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Edward H. Butts, Jr. - Soaring's Big Ed Butts is gone

Edward H. Butts, Jr. passed away on March 28, 2004. He had a distinguished career in military aviation spanning 24 years, and in soaring for most of his adult life. He flew Boeing B-17 bombers during the WW-II European campaigns. Later he commented wryly that WW-II war planes were easy to fly because they were built so they could be flown by kids-who would fly them in combat! Born May 16, 1924, he would not have turned 21, and been able to vote, till the war was almost over. But he was the Old Man (Captain and Commander) of his Flying Fortress; all of his crew were younger. During the Korean War, he flew C-47s. When that war ended he became a member of the Strategic Air Command, assigned to flying B-52s. One anecdote he related, which made a vivid impression, was how they almost got a hot war started during the Cold War. Ed's B-52 and many others were lined up on a runway with engines running and bomb bays filled with nukes, each one for a specific Soviet target. At six minutes before scheduled takoff, the word came to stand down. We came that close to Armageddon!!

I first met Ed in the very early fifties. He was stationed in Spokane and flew a fully equipped late-model Schweizer 1-23 for recreation. He would stop by to visit whenever he passed through Richland. He and I both flew in the 1954 National Contest at Lake Elsinore, CA- Ed in his SGS 1-23 and me in my LK. It was my first Nationals, and probably Ed's too. Neither of us placed very high, but it was an exciting and memorable experience. In subsequent years Ed was called upon to run a great many contests, for us NW glider pilots, West Coast and NW regional contests at Sun Valley, Idaho. It was an enchanted time for all of us whoplayed a part. Sun Valley's Louie Stur rolled out the "red carpet" and made us very, very welcome. But Ed's reputation had spread. He served as Team Captain at the World Championships held in Great Britain 1965. He was called on to run the World Championships at Marfa, Texas in 1970, and numerous Nationals and to organize and serve as competiition director of the Smirnoff Transcontinental Sailplane Races from 1972 through 1976, before turning the job over to someone else. These races did much to publicize soaring in the U.S. Ed presided at soaring events calmly, fairly and with good humor, but pilots were not inclined to argue with him; Big Ed was an imposing figure with his stature, size, big hands and air of quiet authority.

Two anecdotes require telling, I hope the first won't offend A.J. Smith, who is a great guy, as nice as you would ever hope to meet. But in competition, "winning is everything!" for him. Some high-strung top competition pilots can become primadonnas when things don't go quite the way they want. A.J. was one of these and had the reputation for often firing his crew half way through a contest! When he was sent to represent us in a World Championship, Ed Butts was sent along to be his Crew Chief. They got along famously, and A.J. was as polite and well-behaved as you please. I think that was the year he became World Champion. Another primadonna story; during the Smirnoff Derby, a long-time top pilot who was known for complaining about the rules was complaining to Ed. Ed listened patiently and finally pointed out that all the other competitors had already taken off and were far away-end of argument!

As Ed's retirement from the Air Force approced, he wrangled a final two-yar appointment as liaison officer to the Idaho Civil Air Patrol, and he, his family and his loyal sergeant took up residence in Twin Falls, Idaho, not very far from Sun Valley and his good friend- our friend- Louie Stur, with whom he could fly, hike, and fish. (Louie was Mr. Idaho Soaring; he introduced soaring to Idaho, and worked relentlessly to make it grow). About this time, Ed bought Irv Prue's beautiful PRUE TWO, high-performance, two-place sailplane - a big glider for a big man! Ed dubbed it the "Aluminum Overcast".

Ed retired from the military in 1967 and spent the next 25 years in Twin Falls in the real estate and home building business. The last ten years of his life were spent in St. Augustine, Florida (where he was born). Bothy in Idaho and Florida, his daughter Anna (a teacher) and her son Dillon lived with Ed and his wife Shuku. Ed served happily as a father figure to precocious Dillon. The two were inseperable. They studied Dillon's school work together and Ed instilled in Dillon his passionate love for fishing and boating. Now almost 17, Dillon is considering a Coast Guard career. Ed and Suku's son Raymond flys for FedEx, lives near Memphis and is active in a local glider club. Our sympathy goes out to Shuku, Ed's wife of 46 years, daughters Sally Butts and Anna Sabate, Raymond and Dillon. Ed was a remarkable and memorable person; we will not see his like again.

Posted: 4/1/2004

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