Well-known pilot wants to help others on their path to aviation
Pilot George Hoover guides his Cub Crafters Cub northbound over Vashon Island last Thursday prior to doing takeoffs and landings to Wax Orchard, a private landing strip on the island that is Cub-friendly.
Gateway photo/ Lee Giles III
LEE GILES III
of the Gateway
George Hoover played out the thrill of riding in a classic car. He felt the joy of waving to people as he flew past them, and people pointed, stared and waved in recognition. Except Hoover wasn’t sitting in the front seat of a classic. He’s the pilot of his Yakima-based Cub Crafters manufactured yellow airplane based at Pierce County Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor.
Hoover, a sport pilot flight instructor, has a unique story, although it has many of the elements of most certified pilots.
Hoover, of Tacoma, started taking pilot lessons in 1975 with a local flight instructor. But it came to an end when his instructor died in a crash in Port Orchard aboard a Beech 19A that experienced fuel starvation on takeoff, according to a National Transportation Safety Board report.
Hoover said the death of his 26-year-old flight instructor shook him up so much that he put his dreams of flying on hold for 31 years.
In the meantime, he had a successful career as a commercial home builder, constructing 1,000 homes in the Pierce County area. He also was a dedicated family man.
A 2006 visit to the Pierce County Tacoma Narrows Airport reignited his passion for flying and motivated him to continue his flying lessons. During the visit to the airport’s restaurant, he saw a Piper J-3 Cub parked at Tosch aviation next door.
“I saw Tosch’s J-3, and it got me going,” Hoover said. “I never lost my passion for flying.”
Hoover started to take lessons with local instructor George Kirkish, a pilot with more than 20,000 hours of experience. Hoover first soloed in Kirkish’s 1940s Piper J-3 Cub at Wax Orchard field on the south end of Vashon Island.
Hoover then received instruction in Yakima from Brian Thompson, one of Cub Crafter’s flight instructors.
Hoover said he enjoyed the instruction from Thompson, who is a high flight-time-experienced “Bush pilot.”
Hoover quickly earned his wings in the recently added FAA Sport Pilot rating, which has nearly the same pilot skills required to obtain the FAA Private Pilot rating. The Sport Pilot rating limits pilots to flights below 10,000 feet and day time-only visual flight reference rules, which exclude the Sport Pilot from flying in clouds or in conditions with decreased visibility.
It was Hoover’s love for aviation that motivated him to pursue a Flight Instructor certificate so he could teach others and share his passion for the skies.
“I love sharing it,” he said of flying the Cub.
After a pre-flight check of the diminutive plane, Hoover — with glasses and gray hair — lined up with the center line of the 35 runway at Tacoma Narrows Airport. He accelerated slowly, waiting for the tail to lift its tiny wheel off the ground.
Once the tail became airborne, the plane’s main wing gained lift as the Cub accelerated. Without fanfare, the little yellow bird climbed away from the tarmac.
The seating was in a cramped tandem configuration, and Hoover sat up front. The right-side, hinged, half-door and window exit was open, allowing the plane’s slipstream to enter gently into the small cabin.
It was 1,500 feet to terra firma, but Hoover and his aircraft had a calming effect.
The 100-horsepower Continental single, propeller-driven power plant did its job. The windows of the tiny, narrow plane gave unparalleled views of the terrain and water below.
The sky was bright. The water was a deep blue. It was cramped, but it was like a comfortable recliner.
After a short hop across Commencement Bay to Vashon Island, Hoover started his gradual decent to Wax Orchard, a privately owned grass strip on the island.
He lightly descended and touched down, hopping over the uneven surface and coming to a gentle stop. A quick look around for other aircraft or stray animals, and an application of the throttle, and Hoover was airborne once again.
The pilot made several more takeoffs and landings at strips in Bremerton and on the Key Peninsula.
The highlight of the flight came during some low and slow flight maneuvers along the eastern shoreline of the Key Peninsula.
Below, Hoover spotted a young boy and his father walking on a beach. They waved, and Hoover returned the favor. All three parties grinned.
As the plane flew low over the water, paddlers waved and a seal dove under the surface.
Hoover climbed up to 1,300 feet and returned to Gig Harbor.
The Cub’s history
Hoover’s Cub Crafters Sport Cub is nearly identical to the famous Piper Cub aircraft that trained thousands of WWII-era pilots to fly. Many joined the war effort as fighters, bombers cargo pilots and were instrumental in ending the war.
Most started with the Cub and moved on to large, propeller-driven airliners before making the transition to jets.
Hoover’s Cub has the conventional landing gear found on the first airplanes. Also called “tail draggers,” the Cub has two main landing gear on the front end of the fuselage and a single small tail wheel
at the rear of the plane.
Most aircraft used by students in flight training have a tricycle landing gear configuration, with the main wheels in the rear and a nose wheel up front.
The Cub’s appeal is its simplicity. Flight instruments are minimal. The attitude indicator, or artificial horizon, is usually absent on the instrument panel. There are basic engine instruments and a fuel gauge, along with an altimeter, a basic turn coordinator and an airspeed indicator. A “whiskey compass” is mounted on the windscreen to give the pilot their magnetic heading for navigation.
“I want to teach great stick and rudder and let them move up,” Hoover said of training new pilots.
“I want to share the joy of flying. It’s a different kind,” he said.
Hoover recalled one flight when he landed in a farmer’s field. He got out of the plane and talked aviation with the man, whom Hoover learned had a couple of planes in various states of togetherness stored in his barn.
Hoover said that, before he was able to take off, the farmer shooed away a horse and a cow from the field.
Hoover’s new gig
Hoover started a second career last month as an instructor at the Pierce County Tacoma Narrows Airport. He’s currently offering training for a new pilot to receive their FAA Sport Pilot endorsement in a tail-wheel airplane.
Along with the flight instruction, Hoover will take prospective students — or those who just want the thrill of flying — on scenic flights for $50. Part of the flight involves Hoover giving prospective pilots their first log book and the flight’s entry. That log book could be the start of a new aviator’s career.
Experienced pilots also can receive a tail-wheel airplane endorsement to complement their flying, with an additional aeronautical knowledge base.
When you’re strapped into the small, yellow two-seater, the flying experience becomes less mechanical or wrapped in procedures. The essence of flight becomes visceral.
With its simple design and its forgiving flight characteristics, the Cub brings smiles to even the most grizzled aviator.
When Hoover landed in Gig Harbor for a quick lunch at the Narrows Landing, he was almost immediately approached by two men, one of whom was a U.S. Air Force pilot who flew the Cessna O-1 Bird dog tail-dragger.
It was that Vietnam veteran’s smile that could make one proud to be associated with Hoover and his classic Cub airplane.
Lee Giles III is the photographer of
The Peninsula Gateway. He can be reached at
253-853-9242 or by e-mail at email@example.com