|Bob Hoover with the P-51 Mustang, Ole Yeller, that he flew in air shows for many years.
In a world of warbirds where gritty military appearance wins awards, one canary yellow P-51 Mustang wins hearts.
It is the former mount of one of the most capable and beloved pilots of all time, R.A. “Bob” Hoover.
Owned by the Legacy Flight Museum in Rexburg, Idaho, since 1997, this legacy Mustang, nicknamed Ole Yeller, is a crowd-pleaser for anyone who ever witnessed Bob Hoover’s fluid performances, or who heard him speak this week at AirVenture 2011.
Hoover campaigned this yellow Mustang starting in about 1971. It replaced another Mustang demolished in a servicing mishap.
Ole Yeller is basically a standard P-51D—with a few tricks up its sleeves.
Hoover had the wings modified to internally tank an additional 320 gallons of gas.
Always thinking ahead to the just-in-case, Hoover had wingtip fuel dump tubes installed, enabling him to jettison weighty fuel in the event a predicament could be resolved that way.
That wet wing enabled Bob to set a transcontinental record in Ole Yeller in1985,flying nonstop from Daytona Beach, Florida, to Los Angeles, in about five hours and 20 minutes.
Smooth as a Hoover
Todd Therp is mechanic and crew chief for the Legacy museum collection, and he has gone over Ole Yeller thoroughly and lovingly.
“It’s pretty much a stock airplane,” Todd says, aside from that wet wing.
But pilots who have flown it confirm what Todd sees: “Bob fine-tuned it over the years,” he says. “It’s just a very smooth-flying airplane.”
That smoothness ranges from the purr of its Rolls-Royce Merlin V-12 to the balanced feel of its controls, he says.
Todd confirms that Ole Yeller still carries a redundant second seat belt, added by Hoover after one belt failed while he was inverted—over a runway at low altitude.
A popular pilot’s popular plane
Few airplanes have the personal appeal of this one, due to Hoover’s immense popularity.
Shawn Bagley, whose father John purchased Ole Yeller from Hoover, flies for a living. He worked through a variety of general-aviation, business, and warbird types before recently taking Ole Yeller aloft as the first Mustang he has piloted.
Earlier Shawn, now 25, flew Legacy Flight Museum’s P-63 Kingcobra fighter.
“That one to me was more overwhelming,” he explains.
By contrast, he found Ole Yeller “an easier plane to fly…nothing about it seemed as overwhelming as that P-63.”
Perhaps Shawn’s view of the Mustang has been skewed by the smoothness of Bob Hoover’s personal P-51, but Bagley says, “It’s so pilot-friendly,” adding, “It’s the kind of airplane that does exactly what you think you want it to do.”
Shawn acknowledges that his first Ole Yeller sortie included the need to utter “a little prayer and say please let me get this airplane back on the ground in one piece.”
Shawn is delighted with the opportunity to fly Ole Yeller to AirVenture 2011: “I can’t think of a greater honor than being able to fly Ole Yeller at Oshkosh with Bob Hoover in attendance.”
Shawn describes Hoover as “one of the most inspirational men I’ve ever met and one of the kindest gentlemen I’ve ever met.”
Todd says the Smithsonian Institution’s prestigious National Air and Space Museum is courting the Legacy Flight Museum in an effort to get Ole Yeller to join Hoover’s Shrike Commander, already a Smithsonian asset.
“I think it will end up in the Smithsonian,” Todd opines.
In the meantime, Ole Yeller is a sentimental, and airworthy, favorite of the Legacy Flight Museum staff. “It’s all for Bob Hoover,” Todd explains.
And that explains it all.