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Flying High

Amy Hoover earned her wings and teaches others to soar.

Female pilot in dark sunglasses and a windbreaker smiles in front of a Central Washington University airplane.

Amy Hoover '83 is an aviation professor, backcountry pilot and author. She has a total logged flight time of 5,877 hours. Photo courtesy of Central Washington University.

Flying High

Amy Hoover earned her wings and teaches others to soar.

 

“It’s OK to take a left turn,” Amy Hoover ’83 said. “Sometimes you end up somewhere you didn’t expect.” Studying at TCU was one of a series of left turns — those unanticipated changes — that have defined Hoover’s life.

A native of central Florida, Hoover achieved a score on the PSAT that placed her among the top 1 percent of high school students nationwide. That earned her the designation of National Merit Scholar and the opportunity to attend her choice of universities on scholarship.

Hoover skipped her senior year of high school and because she was just 17, enrolled at the University of Central Florida, where her father was a professor, so she could live at home.

Sophomore year, Hoover used her scholarship to continue her education at TCU, which she said had the best outreach. “They seemed to really want me, and it was literally the best decision I ever made.”

Hoover originally thought she would pursue a career in music. Another left turn, she said, occurred as she registered for classes at TCU, a process that in 1980 took place in the gym.

“I love being outdoors, and I enjoy my niche in backcountry flying, but I also like the academics and being part of a university campus.”
Amy Hoover

“There’s this really cute guy sitting at the table, and it says ‘geology,’ ” Hoover said. “I have no idea what geology is, but I’m going to talk to this cute guy!”

She did find love — with the science. “I am kind of a nerd, so majoring in geology was fascinating,” Hoover said. “I learned so much about our planet, how it formed, and not only about rocks but also ecosystems, chemistry, physics and how to be inquisitive about the natural world.”

Field trips to observe geological formations inspired her; Hoover said she enjoyed the process of hands-on learning in an outdoor environment. Jonathan Pershouse ’81 MS, the graduate student staffing the geology registration table, served as her geology lab instructor. To this day, she said, she remains friends with Pershouse and his wife, Laura Neely ’82 MS.


After graduating from TCU, Hoover continued her studies and earned a master’s in geology from Oregon State University in 1987. While she searched for a job in the field, she took a friend’s suggestion to become a white-water rafting guide on the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho.

Few navigable roads available in this preserved wilderness made air travel a necessity for Hoover and other guides. She found flying into the backcountry of Idaho on a small plane exciting.

“I get in this little airplane where they fly all the gear and guides in before they fly in the guests. I thought this was the most fun I’d ever had.”

Falling in love with aviation was another left turn, Hoover said. She funded her flight training by working as a river guide in Idaho in the summers and as a sea kayaking guide in Baja, Mexico, in the winters.

Hoover earned her private pilot’s license in 1989 and continued her aviation education to receive her instrument rating and commercial pilot license. She worked as a backcountry air charter pilot, flying in equipment to supply hunters and lodges in Idaho.

Teaching Others to Soar

A few years into her professional flying career, Hoover found a calling in helping others earn their wings. “I’ve always loved teaching,” she said. “I think I helped half the baseball team get through their classes at TCU.”

Hoover became a certified flight instructor in 1992 and taught private flying lessons for 13 years. In 1998, she took a position as the aviation program coordinator at Mount Hood Community College in Oregon and taught full time while working on a doctorate in education at Oregon State University. She earned her degree in 2005, which allowed her to teach aviation to university students and devote time to the science of aviation.

Today, Hoover is a professor at Central Washington University, a public university with a four-year program in aviation. Since embracing university life, she has contributed to academic and aviation publications. Together with R.K. “Dick” Williams, Hoover authored the textbook Mountain, Canyon and Backcountry Flying.

“I love being outdoors, and I enjoy my niche in backcountry flying,” she said, “but I also like the academics and being part of a university campus.”

A female flight instructor points toward the front wheel of an aircraft, instructing two students. All are crouched near the tarmac.

Hoover works with student pilots and mentors new pilots through several industry groups. Photo courtesy of Central Washington University

With more than 3,000 hours of instructing time in the air and more than 15,000 hours of instruction time on the ground, Hoover specializes in teaching tailwheel aircraft flying.

Summers find her back in central Idaho, teaching private lessons in backcountry, mountain and canyon flying to a broad range of students. Such settings can be challenging even for otherwise experienced pilots because of the topography, weather systems, density altitudes and landing conditions unlike those in more developed areas of the U.S.

Among Hoover’s students have been an instructor at the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School (also known as Top Gun), astronauts and commercial pilots. The list includes Jeff Skiles, the first officer who served alongside Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger on US Airways Flight 1549 in 2009. Together, Sullenberger and Skiles followed emergency procedures to successfully land the jet on the Hudson River after a bird strike took out both of the plane’s engines.

Learning to follow emergency procedures is vital for any aviator, Hoover said. In 2014 in Idaho, where her love of aviation took off, she experienced first-hand how important such knowledge is in another left turn that threatened to end her story.

It hit me!

Flying her Citabria, a small, light aerobatic airplane, Hoover planned to meet several other pilot friends for breakfast in the backcountry. She gave her position over the radio as she flew through the uncontrolled airspace.

Also in the area that day was a Cessna Hawk XP; Hoover had flown with the pilot in his airplane on the same route the week before. The pilot reported over the radio that he had passed Hoover and was ahead and above her.

“I was confused when [the Cessna] made the call,” Hoover wrote in the account published in her book. The call indicated the Cessna was 3 or 4 miles ahead of her. “He was reporting the same altitude, so I should have seen him.”

