Golf legend and long-time champion of business and general aviation Arnold Palmer died on September 25 in a hospital near his home in Latrobe, Penn., at the age of 87. The cause of death was reported as complications of heart problems.
While the golf world grieved the loss of one of its greatest and perhaps most beloved players, pilots mourned the final flight of an accomplished aviator and passionate advocate of the airplane as business-building tool. Arnie’s first airplane ride was in a Piper Cub when he was a kid at Latrobe Airport (renamed to honor him in 1999 on his 70th birthday). He took his first flying lessons there in Cessnas in 1955, soloing and earning his private certificate the following year. He built time flying 172s, 175s and 180s.
In 1962 he bought his first airplane, an Aero Commander 500 piston twin for $27,000, before upgrading to a new 560F a couple of years later. When he moved up to a jet he stayed with Rockwell, buying a Jet Commander in 1966. In 1968 he was the first player to pass $1 million in career prize money on the PGA tour. With two copilots and an observer, he flew a Learjet 36 around the globe in 1976, setting a world record speed of 57 hours 25 minutes 42 seconds in the process. But for ownership he settled in to a long line of Citations, starting with the 500 in 1977, then a II, two IIIs, a VII and two Xs.
R.A. Bob Hoover
Bob Hoover, legendary for his WWII, early jet flight-test and airshow piloting, flew west on October 25 at the age of 94. In one of his final public appearances, Hoover attended the Reno National Championship Air Races five weeks before he died. For many years it had been the event at which, as pace pilot for the Unlimiteds, he herded the racers down the chute and onto the course before telling them, “Gentlemen, you have a race.” He looked frail in September, but his hallmark smile beamed as strong as ever from beneath his broad-brimmed straw hat as he gently bumped knuckles with fans. Hoover’s wife of 68 years, Colleen, died in March this year.
Hoover left the Air Force in 1948 and became a civilian test pilot. He worked for North American Aviation/Rockwell for 30 years. While there he intentionally put an F-100 Super Sabre into a flat spin from 44,000 feet from which he had to eject at 10,000 feet. The jet obliged Hoover’s fervent wish as he hung beneath the silk and continued its flat spin all the way to a crump onto the desert floor.
Many hundreds of admirers gathered in a hangar at Clay Lacy Aviation on Van Nuys Airport on November 18 to give a fitting sendoff for the man widely regarded as the greatest stick-and-rudder pilot who ever lived. Airshow pilot Sean Tucker and Reno commentator Danny Clisham MCed.
Astronaut and Senator John Glenn passed away on December 8 at the age of 95. On Feb. 20, 1962, strapped into a cramped Mercury capsule called Friendship 7 atop an Atlas rocket at Cape Canaveral, 40-year-old Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth, which he did three times before splashing down in the Atlantic 800 miles south of Bermuda. How he dealt with concerns that the heat shield would separate on reentry cemented his reputation for staying calm under pressure. The five-hour feat instantly elevated Glenn, the last survivor of the seven Mercury astronauts, to the pedestal occupied by the likes of the Wright brothers and Charles Lindbergh. He was invited to the White House by JFK and given a ticker-tape parade on Broadway, and he addressed a joint meeting of Congress at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Glenn served as a U.S. Senator from Ohio for four terms. In 1984 he mounted an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination and returned to the Senate for another 14 years.
On Oct. 29, 1998, Glenn returned to space aboard the shuttle Discovery, in which he spent nine days in orbit. At the age of 77, he was the oldest person to go into space. As a Marine fighter pilot, he flew 59 combat missions in the WWII Pacific Theater, earning two DFCs, and 90 combat missions in the Korean War. In 1957 he piloted a Chance Vought F8U-1 Crusader from L.A. to New York in three hours, 23 minutes, 8.4 seconds, marking the first supersonic transcontinental flight.