A former Air Force fighter pilot said a recent turn as a movie stunt pilot, taking off and landing on a narrow roadway, prepared him for an emergency landing Monday on a levee next to Sacramento’s River Park neighborhood.
Alan Hoover, 66, had visited a friend in Rio Linda over the weekend and took off from the Rio Linda Airport in his Pitts biplane, en route to Tehachapi and then on to his home in Prescott, Ariz. Hoover said he had charged the battery the night before and all seemed in good working order. But once he was airborne, about 11 a.m. Monday, the plane experienced engine problems. He considered heading to either Mather Airport or Sacramento Executive Airport, but “I couldn’t safely fly over houses,” Hoover said.
He was flying at an altitude of 1,200 feet, instead of the typical 5,000 to 6,000 feet. He considered trying to bring the plane down on the Campus Commons golf course, but there were too many people, he said.
Then he spotted the levee along the American River, near the ranch houses of River Park. Working as a stunt pilot during the filming of the movie “The Space Between Us” in February, “I think I landed on a road and took off maybe 100 times,” Hoover said Monday. The levee was also about the same width as the landing strip at his home in Arizona, he noted.
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“This runway is just like landing back home, actually, a nice smooth area,” he said.
“The residents have been very cool,” he added. “A few people saw it, and they came out and asked me if I could use some help and offered me bottled water.”
Friends arrived Monday afternoon and were preparing to load the biplane on a trailer for transport back to the Rio Linda Airport. The plane has a 17-foot wingspan, making it too wide to transport on a public roadway, but by “taking 11 bolts off and disconnecting a few wires,” Hoover said, the wings can be easily removed and the plane loaded into a box trailer.
Hoover seemed unfazed by the emergency landing as he described the incident to reporters. He graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1973, where, he said, his classmates included Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the airline captain celebrated for landing U.S. Airways flight 1549 on the Hudson River in January 2009.
Hoover said he logged 4,000 hours as an Air Force fighter pilot and was a test pilot for NASA. He also spent 23 years as a pilot for Southwest Airlines.
He became interested in flying as a kid, he said, noting that his heroes included aviation pioneers like Charles Lindbergh and Eddie Rickenbacker. He always admired the barnstormers of the late 1920s and ’30s.
Hoover said he refurbished an old World War II biplane and would give people rides. Then he started flying in air shows, as well as organizing air shows in his hometown.
“It’s fun to inspire people,” Hoover said. “Flying in an open cockpit is like riding a Harley without the rails.”
A few years ago, the daughter of a friend was making a commercial for the over-the-counter pain-reliever Aleve and needed a pilot, so she recruited Hoover for the job. He joined the Screen Actors Guild, then landed the stunt pilot’s job.
The movie “The Space Between Us,” he said, is about a boy born on Mars who returns to Earth. Hoover was the stunt double for actress Britt Robertson. His costume included a blonde ponytail and bandanna.