The Man Who’s Flown Everything
Robert “Hoot” Gibson’s priorities: (1) Fly. (2) Fly some more.
- By Robin White
- Air & Space magazine, May 2009
(Page 2 of 6)
We stopped beside a McDonnell F-4 Phantom. As a young Navy aviator, "I was in awe of the F-4," he said. "It looked so big and heavy, and the wings seemed so small…. I was reluctant to slow it down. I was sure it would fall out of the sky." But "it was just totally rock-solid on approach to the carrier," Gibson said. "It flew on rails at 145 knots."
From 1972 to 1975, Gibson flew three tours in Southeast Asia off the carriers USS Coral Sea and Enterprise. He was looking forward to shore duty when his commanding officer asked an unusual question: "How would you like a third tour?"
"My initial reaction was: 'Is that a joke?' I was extremely ready to hit the beach. But then he said, 'In an F-14.'
"No way I was turning down something like that," Gibson said.
He was assigned to the first F-14 squadron: VF-1 at Naval Air Station Miramar in California. "I had just 30 hours in the F-14 when I went up against a thousand-hour F-4 guy. We called 'Fight's on!' and 30 seconds later I was sitting in his six [behind him]. We ran the engagement three times. The results were always the same. An F-14 with a nugget [novice] at the stick could outmaneuver, outturn, and outfight a Phantom flown by an old hand."
In 1976, Gibson got a slot in the test pilot school at Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent River. There he learned to methodically wring out new designs—single-seat jets, heavy transports, helicopters—moving step by step from known to unknown. "I was exactly where I wanted to be, doing exactly the kind of flying I wanted to do. Then I picked up a copy of Aviation Week & Space Technology and saw an artist's drawing of the space shuttle…. The shuttle was the fastest, highest-flying airplane in history, and I just had to snivel my way into the left seat."
He sent the paperwork in to NASA. On January 16, 1978, he got the news: He was in.
That day, NASA named its eighth group of astronauts. One, a surgeon named Rhea Seddon, later became Gibson's wife. Today, they live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and have four children, Julie, Paul, Dann, and, the youngest at 13, Emilee.