Who is Bob Hall?
Robert (Bob) L. Hall (1905 – 1991) was an aeronautical engineer, racing and test pilot, and a respected leader within the aviation industry of the 20th century. His career started in the late 1920s during an era now referred to as the “Golden Age of Air Racing.”
Early in his career, Bob designed high speed, light-weight aircraft (such as the beloved Bulldog) and raced many of them personally in national competitions. As talented as he was, his success did not come without a fair share of hardship. Throughout his career Bob paid his dues through harsh economies, tough clients, scrapped designs, close calls with death, and even a couple tragic losses.
Despite the challenges (or perhaps due to them), Bob’s intuition and first-hand experience enabled him to push himself and the industry forward as few else could. Bob made it a point to personally test fly his own designs before allowing another pilot to risk his life. His rare combination of engineering expertise, piloting skills, and personal accountability made him an invaluable and highly trusted leader among his colleagues and clients.
For the majority of his career Bob led teams of Grumman engineers, designing and building cutting edge fighters for the US Military. Some of Hall’s most notable works are listed below. As Jim Bourke, Director of the Hall Bulldog Project, so eloquently stated:
“Bob Hall’s designs are both functional and graceful. To me, Bob represents a great American thinker as well as a fighter. He is the ultimate example of an engineer pilot… If his place in history wasn’t already cemented during the Golden Age of Air Racing, he would be famous in aviation circles as a designer of some of the most prominent aircraft of WWII and the years following.”
What were some of Bob’s motivations?
Hall’s father was a mechanical engineer who instilled in his son an appreciation for designing and building mechanical things. Throughout his life Hall was fascinated by steam engines.
While employed at Fairchild following his graduation from UMich Hall observed an exchange between his boss and a pilot who requested modifications to his aircraft. The engineer initially refused the request but was later overruled when the pilot asked if the engineer was a pilot himself. This inspired Hall to begin flying.
During an interview in 1931 following the death of pilot Lowell Bayles in the Gee Bee Z, Hall was asked if he was still confident in his designs. He responded by telling the reporter, the designer must be the most confident person. Throughout his career Bob Hall often acted as his own test pilot. Refusing to let anyone else take on the risk of flying his designs until he had done so himself. This lasted until the F9F Panther, when his bosses at Grumman decided he was much too important to risk losing. As a result, they demanded he turn over test flying responsibilities.