Air show performer Bob Hoover dies at 94

Legendary pilot Bob Hoover, a world famous air show performer and former Air Force test pilot who flew captured enemy planes at Wright Field, died Tuesday, according to media reports.

He was 94 years old.

“It’s easy to call him an icon, but he truly is,” said Ron Kaplan, enshrinement director at the National Aviation Hall of Fame at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. “He has influenced more individuals than probably … any single person in aviation.”

Hoover had a reputation as “a great test pilot so at the dawn of the jet age he was literally off the wing of Chuck Yeager” flying a chase plane as Yeager broke the sound barrier above the California desert in 1947, said Kaplan.

Hoover, a Nashville, Tenn., native, had expected to fly the Bell X-1 before Yeager on the historic test flight but was replaced when he buzzed an aircraft traffic control tower in Springfield while stationed at Wright Field, Kaplan said.

“You could tell he would be a little wistful knowing that he could have been at the controls of the X-1 and not for the glory but really for the challenge of it because he was consummate test pilot,” Kaplan said.

The pilot’s health had been failing in recent weeks, according to Kaplan. Hoover planned to travel from his California home to attend the NAHF enshrinement dinner this month at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force but declined a week before because of health concerns, Kaplan said.

The Experimental Aircraft Association on its website announced Hoover’s death Tuesday.

During World War II, Hoover flew 58 combat missions before he was shot down and spent 16 months in a German POW camp. Hoover escaped and flew an abandoned Nazi fighter to Holland, according to his NAHF biography.

After the war, he flew captured German and Japanese planes and test aircraft at Wright Field in Dayton.

In 1950, he began a 36-year affiliation with North American Aviation and Rockwell International.

The acrobatic champion performed on the air show circuit around the world for decades. “Bob Hoover was a superb pilot, and most professional aerobatic pilots I know consider him to be unmatched,” said Timothy Gaffney, a National Aviation Heritage Alliance spokesman.

Memorial service arrangements were pending, EAA said.

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