Oh, what an aviation life to have lived. Robert “Bob” Hoover left us on Tuesday at age 94, but his legacy will remain in fighter pilot lore for generations. When you have fighter pilot legends brag on you, you must have been something special.

Jimmy Doolittle, the World War II hero, aviation pioneer, and commander of the famous Dolittle Raid on Japan called Mr. Hoover “the greatest stick-and-rudder man that ever lived.” General Chuck Yeager, the most famous test pilot of all time, described him as the “greatest pilot I ever saw.”

It is hard to believe one fighter pilot could garner such a reputation–but it was well earned through a life in aviation that spanned over 60 years.

Bob had the ability to elevate his flying to an art form. His graceful loops, vertical climbs, four-point rolls and half Cuban eights painted the sky like the smooth broad strokes of a painter’s brush. It was enough to captivate millions of people and influence thousands of others to fly professionally.

Bob Hoover. Photo credit: CNN
Bob Hoover. Photo credit: CNN/Getty

His favorite plane was nicknamed “Old Yeller,” a P-51 Mustang fighter painted bright yellow. Instead of performing in a flight suit, Mr. Hoover would sometimes perform airshows in a business suit and a Panama straw hat. He remarked once that is it was “less trouble for the undertaker in case of an accident”.

But Bob’s ability to handle a plane showed that his flying skills were just as impressive as his ability to paint the sky and the undertaker was going to have to wait a while. His signature move was a straight plunge to earth with both engines cut off. As his plane plummeted to the ground, Hoover would pull the plane up into a loop at the last possible moment, escaping death yet again. And who could forget the “pour a glass of ice tea during a barrel roll” stunt that would make him even more famous.

But to be clear, Hoover’s performance was well calculated and well practiced. It was not a made up stunt or a unplanned trick and Bob made it clear that his flying came with limits.

“A great many former friends of mine are no longer with us simply because they cut their margins too close,” he once said.