While she scanned the area surrounding her aircraft, something caught her eye.

“I turned my head further to look and saw a white, high-wing aircraft fly under me; it appeared under my left wing, overtaking me from behind and below, and flew by very fast.”

“I heard a loud sound like someone pounding on sheet metal with a hammer, and felt my airplane being pushed up.”
Amy Hoover

In the next moment, she saw the top of the fuselage and the left wing of the other aircraft.

“I heard a loud sound like someone pounding on sheet metal with a hammer, and felt my airplane being pushed up. The whole incident took only a few seconds, and it is hard to describe in words the level of shock I experienced; it was as if my brain could not comprehend what my eyes, ears and other senses were recording. … I gasped, and I heard myself say, ‘It hit me!’ ”

The engine of Hoover’s airplane stopped, as did her propeller, whose blades were bent. She wrote that the adrenaline pulsing through her body was an odd sensation. “And that is when all the training, practice, experience, study, preparation and luck over the previous 26 years of flying kicked in.”

Though she had never experienced a mid-air collision, Hoover wrote that she found her body automatically executing the emergency procedures she had taught others so many times before.

“Ironically, the focus of my research on concurrent task management was a key element; for several years, I had conducted experiments, designed and tested training courses, and published papers on single pilot task prioritization. All that paid off, because I had done a lot of mental preparation and deep thinking about the subject, as well as actual in-flight practice.”

Successfully piloting her plane to a controlled crash landing in the Idaho backcountry, Hoover then coordinated her own rescue by making radio communications to other pilots in the area while monitoring herself for signs of shock. Her Citabria was disabled but had remained upright.

“Pilots may anthropomorphize their airplanes in the same way sailors do their boats, but on that day, I knew that tough little airplane had done the job of keeping me alive.”

Cockpit of airplane, multiple dials and gauges.

“Pilots may anthropomorphize their airplanes in the same way sailors do their boats, but on that day, I knew that tough little airplane had done the job of keeping me alive,” said Amy Hoover of her experience performing a controlled crash landing after her plane was hit by another. Photo courtesy of Ricardo Esquivel via Pexels

She documented her experience in voice recordings on her phone and took photos of her damaged Citabria while managing the physical and psychological toll the accident had taken on her body. Hoover wrote that she felt like her body “had just been run over by a truck,” but she had no bleeding or broken bones. While evaluating the wreckage and watching for planes overhead, she willed herself to stay focused and alert to guide rescuers to her location even while feeling the signs of shock. Hoover left the scene of the crash in a rescue helicopter.

The pilot of the Cessna also crashed but did not survive. The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation concluded that the probable cause of the accident was “the failure of the overtaking airplane’s pilot to maintain visual contact and separation from the airplane being overtaken.” The findings lined up with Hoover’s voice recordings.

“The data shows what happened, but not why,” she wrote. “Ultimately, the only person who knows why is not here to tell us.”

Certified Flight Instructor of the Year

While Williams, Hoover’s co-author, had encouraged her to include the story in their textbook, Mountain, Canyon and Backcountry Flying, she was reluctant at first. She said that an email she received from one of her mountain flying students changed her mind. The student wrote, “About two weeks ago I was involved in an airplane crash, and if it wasn’t for you and what you taught me, I’m not sure if I would be sending you this email.”

Hoover’s dedication to aviation education and to the advancement of the field earned her the title of 2022 National Certified Flight Instructor of the Year, awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration and the General Aviation Awards Industry Board. Hoover was nominated for the award by her peers, a distinction that she said both touched and surprised her.

“I was a flight examiner who gave check rides to other instructors and so I have evaluated hundreds of instructors. She’s literally the top 1 percent in all that I’ve flown with,” said Robert “Bob” Vosburgh, a retired Air Force major whose 50-year aviation career includes Top Gun awards for his flying in the F-111, AT-38 and F-16. He also served as an aeronautical engineering professor at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“She never touched the controls of the airplane until the last flight of the last day, when I asked her to show me something. She’s incredibly good, trusting and empowering.”
Bob Vosburgh

Wanting to explore the backcountry of Idaho, Vosburgh purchased an Aviat Husky, a small, high-wing aircraft capable of landing on backcountry terrain, and asked Hoover to fit him into her busy schedule as a student in July 2017. They flew together for three days.

“She’s just an outstanding instructor. She never touched the controls of the airplane until the last flight of the last day, when I asked her to show me something. She’s incredibly good, trusting and empowering — and I’ve done a lot of instructing, mostly in fighter airplanes. Amy’s the best.” Vosburgh was among those who submitted letters recommending Hoover for Certified Flight Instructor of the Year.

In addition to working with experienced aviators, Hoover also mentors new pilots through several industry groups, including The Ninety-Nines: International Organization of Women Pilots, Women in Aviation International and the Air Line Pilots Association International Aviation Collegiate Education Club, among others.

“Her student evaluations of instruction receive high marks, and the comments on the evaluations speak to her enthusiasm, subject matter expertise and willingness to mentor her students,” wrote Teresa Ann Sloan, professor emerita with Central Washington University, in her recommendation of Hoover for the flight instructor award. “I have seen her go the extra mile to help students.”

Hoover explained that her teaching style is a lot like the way she leads — from behind. She cultivates a supportive environment that allows her students’ passion for aviation to take flight. “It’s more like, what’s your learning style? How do you learn best? How can I focus my teaching style to help you?

“My favorite part of teaching is being able to make those adjustments so that I can best help them to help themselves,” she said. “What brings me joy is when that lightbulb finally goes off, and they put it all together.”

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