Robert Lee "Hoot" Gibson (born October 30, 1946), (Capt, USN, Ret.), is a former American naval officer and aviator, test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and a retired NASA astronaut, as well as a professional pilot who currently races regularly at the annual Reno Air Races. In 2015 it was announced that Gibson would be the pilot of the P 51 "Strega" at the annual Reno event. In this plane, he would win the National Championship Air Races.


Born October 30, 1946, in Cooperstown, New York, but considers the Lakewood area of east Long Beach, California, to be his hometown. On May 30, 1981, he married fellow astronaut, Dr. M. Rhea Seddon of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and has four children. He enjoys home-built aircraft, Formula One Air Racing, Unlimited Class Air Racing, running and surfing during his free time. His mother, Mrs. Paul A. Gibson, resides in Seal Beach, California. Gibson's late father, an FAA Inspector, built his own private plane in the garage of their home in Long Beach with help from his family. Family includes brothers Jon, Don, and Richard and sister Kathy.


Gibson graduated from Huntington High School, Huntington, New York as a part of the class of 1964, and went on to earn an Associate degree in Engineering Science from Suffolk County Community College in 1966. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University in 1969.

Military careerEdit

Gibson entered active duty with the Navy in 1969. He received basic and primary flight training at Naval Air Station Pensacola and Naval Air Station Saufley Field, Florida, and Naval Air Station Meridian, Mississippi. He completed advanced flight training at Naval Air Station Kingsville, Texas and was assigned to Fighter Squadron 121 (VF-121) at Naval Air Station Miramar, California for replacement training in the F-4 Phantom II.

While assigned to Fighter Squadron 111 (VF-111) and Fighter Squadron 1 (VF-1) from April 1972 to September 1975, he saw duty aboard the aircraft carriers USS Coral Sea and USS Enterprise, flying combat missions in Southeast Asia in the F-4 with VF-111 and making the initial operational carrier deployment of the F-14 Tomcat with VF-1. He is a graduate of the Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as "TOPGUN."

Gibson returned to the United States and an assignment as an F-14A instructor pilot with Fighter Squadron 124 (VF-124) at Naval Air Station Miramar. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland in June 1977 and later became involved in the test and evaluation of improvements to the F-14A aircraft while assigned to the Naval Air Test Center's Strike Aircraft Test Directorate.

Selected as a NASA astronaut, he continued to be promoted, eventually achieving the rank of Captain in the U.S. Navy and the rank at which he retired from active naval service.

Charles F. Bolden, his copilot on STS-61-C, described Gibson and John Young as the two best pilots he had met "in my life in aviation, over thirty-five years; never met two people like them. Everyone else gets into an airplane; John and Hoot wear their airplane. They're just awesome".[1]

Gibson's flight experience included over 6,000 hours in over 50 types of civil and military aircraft. He holds an airline transport pilot license. In 2006 he was required to stop flying for the airlines because he reached his 60th birthday. He still holds a multi-engine and instrument rating. He has held a private pilot rating since age 17. Gibson has also completed over 300 carrier landings.

NASA careerEdit

Selected by NASA in January 1978, Gibson became an astronaut in August 1979. Gibson flew five missions: STS-41-B in 1984, STS-61-C in 1986, STS-27 in 1988, STS-47 in 1992, and STS-71 in 1995. Gibson served as Chief of the Astronaut Office (December 1992 to September 1994) and as Deputy Director, Flight Crew Operations (March–November 1996).

On his first space flight Gibson was the pilot on the crew of STS 41-B which launched from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on February 3, 1984. The flight accomplished the proper Shuttle deployment of two Hughes 376 communications satellites which failed to reach desired geosynchronous orbits due to upper-stage rocket failures. Rendezvous sensors and computer programs were flight tested for the first time. The STS 41-B mission marked the first checkout of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), and Manipulator Foot Restraint (MFR), with Bruce McCandless II and Bob Stewart performing two spectacular EVAs (space walks). The German Shuttle Pallet Satellite (SPAS), Remote Manipulator System (RMS), six "Getaway Specials," and materials processing experiments were included on the mission. The eight-day orbital flight of Challenger culminated in the first landing on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center on February 11, 1984, and Gibson logged 191 hours in space.

Gibson was the commander of the STS-61-C mission. The seven-man crew on board the Orbiter Columbia launched from the Kennedy Space Center on January 12, 1986. During the six-day flight the crew deployed the SATCOM KU satellite and conducted experiments in astrophysics and materials processing. The mission concluded with a successful night landing at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on January 18, 1986, and logged him an additional 146 hours in space.

