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Robert N. Buck

Bob Buck, whose flying career spanned over 70 years, passed away April 14, 2007 at age 93. He began his life devotion to aviation in 1929 at age 15, teaching himself to fly a Northrop Primary glider that he and a buddy had built. Soloing a Fleet biplane a year later, within six months Bob launched on a spat of 1930s records to include the Junior Transcontinental Speed Record, in his Pitcairn Mailwing, at age 16, then later records and expeditions to Mexico City, Havana, the Yucatán Peninsula and a 1936 nonstop two place light airplane world record from Burbank, Calif to Columbus, Ohio, in a 90 hp Monocoupe. A year later he began his 37 year career with TWA, then known as Transcontinental and Western Air, flying DC-2s and 3s to eventually the 747, and tenure as chief pilot during which he delivered the first civilian Lockheed Constellation. Within his career were many special assignments, and probably his most satisfying was that of flying weather research in a B-17, for which he was decorated with the WW II Air Medal, as a civilian. A bizarre career off shoot in the late 1940s had Bob working briefly for Howard Hughes, then TWA’s owner, including some research flying with Hughes’ terrain avoidance system, dealing with “Howard’s” mysterious late night calls, as well as flying Hollywood stars.

He was deeply involved with aviation safety, weather and operationally related studies with the Airline Pilots Association, FAA, NACA, (now NASA), the Supersonic Advisory Committee, and after retirement, consultant to, again, the FAA as well as airlines, and corporations. He also represented the FAI to the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal, Canada. Among other citations for his work, the FAA recently awarded him the “Master Aviator” Award, for his years of contributions to aviation.

But in Bob’s heart, the sky was his office, and rediscovering gliding brought him closest to the sky’s conundrum of beauty, challenge and mystique. In 1959, he traveled to the famous Schweizer Soaring School, and after a few flights with instructor Bernie Carris in a 2-22, was on his own…a few more and he’d gone through the 1-26 to the 1-23. Hooked! His respect for the Schweizer’s, and the school under Bernie’s skills, saw him return in 1963, this time with his 14 year old son. In 1964, Bob and his son joined the Philadelphia Glider Council, and during the following several years the two shared a unique father-son relationship, including mutual seeking of their badge awards and culminating in national contest participation. It was also in 1964, while Bob and his son were flying at John Macone’s fledgling Sugarbush Soaring in Vermont, that Bob’s wife, Jean, discovered a beautiful hillside property. In 1972, as retirement neared, they moved to Vermont, where he continued soaring at Sugarbush.

Bob earned a Gold Badge with Diamond Goal in 1966 with his Schweizer 1-23H-15, and in 1968 acquired an H-301b “Open” Libelle, which he loved for its elegant combination of size, performance and simplicity. An aircraft he considered to have that gifted ability to seduce its pilot, he considered the Libelle-era the ideal of soaring, as you had “stretch”, as he’d call it, but without gadget and complexity. In a wonderful friendship with Glasflugel owner Eugene Hanle, it was an amusing day at the factory when on one of his airline trips to Germany, Bob appeared at Herr Hanle’s facility with a crew of young, curious and very attractive “stewardess’” in tow. Their factory tour…well…briefly shutdown production.

In the early 1970s Bob represented the United States with the world soaring body, then the CIVV, including the infamous “flap-flap”, which briefly brought the use of flaps to Standard Class, then evolved to the mid-1970s decision of the 15 meter class. Of the 15 meter class decision, he later mentioned how at the time he and a few others, based on research available, wanted to skip the 15 meter class and instead go directly to 18 meter, but that the issue had become too emotionally charged to see futuristic decision.

Bob was a prolific writer who first penned two books in the 1930s, wrote numerous articles on safety, weather and experiences, then in 1970 completed his classic book: “Weather Flying”, which is still in print today. Following was “Flying Know How”, “The Art of Flying”, and “The Pilot’s Burden”. At a young age 88, he produced his eloquent memoir: “North Star Over My Shoulder”. His enthusiasm to soaring saw him write numerous related articles, including two for The Reader’s Digest, with “Come Sail in the Sky” in 1960, followed by “The Sky Is Their Limit”, in 1966, which was credited with assisting the rapid growth of soaring in the later 1960s.

Bob Buck was born in Elizabeth Port, New Jersey, January 29, 1914. He married Jean Pearsall, in 1938, who predeceased him in 2003. They have two children, daughter Ferris and son Rob, their spouses Ned and Holly, plus eight grandchildren and three grandchildren, who all survive him. Bob had a deep interest in the world and its culture, adored his trips to Europe and especially Paris. He learned French to fluency, was an avid golfer, reader and with phenomenal memory to the end, a quick study, great teller of real story, and with wily smile, a fine timing of well placed word and wit.

Bob dabbled with soaring contests, to include being contest director of the 1966 Region 2 contest, and with generous patience, crewed for his son in late 1960’s regional and national contests. He towed at the 1970 Marfa World Championships, and flew a few regional contests in the late 60’s to early 70’s as well. But mostly, he loved soaring’s aesthetics, solitude, challenge, and different look at his life long fascination of weather and sky. He also respected soaring as a mentor in creating excellent pilots. He was once quoted: "If I were king, every pilot would have to get a glider license before ever getting a power license." And when someone once said that soaring was the sport of kings, Bob said: “Soaring is too good for Kings.”

Posted: 5/15/2007


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