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The Robert A. “Bob” Hoover Celebration of Life Ceremony

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A pair of F-86s, Hoover’s favorite aircraft, fly formation with an F-22.

Report and Photography by Bob Shane

October 25, 2016 marked the passing of R.A. “Bob” Hoover at age 94. He was one of the most accomplished and skilled aviators of our time. The really good pilots are referred to as a “Pilot’s Pilot.” This characterization is the definition of who Bob Hoover truly was. A fighter pilot, test pilot, flight instructor and air show pilot extraordinaire, Hoover did it all to perfection. Throughout his flying career he played an important role in the achievement of milestone projects such as breaking the sound barrier. He is widely considered the founding father of modern aerobatics.

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Bob Hoover (left) and his friend “Schnoz,” Evergreen custom service rep, 1985.

Hoover’s standard aerobatic routine in his Rockwell twin engine Shrike Commander business aircraft consisted of shutting both engines down, performing loops, rolls, one wheel landings and taxis up to the crowd live at air show center, all dead stick. His attire for this amazing display was a business suit and tie and his signature Panama hat. A genuine American hero, Hoover’s fighter aircraft was shot down during the Second World War. He was captured by the Germans and later escaped by stealing a German FW190, and flying into Holland.

Life in the sky for Hoover was an adventure followed by the next adventure. He lived life to the fullest, always a perfect gentleman, inspiring everyone he came in contact with. A mentor to all aviators, he empowered fellow pilots with the knowledge they needed to stay safe in the air.

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Danny Clisham, air show announcer.

The best tribute and celebration of life ceremony honoring this true American hero was held in November at the Clay Lacy Aviation hangar in Van Nuys, California. Over 1,500 people, consisting of family, friends and professional associates attended this very special event. The Masters of Ceremony, premiere aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker and air show announcer Danny Clisham, immediately established an upbeat atmosphere of joy and “unmitigated” happiness. This is what Hoover would have wanted. The list of speakers was distinguished. Many of them would be considered tops in their respective fields. The one thing they all had in common was who they considered to be their hero and that person was Bob Hoover. Everyone who spoke for the allotted two minutes had a special and moving story to tell about the time they spent with Hoover and the profound impact he had on their lives and professional careers in aviation. These interactions many times involved the imparting of Hoover’s knowledge and advice that probably saved their lives as a pilot.

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Clay Lacy, founder of Clay Lacy Aviation

The speakers included Clay Lacy (the founder of Clay Lacy Aviation), Harrison Ford (actor and pilot) and Brian Cochran (Hoover’s business partner) who said of Hoover’s attitude “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out and loudly proclaiming: Wow what a ride!” Mike Herman, Hoover’s personal pilot who flew him to events in his CJ-3, stated that Hoover told him just before his death that he didn’t want to be in bed doing nothing. He wanted to be with his friends in aviation. Dorothy Cochrane, the curator of general aviation aircraft at the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar Hazy Center at Dulles Airport, is in charge of Hoover’s Shrike Commander, which is on display at the museum. She was there when Hoover landed the Shrike at Dulles and taxied it all the way to a stop inside the museum, a feat which the museum director proclaims was never done before and will never be done again. Randy Fry, founder of Fry’s Electronics, spoke of his first flight with Hoover in the Shrike Commander when Hoover caused his straw hat to float around inside the cabin then land perfectly on the back seat without ever turning around. Jonna Doolittle, the granddaughter of Jimmy Doolittle, spoke of what a gifted storyteller Hoover was and that her grandfather said Hoover was “the greatest stick and rudder man that ever lived.” Rich Lee, Chief of Flight Test for The Boeing, Helicopter Division, stated that Hoover was the reason he was still alive today. Other speakers included: movie producer David Ellison, test pilot Tod Erickson, Lt. General USAF retired Dan Druen, Neil Armstrong’s son Mark Armstrong, Kim Furst who directed the documentary on Hoover called Flying The Feathered Edge: The Bob Hoover Project.

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The first formation flyby consisted of a Sabreliner, two USAF Thunderbird F-16s, and a Canadian Snowbird Tutor.

Following all the personal tributes on the ground, all 1500 attendees moved outside to the flightline. There was an honor guard, rifle salute, folding and presentation of an American flag to the Hoover family and flyby tributes in the sky. There were tree separate flight elements. The first was a four ship formation consisting of a Sabreliner leading two U.S. Air Force Thunderbird F-16s with a Canadian Snowbird Tutor jet flying in the slot position. Hoover was given a very special honor. All three elite flight demonstration teams, the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, Canadian Snowbirds and U.S. Navy Blue Angels each made Bob Hoover an honorary member of their team. The second element consisted of an F-22 Raptor and two F-86 Sabre Jets. Hoover had flown just about everything, but the F-86 was his favorite. The third and final element consisted of a P-40 Warhawk, Grumman Hellcat, P-51 Mustang, and a British Spitfire. This was the ceremonial missing man formation.

