Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Book Review: Forever Flying

Last night I just finished re-reading a favorite book of mine: Forever Flying, by the legendary Bob Hoover.

Here's a guy who has definitely "been there and done that" in regards to aviation, and he's met practically everyone who was anyone along the way, from Orville Wright, to Charles Lindbergh to the astronauts who walked on the moon. And he's flown just about every aircraft type imaginable, starting out as a pre-WW2 civilian pilot, then getting into the Army Air Corps during the war, where he spent much of his time as a military test pilot for newly-delivered aircraft before he finally managed to wangle a transfer to a fighter unit. Shot down by the Germans, Bob was a prisoner for a while, until, in the last days before the fall of Germany, he escaped from the POW camp where he was being held, snuck onto a German airfield, stole a fighter plane, and flew it back to freedom.

For most pilots, that'd be enough, but Bob Hoover was just getting started. He stayed in the service and wound up as a test pilot at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, where he evaluated new aircraft types and captured German stuff. There, he made the acquaintance of Chuck Yeager and the two became life-long friends. Hoover might well have been the first pilot to break the sound barrier in the X-1, but after a unauthorized stunt with one of the Air Force's new P-80 jets, he was taken out of final consideration for the role of chief X-1 pilot and Chuck Yeager got it instead. (Hoover flew the chase plane and was slotted as back-up pilot.)

Over the rest of his career, Hoover went from Air Force test pilot, to test pilot for North American aviation during the beginning of the jet age. He flew the F-86 and the then-new F-100, crashing a couple of the letter before that aircraft's quirks were ironed out. He also flew exhibition flights in over 2,000 airshows around the world. Often described by other pilots and one of the greatest pilots in the world, Bob's book is chock full of the kind of stories that exemplify "The right stuff" that he and a few others had back in the day. If you like flying stories or aviation history, this book is a must have for you.


  1. It's a well told story, and one that we'll never see again! Folks like Bob just don't "get" those kinds of opportunities anymore.

  2. Not to nitpick, but General Yeager broke the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 named "Glamorous Glennis", named after his wife, not in an X-15.

  3. @ Old NFO: That's for sure. He didn't have a college degree and some of the things that he did early on would have seen him cashiered right out of today's Air Force.

    @ Juvat: Yep. Thanks for catching the typo.

  4. Thanks for the review, ML; I saw this book advertised, but wasn't sure about it - until now.

  5. Interesting coincidence that you posted on an aviation pioneer - my son texted me this afternoon asking how his Opa (my Dad) was connected to Wiley Post.

    I replied that Messrs. Post and Rogers met their end three years before my Dad was born, but that his father, my namesake, was an accountant for Phillips 66 and acquaintance of Frank Phillips, once flew with the famed aviator.

    My grandfather related the story to me, pointing to pictures gracing the walls of the Bartlesville airport as I waited to board my first commercial flight (age 9), on a Frontier Convair 580 to Dallas Love Field, late summer 1970.

  6. I first met Bob at an air show in Reading, Pennsylvania back in 1974. He was flying his personal "Rockwell" P-51 named "Old Yeller".

    The interesting part was he had been at the Farnborough Air show in England and had just arrived at JFK on a commercial flight about noon. His planes (P-51 & Shrike Commander) were in Reading.

    Now it was 2:00 PM and about 120 miles separated Bob from his aircraft.

    Problem? Call on the sound barrier busters.

    As it happens the Blue Angels were performing at the Reading show. They were flying F-4 Phantoms at the time. No problem. The #1 Angel hopped into his Phantom took off on full burner. About 3:30 PM he arrived back with Bob in the "Wizzo's" chair.

    I still remember Bob stepping out of the F4 in a Blue Angles flight suit, which he quickly removed revealing a dark 2-piece suit, white shirt and tie.

    Bob went on to perform flawlessly, in both his aircraft, as usual.

    What a day!

  7. Anonymous11:48 PM

    I am looking forward to reading this book.

  8. I caught a couple Reno Air Race meets back about '83-'85, and Bob was the race director/pace plane, in his P-51, for the Unlimited classes. Flew his Shrike, also.
    Very calm voice/presence, while advising pilots in the midst of possible disasters-in-development as "Mayday" calls were made.

    Another flying autobiography I would recommend is Jimmy Doolittle's "I Could Never Be So Lucky Again". Hell of a life story. Most remember him for his early days of racing and "daredevil" type flying. Few know he had a masters and doctorate in aeronautics from MIT.

    Then, of course, he did that B-25 attack on Japan, launching from an aircraft carrier. MOH for that. Ran the airforces in North Africa, while fighting Rommel, and later switched to England to do the same.

    Amazon has both paperback and hardcover versions.

  9. Thanks, Will. Doolittle's book is in me queue. There will be a review down the road. He was another amazing man the likes of which don't exist today.