Gibson subsequently participated in the investigation of the Space Shuttle Challenger accident, and also participated in the redesign and recertification of the solid rocket boosters.

Bruce McCandless II during EVA in 1984

The famous photo showing McCandless using the MMU. It was Gibson who took the photo and later remarked imagining about the caption being "NASA Photo by Hooter" STS-41-B in 1984

As the commander of STS-27, Gibson and his five-man crew launched from the Kennedy Space Center on December 2, 1988, aboard the Orbiter Atlantis. The mission carried a Department of Defense payload, and a number of secondary payloads. After 68 orbits of the Earth the mission concluded with a dry lakebed landing on Runway 17 at Edwards Air Force Base on December 6, 1988. Mission duration was 105 hours.

On Gibson's fourth space flight, the fiftieth Space Shuttle mission, he served as commander of STS-47, Spacelab-J, which launched on September 12, 1992 aboard the Orbiter Endeavour. The mission was a cooperative venture between the United States and Japan, and included the first Japanese astronaut and the first African-American woman, Mae Jemison, in the crew. During the eight-day flight, the crew focused on life science and materials processing experiments in over forty investigations in the Spacelab laboratory, as well as scientific and engineering tests performed aboard the Orbiter Endeavour. The mission ended with a successful landing on the runway at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida after 126 orbits of the Earth on September 20, 1992.

On his last flight, (June 27 to July 7, 1995), Gibson commanded a crew of seven-members (up) and eight-members (down) on Space Shuttle mission STS-71. This was the first Space Shuttle mission to dock with the Russian Space Station Mir, and involved an exchange of crews. The Atlantis Space Shuttle was modified to carry a docking system compatible with the Russian Mir Space Station. It also carried a Spacelab module in the payload bay in which the crew performed various life sciences experiments and data collections. Mission duration was 235 hours, 23 minutes.

In five space flights, Gibson completed a total of 36.5 days in space.

Post-NASA careerEdit

Gibson left NASA in November 1996 and became a pilot for Southwest Airlines. In 2006, as reported by NASA Watch, Gibson was forced to retire as mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial airline pilots. Gibson has publicly spoken out against federal regulations which require airline pilots to retire at age 60.[2] In December 2006, he joined the Benson Space Company as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Test Pilot.[3] Gibson has flown 111 different aircraft types,[4] and has become a regular competitor at the annual Reno Air Races.[4]

In October 2012, Gibson was a contestant on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. During his appearance, he became the first contestant to make it to the million question without using any of his cheats. Unfortunately, he answered incorrectly to the $1,000,000 question ("How many factors do 32 and 28 share?"). The correct answer is three; 1, 2, and 4. He answered with two (2 and 4). All of his prize money (US$25,000) went to the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. On the show, before he chose to answer the question, Jim Lovell, the famous Apollo 13 astronaut, was seen on a video that was for him.

Hawker Sea Fury aka September Fury race 232 photo D Ramey Logan

Hawker Sea Fury aka September Fury race 232

Beginning in 2009, Gibson flew as a demonstration pilot for Hawker Beechcraft Corporation to showcase the Premier 1A light business jet across the United States and overseas.

In 2010, The Academy of Model Aeronautics, the United States' national aeromodeling organization, named Robert L. Gibson a spokesperson and Ambassador to promote the hobby of radio controlled model flight and to encourage an interest in aviation amongst young people. Mr. Gibson has stated that his interest in manned flight and his career as a test pilot and astronaut has its origin in his building of model aircraft as a youth. Gibson remains an avid radio controlled model hobbyist and is reportedly constructing a flyable version of the experimental vertical take off and landing Convair XFY-1 Pogo of the 1950s.

In September 2013, Gibson qualified the Hawker Sea Fury known as "September Fury" race #232, in the 50th National Championship Air Races at a speed of 479.164 mph. This is the fastest Sea Fury qualifying time.[5]

Awards and honorsEdit

Military awards include the:

  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Distinguished Flying Cross
  • Air Medal (3)
  • Navy Commendation Medal with Combat "V"
  • Navy Unit Commendation
  • Meritorious Unit Commendation
  • National Defense Service Medal (2)
  • Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal
  • Humanitarian Service Medal
  • Vietnam Service Medal
  • Vietnam Campaign Medal


External linksEdit

Preceded by
Daniel C. Brandenstein
Chief of the Astronaut Office
Succeeded by
Robert D. Cabana
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