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Thunderbird #8 (left) and Kent Pietsch (right), air show performer sponsored by the Jelly Belly Candy Company. Pietsch is holding special yellow and green jellybeans, Hoover’s “Ole Yeller” P-51 colors.

Next on the agenda was a festive hangar party. The tribute did not end there. The party relocated to the Van Nuys Airtel Plaza Hotel and continued on into the evening.

I think it is safe to say that there will never be another pilot as prolific, skilled and accomplished as R. A. “Bob” Hoover. The annals of aviation should reflect that the world has just lost the greatest aviator of our time.

 

The USAF’s 2016 Phinal Phantom II Tour

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The USAF’s 2016 Phinal Phantom II Tour

Photographic coverage by: Joe Kates, Ulrich Seibicke, Scott Jankowski, Mark Hrutkay, Beau Goff, Bob Shane, and Scott Zeno.

Story by Ken Kula with Steve Lewis

After 53 years of service and having five main versions of the airframe produced, the last United States Air Force examples of the McDonnell Douglas/Boeing F-4 Phantom II were retired from flying service in 2016. Although removed from frontline service in 1996 (when the last F-4G Wild Weasels were retired), more than 300 specialized target versions were converted from surplus airframes by BAE, and began operations during that same year with the 82nd Aerial Target Squadron (82nd ATRS). These allowed for unmanned QF-4 aircraft to be controlled from the ground, often as disposable targets for live-fire testing. The Phantom IIs were also flown by veteran pilots in various scenarios for non-destructive testing.

QRF-4C taken in 2013

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Various versions of Air Force Phantoms were modified under the Full Scale Aerial Target (FSAT) program, the last three versions being the QF-4G, QRF-4C, and QF-4E. Visually, distinct orange wingtips and tail markings helped distinguish the targets from other jets.

Merriam-Webster’s on-line dictionary, in part, defines the word “finale” as: “the last and often climactic event or item in a sequence ”. During the last year of operation of the QF-4s, the Air Force made it a point to provide Phantoms for major aviation events throughout their final year of operation. Thus, what we call the USAF’s Phinal Phantom II Tour, became the type’s finale on the country’s aerial stages. Untold thousands of Phantom II fans, former pilots and crew, and maintainers with a soft spot in their hearts for the aircraft, attended these shows. And whenever possible, the thunderous roar of QF-4 afterburners was heard at these venues.

Here are some highlights from the now–distant tour, as seen by numerous Photorecon.net, ClassicWarbirds.net and PHXSpotters photographers…


Spirit of St. Louis Air Show and STEM Expo, May 2016

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 EAA AirVenture 2016, Oshkosh WI, July, 2016

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National Championship Air Races, Reno NV, September, 2016

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Nellis AFB Air Show and Open House, November, 2016

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Holloman AFB Phantom Finale, December 2016

Other events in 2016 where Phantoms appeared included the MCAS Miramar Air Show, Fort Worth Alliance Air Show, and a flyby at the Texas Motor Speedway.


Star Wars Canyon Final Passes, October, 2016

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Another fitting ceremonial display occurred as a low-profile, high impact traverse through the Sidewinder Low Level Route, JEDI Transition, of the R5208 Military Training area in California. A pair of QF-4s visited NAWC Point Mugu CA in October, 2016. A meeting at a Camarillo CA restaurant (sounds familiar… more than a few brilliant aviation ideas have been sketched out on a napkin during a meal…) between two 82nd ATRS QF-4 pilots (‘Wam’ and ‘Elvis’), Photorecon.net’s own Steve Lewis, and another photographer ensued, to plan a flight through a particular canyon (otherwise known as Star Wars or Rainbow Canyon) while enroute to Hill AFB in Utah after the visit.

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The Low Level Route lies almost directly in between the two bases, and the thought of Phantoms in the valley one more time (this wouldn’t be the first time Phantoms roared through the canyon!) was a wish on many photographers’ minds – especially when the Phantom’s time in the air became limited. Armed with maps and charts, Steve and the pilots planned out times, routes, and determined the geographic points that would allow the pilots to present the QF-4s for the best photographic results. Steve would fly an American Flag at their location for the pilots to verify their navigation. Later the pilots, armed with all of the information they needed, went to work and coordinated their flight plans and use of the low level route.

