Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Old Man With The Big Hat



Above, you will see the aircraft that was flown by Yeager as it looks today at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.






The Old Man with the Big Hat



The small Arlington Airport, located on the west side of Washington State, hosts one of the best little air shows in the northwest. It takes place during the summer and although it is considered to be a small airport, it still accommodates larger aircraft as well as small jets. For two years, 1997 through 1998, we lived about three blocks away from this airport. At times, driving on one of the main roads, which cut across the flight path of some of the unique aircraft taking off and landing, could be thrilling as well as breathtaking. I remember one afternoon, just days before the air show was to begin. We were driving home from a friend’s house, the kids entertaining themselves in the rear seats and my wife and I engaged in a conversation. My eye caught the unmistakable shape of a B-17 bomber approaching for a landing. I was able to pull over on the shoulder of the road as the big bird lowered its wheels. My kids got out of the truck and stood next to me and waved as this enormous veteran passed overhead. For me, it was the same feeling I get watching the American flag being raised, patriotic goose bumps. To my kids it was just a big, cool airplane. My little boy, who was about six at the time, was more impressed than his sisters and asked me if we could go to the air show. It was a great opportunity for me to bond with the little man and I said yes. I had to work that following weekend, but I made plans to go on Sunday, the final day. My son was very excited, but as luck would have it, I got off work later then anticipated. By the time I made it home, the show was almost over and we were both disappointed. I made an effort to consol him and decided to take him anyway to at least walk around and look at the static displays. Once inside, looking at these parked planes was not as interesting to this 6-year old as it would have been with them in the air. I felt as though I had let him down, but in police work, you as well as your family have to get used to that kind of thing. As we walked the grounds, I noticed a booth that sold hats, t-shirts and even model planes. I thought that perhaps buying my son a hat would be a good way to smooth things over. I found a colorful one with a yellow P51 Mustang embroidered on the front. My son liked it as well and I took it off the rack and handed it to one of the men in the booth. As he rang it up, he asked if we would like Bob to sign the hat. My thought was, if this will make Bob happy, go ahead. Bob stood up and took a black permanent marker and scrawled his full name across the hat next to the yellow Mustang. I shook his hand and said thank you and walked away. Bob was a very descript man and was wearing the largest straw hat I had ever seen. He also had a rather large nose which caught my attention.
As we walked through the rest of the displays, we came upon a guy sitting in a lawn chair at the back of a pickup. Behind the truck was a very small helicopter with a bubble nose. What better way to end an otherwise boring afternoon visit than taking my son for a helicopter ride. It was expensive and to tell you the truth, it scared the hell out of me. Based on the death grip that my son had on my leg, he wasn’t feeling too secure either. I flew in helicopters while I was in the Air Force, but those were Huey’s, a much larger chopper. The problem with this little fellow was the fact that my ass hung over the edge of the entrance which had no door. The pilot wasn’t a happy man either and based on the visible scars on his arms and face, he had most likely earned the right. We left the show grounds with shaky legs, but on a happy note. My son had been airborne for the first time and survived. On the way out, we passed the booth where we had seen this man named Bob. He tipped that huge hat as we walked by. It wasn’t until four years later that I asked myself just who in the hell is Bob. My son still had the hat that I had bought that day and I asked him to bring it to me. I was online and decided to see what I could find. I typed in the name on the hat, Bob Hoover, and I was surprised to see page after page pop up. I started to read about Mr. Hoover. This man, who I had regarded only as the old man with the big hat, was suddenly much more than that. Bob Hoover was perhaps one of the most interesting men I have ever shaken hands with. Mr. Hoover, by all accounts, including that of General Jimmy Doolittle, is considered to be one of the greatest pilots in U.S. history. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his heroic exploits in World War II and also flew combat missions in Korea. On October 14th, 1947, Bob Hoover piloted the chase plane when Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier and he was the designated back-up pilot for Yeager. He went on to become one of the greatest acrobat pilots to ever dance in the sky. If I had only known, Mr. Hoover, if I had only known.
My son keeps his hat safe from destruction and every once in a while, I will look at it and remember the old man in the funny hat. I wish I would have taken the time to say thanks for more then just him signing that hat.

Please enjoy this video from the BBC that shows this mans skill.

3 comments:

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

Oh, your story made me a little weepy, Randy. This post is a touching tribute to a wonderful pilot and interesting man, Mr. Hoover of the large hat and nose. Thank you for sharing this with us. Once again the point is made - you really don't know the stranger standing beside you, but every stranger has their tale. Warm, wonderful story - thank you again.

The Giraffe Head Tree said...

A-f*cking-mazing! OMG - thanks, Randy. This is way cool! Will share with my engineering hubby as I think this might be right down his alley. Love this - thanks! Debi @ GHT

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