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Robert Lee Gibson

Gibson, Robert Lee

Enshrined 2013 1946-Present


Robert Lee Gibson was born October 30, 1946, in Cooperstown, New York, but grew up in Lakewood, California.  He was the second son of Paul Alexander and Margaret Rita Gibson. The family eventually included two more sons and two daughters.

Gibson fell in love with flying at an early age, as his father was a test pilot for the Civil Aeronautics Administration and later an inspector for the Federal Aviation Administration.

As a child Gibson often accompanied his father on CAA business, his father also serving as his flight instructor. Thus it was only natural Gibson would solo on his 16th birthday and receive his pilot’s license the following year.

In 1969 Gibson graduated from California Polytechnic State University with a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering.

He entered the Navy and, soon after earning his Wings of Gold, was flying combat missions in F-4 Phantoms off the USS Coral Sea and USS Enterprise in Southeast Asia.

In 1972, Gibson graduated from Navy Fighter Weapons School, known as TOP GUN.   Not surprisingly, his call sign was “Hoot,” named so for the famous 1930’s era cowboy-turned-movie-star of the same name.

Hoot’s second combat tour was winding down when Gibson eagerly accepted the opportunity for a third – the initial carrier deployment of the Navy’s new F-14 Tomcat.  In all, Gibson made over 300 carrier landings while deployed to Southeast Asia.

With his final tour completed in September 1975, Gibson returned to Miramar as an F-14A instructor, then attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in 1976.

Upon graduating in 1977, he was assigned to the Naval Air Test Center’s Strike Aircraft Test Directorate, testing and evaluating improvements to the F-14.

In 1978, Hoot was selected for the astronaut program, joining NASA’s eighth astronaut group, where he met fellow astronaut, Dr. Rhea Seddon – his future wife.

Hoot officially became an astronaut in 1979, and he and Rhea were married on May 30, 1981, one month after the first Shuttle launch.  The couple would eventually have four children; Julie, Paul, Dann and Emilee.

Gibson’s first trip into space was as pilot on STS-41B, launched February 3, 1984.  It was the first time rendezvous sensors and computer programs were flight-tested and it was the first shuttle runway landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.  This mission also marked the first use of the Manned Maneuvering Unit and Manipulator Foot Restraint.

On his various space missions Gibson and his crew carried satellites, DOD payloads and science laboratories aboard Space Shuttles Challenger, Columbia, Atlantis and Endeavor.

Following the Space Shuttle Challenger catastrophe on January 28, 1986, Gibson served on the accident investigation team. He then worked on the Solid Rocket Booster Redesign Team and assisted in redesigning, testing and re-certifying the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters.

Gibson also served as the Chief Astronaut and Deputy Director of Flight Crew Operations at NASA’s Johnson Space Center from December 1992 to September 1994.  During this time he directed the activities of 140 astronauts and 350 Flight Operations Personnel. He also managed operations for seven space launches and landings per year.

Hoot’s last Shuttle mission was in June of 1995, as Commander of STS-71, the first to rendezvous and dock with the Russian space station Mir.  Gibson flew five space missions in all – four as Shuttle Commander – spending over 36 days in space.

After 18 years with NASA, Gibson left in November 1996 and opened yet another chapter in his aviation life, flying as a Captain for Southwest Airlines for 10 years. Upon retirement from Southwest, he joined the Benson Space Company as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Test Pilot.  By 2009 Gibson was a demonstration pilot for the Hawker Beechcraft Corporation.

Since 1984, Hoot has indulged in his passion for speed and record-setting by racing airplanes, including in a hybrid, homebuilt Cassutt aircraft.  In 1998 he began racing at the Reno Air Races in either Unlimited Division warbirds or in the jet class.

In 2007 he was invited to pilot a modified Hawker Sea Fury in the Unlimited Division, clocking a blistering 437 miles per hour – the aircraft’s then fastest qualifying time.  Hoot continues to compete at Reno each September.

Ever the enthusiast, Hoot serves as an energetic role model and ambassador for a number of aviation causes, including the Academy of Model Aeronautics, Space Camp, and the National Aviation Heritage Invitational.  He has logged 14,000 hours in 140 types of aircraft, with more on the way.

Tonight we are honored to welcome engineer, pilot and astronaut Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.