There were a few items that could interfere with the plan… fuel would be one of these. A major consideration, as Phantoms gobble down large quantities of gas anyway, would be a low level segment that would burn up a higher quantity of fuel than a normal overflight would. As long as the jets could climb to a more efficient altitude quickly and not be routed further away from their filed flight plan route, the mission to fly the Canyon would go on.

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Sure enough, on the morning of their flight to Hill AFB, the pair of Phantoms dove down into the canyon and presented the assembled pack of photographers their final opportunities to photograph the jets airborne against the stunning scenery… with a pair of passes. Then, the QF-4Es climbed on course to Utah, and the Air Force maintenance depot at Hill AFB, where a ceremony was planned.


Phantom Phinale, Holloman AFB, NM

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Although a dozen or more airframes began the year with the 82nd ATRS at Holloman AFB, NM, attrition as live-fire targets whittled the last operational aircraft to about half a dozen for the final retirement ceremony on December 20, 2016 at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Four QF-4E aircraft flew the type’s final sorties just days before the end of the year.

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The sound barrier was broken for all to hear, a series of passes in front of the crowd offered some final photos of Phantoms in the air, and after landing, a water cannon salute was given to the quartet and their pilots. The flyers would go their separate ways after the last QF-4s landed; retirement, upgrade to the QF-16 program, and other endeavors were discussed. An official release said that the QF-4s would be utilized as ground-based targets after their flying was done, towed out into the desert ranges of Holloman AFB.

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Only a handful of Air Forces around the world still operate Phantoms in early 2017; the USAF’s finale put to bed what was once the largest Phantom fleet in the world (the U.S. operated almost eighty percent of all Phantoms produced). Japan (three units with F-4EJ and RF-4EJ), Turkey (one unit with upgraded F-4E 2020 jets), South Korea (two F-4E units) and Greece (5 units with upgraded F-4Es and RF-4Es) are four countries that still fly the big jets. Iran has a number of squadrons still operating a handful of F-4D, F-4E and RF-4C Phantoms too.

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The USAF has replaced the QF-4 series of Full Scale Aerial Targets with the QF-16… although the bright orange panels used for visual tracking and identification still remain.

With the retirement of the American Phantoms in 2016, a noteworthy type of phighter was pheted with a grand phinale during its phinal year of phlying!

 

“Pax-16″: Something Different

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Naval Air Station Patuxent River (KNHK / Trapnel Field) also known as NAS Pax River, is a United States Naval Air Station located in St. Mary’s County, Maryland. Located on Chesapeake Bay, near the mouth of the Patuxent River, it is about one hour east of Andrews AFB. The big base is home to Headquarters, Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), the U.S. Naval Test Pilots School, the Atlantic Test Range, and serves as a center for Test, Evaluation and Systems Acquisition to Naval Aviation of new and operational aircraft. Additional Commands include Air Test Wing Atlantic, and the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD). Its operational units include: Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1); Scientific Development Squadron 1 / Naval Research Lab (VXS-1, Warlocks), Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 20 (VX-20, Force), Rotary Wing Test Squadron 21 (HX-21, Black Pack), and Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 23 (VX-23, Salty Dogs). Pax air shows have been noted for showing off special and unusual test aircraft decked out in bands of day-glow orange and special nose art, something you never get to see at other military air shows. That makes a Pax air show always special and unusual. 2016 was no exception!

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The USAF Wild Weasel Mission Surpasses Fifty Years

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Slightly more than half a century ago, a new U. S. Air Force mission – that of a high importance – was assigned to a handful of pilots and electronic warfare officers. Their mission was to offer a solution to the critical task of defeating the newest and very lethal Soviet Bloc SA-2 anti-aircraft missiles that had recently become a threat to aircraft involved in the Vietnam War. Looking back upon fifty-two years of defeating anti-aircraft missiles and other air defense weapons, the Wild Weasel mission successes have shaped air warfare tactics and weapons systems worldwide.

During the early stages of the Vietnam War, American aviators met a new threat not encountered in previous conflicts. Radar-guided surface to air anti-aircraft missiles (SAMs) became a menace to aircraft as they flew missions against targets in North Vietnam. Missile sites had been detected earlier in the year, but on July 24, 1965, a Soviet-built SA-2 Guideline (NATO codename) missile shot down an Air Force F-4C Phantom II; the following day an unmanned aircraft was also lost.

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