Friday, November 23, 2007

Robert N. Buck in Times Argus

Robert N. Buck
April 20, 2007

North Fayston resident Bob Buck, an aviator who set flying records in the 1930s, made an airline career with TWA to include the position of chief pilot, conducted severe weather research, flew with Hollywood stars, worked for Howard Hughes, was an advocate for aviation safety and industry consultant as well as a noted author, passed away April 14, 2007, at age 93. He died of complications from a broken hip.

Bob was born in Elizabeth Port, N.J., Jan. 29, 1914. He found his life passion for aviation in 1929 at age 15, teaching himself to fly a homemade glider and a year later soloed fabric-covered biplanes.

In the 1930s, he gained experience and fame to include a coast-to-coast junior transcontinental speed record at age 16, in his Pitcairn Mailwing, and a nonstop world record from California to Ohio in 1936, flying a 90 hp Monocoupe. The following year brought him employment with TWA, then Transcontinental and Western Air, qualifying as captain in 1940.

World War II introduced risky flying of cargo and troops across the Atlantic Ocean, until Bob grabbed the chance to manage and fly a weather research project for the Army and TWA, with a Boeing B-17 bomber. He and his crew sought out the worst weather, including thunderstorms, rain, snow and ice, for which he was awarded the Air Medal, as a civilian, by President Truman.

His 37-year career with TWA shared the golden age of air travel, flying the famous DC-2s and 3s, romantic Lockheed Constellations, Boeing 707s and finally the 747, to include over 2,000 Atlantic crossings. He served as TWA's chief pilot in 1945, but flying a desk was not his style.

Returning to flying, he was called to Hollywood by TWA owner Howard Hughes to fly with actor Tyrone Power on a publicity trip through South America, Africa and Europe. He then spent time as one of Hughes' "men," but when asked to sell one of Hughes' airplanes, he told Howard, as everyone called him, he was not a salesman and was going back to the airline. Hughes graciously accepted the demand. To better use, Bob later assisted TWA's president with the transition to jet aircraft. In 1966, he participated as a pilot on an around-the-world speed record in a Boeing 707, circling the globe vertically, over both poles.

Bob was awarded the 1963 Airline Pilots Association Air Safety Award. He served in consultation to the FAA on air traffic, safety matters and the Supersonic Advisory Group, as well as represented the United States on airspace issues at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. Just a month before his passing, Bob Buck was presented FAA's highest award of Master Airman, for his contributions to aviation as pilot and safety advocate.

He maintained a lifelong connection with sport and general aviation, believing in its enjoyment and utility. In 1959 he returned to gliding, insisting it is the best way for a person to learn flying and gain their "seat of the pants" ability.

He also consulted with Cessna Aircraft on the operational design of the successful Citation business jet.

He was a prolific, self-taught author, who first penned two books in the 1930s, and later wrote numerous articles on his experiences, safety, techniques and weather flying. In 1970, he completed his classic book, "Weather Flying," considered the bible of how to fly weather, which is still in print today. Following was "Flying Know How," "The Art of Flying" and "The Pilot's Burden." Finally, in 2001 at a young age 88, he produced his eloquent memoir, "North Star Over My Shoulder." In "North Star" one saw Bob's respect and love of the world's history, diversity, beauty and culture. His travels inspired him to learn French, his grandmother's native language, in which he gained fluency through many trips to his beloved Paris.

He married Jean Pearsall in 1938, who lovingly and patiently saw through his career and shared a long retirement. They had two children, daughter Ferris, also of North Fayston, and son Rob of Waterbury Center, who survive them, along with their spouses, Ned and Holly, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Jean predeceased him in 2003.

In 1964, while visiting near Waitsfield, they purchased an old hunting camp in North Fayston. Moving there in 1972, it became a much-loved time of their lives, respecting and learning the traditions of Vermont, proudly serving the local planning board, learning to "get the wood in," respect of a forest, cross-country skiing and still enjoy his beloved golf and soaring. They especially appreciated being part of the community of North Fayston. A curious and diverse person, he was blessed with great memory, quick study, and with wily smile, a fine timing of well-placed word and wit … an indelible person.

Please do not send flowers, but donations in Bob Buck's memory can be offered to the Mad River Ambulance, Valley Medical Center in Waitsfield, or Central Vermont Hospital. At Bob's request, there are no formal services.

Source: Times Argus

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