06 April 2007

Bob Hoover, Meet Pancho Barnes !


Before there was a "Production Journal" for the website, we conducted a series of interviews with some of the legends of aviation who were friends of Pancho. This includes astronaut Buzz Aldrin, W.A.S.P. Babe Story, and test pilots Chuck Yeager, Bob Cardenas, and the "gentleman of the air" Bob Hoover. As time permits, we'll revisit some of these interviews.

According to his best friend Chuck Yeager, Bob Hoover is "the greatest pilot I ever saw". A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross in WWII, he was Yeager's back-up pilot on the X-1 program, a test pilot for North American, and is known throughout the world as an aerobatic pilot. Back when he met Pancho in 1947 at MUROC (later Edwards AFB), Hoover had just missed his chance to be primary pilot of the X-1. You see, as a favor to a fellow pilot who wanted to impress his family, Bob had buzzed the Springfield, Ohio airport in his P-80 upside down. The idea was that the family and friends would think that Bob was actually this other pilot, and the ruse nearly worked except that some smarty from the Civil Aviation Authority wrote down his plane's tail numbers. Bob was busted, and as punishment Col. Al Boyd demoted him from primary pilot on the X-1, to backup!

The way Bob met Pancho was, well, remarkable. Yeager took his buddy to the Happy Bottom Riding Club and, as a courtesy, he went over to the door of Pancho's house and knocked. Pancho answered, and opened the door. That's when Bob's mouth fell open, because Pancho was practically nude! Just as he was recovering from the shock, she opened her mouth.

"I was in for the surprise of my life," says Bob, "because I’d never been around a woman that spoke as she spoke. And I mean she was outspoken and you just can’t imagine that a woman would talk like that. I mean worse than any man you’ve ever heard!"

Soon enough, Pancho and Bob were good friends. When Pancho heard that Bob had punched out of an F-84 during a test flight, she and Yeager rushed to the hospital. It was a moment Hoover would never forget. Here he was lying in bed, jaw broken, with two shattered legs, and in shock, when Pancho and Yeager burst into his room. "Pancho was was wearing a long black coat and she said ‘how you doing?’ And I said I've never hurt this bad in my life," he remembers. "And she said ‘those dumb f-ing doctors, they don’t know a thing about pain.’ And so she pulled a bottle of booze out of her coat — down this deep pocket — and she opened it up and said ‘take a slug of this.’ And I was lying down you know, being raised up like this and she - I took a little sip and she said ‘gotta take more than that.’ She then took a slug and passed it to Chuck. He took a big slug and then ... Pancho grabbed the bottle and she said ‘I want to see some bubbles come up when you drink the booze.’

Needless to say, despite his injuries Bob soon felt no pain!

More on the Bob Hoover interview to come... If you're interested in reading Bob's biography, Forever Flying, it comes highly recommended. You can find it on Amazon.com and in your local library.