U.S. Air Force test pilot and flying pioneer 1st. Lt. Robert Hoover (bottom center), poses for a group shot with other U.S. test pilots. He’s the Class of 2020’s exemplar at the U.S. Air Force Academy. (Courtesy photo)
By Maureen Welch, Oct. 13, 2017
Sophomore cadets honored their class’ ideal Airman Oct. 4 at the Exemplar Dinner.
Cadets in the Class of 2020 selected 1st Lt. Robert Hoover, a former Army Air Corps, Air Force and civilian test pilot, to be their exemplar.
Hoover, of Nashville, Tennessee, was taken captive by the Germans after being shot-down by the Luftwaffe over France during World War II. He spent 16 months in Stalag Luft I, a German POW camp, before sneaking into a German FW-190 aircraft and flying to Holland. It was his fourth attempt to escape the prison.
During World War II, Hoover was a test pilot in Morocco and was later assigned to the 52nd Fighter Group on the Island of Corsica, where he flew the British Supermarine Spitfire aircraft.
He originally enlisted in the Tennessee National Guard in 1940, but his talent for aerial aerobatics and maneuvers landed him a slot at the Army Air Corps Pilot Training School.
“Hoover’s involvement in the history of aviation is why he was selected for the Exemplar Program,” said Maj. Rikki Smith, officer in charge of the Academy’s Exemplar Program. “He was selected because of his courage, determination and humility.”
He returned to the U.S. to fly at Wright Field, Ohio, where he met fellow flying pioneer Chuck Yeager. Hoover was the backup pilot for Yeager’s record-breaking supersonic flight over Muroc Field, California, in October 1947.
Hoover left the still-new Air Force in 1948, but continued his career as test pilot, pushing Air Force and Navy jets to their limits. He grew popular in the ‘60s for his aerial acrobatics in “Ol Yeller,” a yellow P-51 Mustang, at air shows across the nation.
Each year, sophomore cadets select and honor their exemplar. The exemplar becomes the cadets’ honorary class leader and namesake.
Past exemplars include Lt. Gen. Jimmy Doolittle, Capt. Lance Sijan, Gen. Carl Spaatz, and Brig. Gen. William “Billy” Mitchell.
“Starting this time last year, we began the selection process of an exemplar,” Smith said.
“Throughout the year, our team led the class through the voting process, selection of their exemplar, and superintendent approval of the Exemplar.”
Hoover was born Jan. 24, 1922 in Nashville. He died Oct. 25, 2016 in Los Angeles. He was 94.
Visit www.usafa.af.mil/About-Us/Fact-Sheets/Display/Article/428298/cadet-exemplar-program for more information.
Editor’s note: Muroc Field was re-named Edwards Air Force Base.