He turned pale, started perspiring. I got in the cockpit and first of all we couldn’t communicate with him. Jerry said, “Try, my friend.” He spoke French. That’s when he got all concerned. He climbed on the wing and started the airplane for me, cranked it up. I knew I had a hot place of landing here.
I took off and as soon as the wheels got off the ground, I said to myself, “You are the dumbest pilot that ever got into the cockpit of an airplane. Here you are in a charming airplane with a swastika and no parachute and you wouldn’t shoot at your own man anyway.” I looked up and I saw the ceiling about 4,000 feet right up underneath the engine ceiling. If I started seeing any Predators, I’ll just sneak up into the clouds until they quit looking for me and then drop down.
I stayed right underneath; never saw an airplane the time I took off until I crashed landed in Holland. I wouldn’t land anywhere in any airfield because Germans always man the airports when they departed. I had to wait until I saw windmills. Once I knew I was in Holland and the prisoners were there, I knew that, I knew I’ll be safe.
When I landed, I landed on the side of Zee. Upon landing, I saw a ditch, round up the airplane to keep it from tripping upside-down. I sat down there feeling sorry for myself and commiserating about how stupid I was. I got out of there praying. I remember there was a road on the other side with some trees. I headed in that direction when I calmed down and went over there and walked into the woods.
All of a sudden, I saw pitchforks coming at me. They thought I was a German. I was headed from where they saw the airplane land. More than that, the pitchforks happened in. I held my hands up and pointed toward the dirt road. They got me to keep walking. When I got there and I haven’t even been there ten minutes [59:19][Inaudible] communicate at all.
A British truck came along. I was waving my hands frantically. They stopped the truck and I told them, “I’m an American pilot. They think I’m a Kraut. I need some lift. Can you give me a ride?” They said, “Hop in, old cap.” That’s the end of the story.
David: Bob, with the time we have left, let’s jump back to the States. It’s the spring of 1947. You’re at Edwards. You, Dr. Amos, Jack Russell, Jack Ridley, Dick Frost, Ed Swindell, of course Yeager, and you are the team to try to break the so-called sound barrier. What were those circumstances and could you have pulled off something that amazing these days to break the sound barrier with that little team?
Bob: Well, times change as well, David but everything just worked out perfectly. I had been on this program working on compressibility. That was the wall of sound that everybody thought is really the sound barrier. We didn’t have a sound barrier. We had an air flow breakdown.
That’s why the air flow comes out of the wings at the end of a section of the fuselage and maybe it’s the tail. It has a catastrophic effect because it’s a ripple effect. In a millisecond, the airplane could come apart and there you are, dead as a doornail.
We had lost some airplanes doing that one. It was two P-47’s. There were three of us on the project at that time. This was before the X-1. The first two pilots were killed. We had to try somehow to bring that air flow down before it could develop into catastrophic circumstances. I assumed that the electric motor head failed in both cases that actuated this deflection, dropped them dead, to change the air flow which didn’t work.
I had to switch it. I want a manual one. I think that electric motors stalled out and that’s why we lost the two pilots. I want to be able to manually actuate that flap myself. They built an extension, telescoping extension. I headed down below the contriver, [01:02:22][Inaudible]. I pulled it up until I got it up to almost to the canopy and followed the shape of the canopy.
What you don’t understand is and most people don’t, when you get to 500 miles an hour and most of the airplanes and even some of the jets, their controllers will get so stiff that you couldn’t move it. You couldn’t move the controllers because the forces were so great on the aero engine, elevate it that you’re stuck with whatever you’ve got, wherever it’s trimmed and kind of a frightening situation when you’re going in that direction.
In the case of a P-47, guess what? If you pull a throttle off like any one of us would do and slow down when we’re trying to get out a dive or we’re 500 miles back, the airplane was going wherever it was pointed. You had no control over it. Instinctively, I put the stick between my knees and I bend over like this to do what I had to do in getting up that part. I pulled it, pulled it.
All of a sudden, a loud explosion and I was unconscious. When I came to, I looked around and my chase pilot…we have a chase pilot much of the time on these high risk flights, he said, “I’ve been calling you for the last ten to 15 minutes and you’ve not responded. Where are you? Are you all right?” I said, “I’m okay. I didn’t know I was out for that long.”
I went right through [01:04:21][Inaudible]. It was such a sudden reaction. The wings buckle on the P-47 just like this on both sides. When it went up, it released the up locks and then the landing gear came out and got the tail but it was too pliable. When I came to, going on and it all ended up. I landed all right. The airplane was actually class 26. It took forever. We got all the information we needed. That’s the story on that one.
David: Bob Hoover. We have a new part of the program and that’s Danny Bolen. He’s Ed Bolen’s younger brother and we call it Man On the Street. Dan, you’re up man.
Dan: Thank you. Thank you. I have assigned this Man On the Street program. What I require is three interviewees. I’ve already picked out one but I need somebody here who is a pilot, who has never been to Oshkosh before and he’s never heard Bob Hoover. Does anybody here meet that criteria? I’d like to talk to you after the program sort of right here, a lot of cameras.
Is there anybody here that has been a prisoner of war? No one. Okay. Is anybody here a World War II pilot? Okay, sir. I would like to talk to you. Thank you so much. David, I enjoyed the program so much. Bob, Danny Bolen. It’s good to see you again, my friend. Thank you, David.
David: Dan, thank you. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. What a privilege to be here with you and to spend this time with you and Mr. Hoover. Thank you, sir.
Chris: Well, I hope that little snippet episode didn’t make you pass your cookies. Man, this guy has some amazing stories. What a great aviator. What a great icon in aviation and someone to model after. This guy’s just awesome. His story gets even more deep when you get in to his book and when you see the movie. I really encourage you guys to do that. This is just the start.
One of the things I drew from Oshkosh this year was that I really wanted to get the story out of Bob Hoover because I believe this is a man and an aviator that we should all remember and we will look back on as one of the greatest of all time. He’s still around. We still have the opportunity to hear from him and to learn about his story.
I think now is a great time. I’d like to bring awareness especially to the younger generation about who this guy is and what he’s done. I know that I’m starting to look up to him more and more as just an icon in the aviation industry and an icon aviator, if you will as well.
Awesome, awesome experience listening and seeing Bob Hoover. I hope you guys enjoyed it as well. Again, you should pick up the movie or the book, “Forever Flying” and then we are going to talk about in the next episode here, we are going to talk to the film maker who did “Flying the Feathered Edge” which is an amazing film that I was able to see while I was at Oshkosh. We will talk to her more about the story of making the film “Flying the Feathered Edge.”
That’s it. Let’s get in to that episode next. Until then, throttle on![/transcript]