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Robert N. Buck

04/19/2007
North Fayston resident Bob Buck, an aviator who set flying records in the 1930s, made an airline career with TWA that included 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, died April 14, 2007, at age 93. He died of complications from a broken hip.

Bob found his life passion for aviation at age 15 in 1929, teaching himself to fly a home-made 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, in a Pitcairn Mailwing, at age 16 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, until Buck grabbed the chance to manage and fly a weather research project for the Army, with a B-17 bomber. He and his crew sought out the worst weather, including gut wrenching thunderstorms, 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, eventually in world travel to include over 2000 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 pilot on an around-the-world speed record in a Boeing 707, circling the globe vertically, over both poles.

He served in consultation to the FAA on air traffic, safety matters, and the Supersonic Advisory Group, as well as representing the United States in Airspace issues at the International Civil Aviation Organization in Montreal. In addition to having received many other awards, a month before his passing, Bob was presented FAA's highest award of Master Airman, for all his lengthy contributions to aviation as pilot and safety advocate.  

Bob 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, <MI>Weather Flying<D>, considered the bible of how to fly weather, which is still in print today. Following was <MI>Flying Know How, The Art of Flying<D>, and <MI>The Pilot's Burden<D>. Finally, in 2001 at a young age 88, he produced his eloquent memoir: <MI>North Star Over My Shoulder.<D> In <MI>North Star<D> one saw Bob's respect and love of the world's history, diversity, beauty, art and culture. Such inspired him to learn French, his grandmother's native language, in which he gained fluency through many trips to his beloved Paris which he first visited in 1947.
 
Bob Buck was born in Elizabeth Port, New Jersey, January 29, 1914. 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. She predeceased him in 2003.

In 1959, Bob had returned to the sport of gliding, by then a modern, safe and enjoyably basic aviation sport, as compared to the regiment of modern jet airliners. His love of gliding or soaring brought him, his wife and son to John Macone's Sugarbush Soaring at the old Estey Airfield in October of 1964. While "the boys" went gliding, Jean explored The Valley, just in curiosity and not to seek real estate. But she ran into Emma Ford. In Emma's generous way, she offered to just show Jean The Valley. Emma took her by an old hunting camp (former farm) way up what was then hardly a logging road in North Fayston. The view, the solace and secret Vermont magnetism left her speechless, and one could see the airport just below. They rushed to the airport and on seeing Bob, she said, "I think there is something you should see." The rest is history, and they moved to North Fayston in 1972.

It became a much loved time of their lives, respecting and enjoying the traditions of Vermont and appreciating the complexity as The Valley grew over the next 35 years. Bob's connection was diverse. From John Macone's cadre of personalities at his, well, marvelously non-boring, non-usual flying operation, to many happy rounds of golf at a then much quieter and local Sugarbush Golf Club. Both Bob and Jean took up cross country skiing and snowshoeing in their 60s, a marvelous adventure for two flatlanders, and of course learned about splitting and "getting the wood in" and porcupines that could chew away a steel brake line on a Ford Bronco! Bob was proud to be a North Fayston resident. He served on the local planning commission and helped shepherd the building of the marvelous town offices. He appreciated and admired the devoted cleverness of those who tend and hone the community. He has fond memories of long chats with Gregory Viens, so admiring of him, his family and those who helped him and his phenomenally clever and capable abilities to road and earth in a time of demanding growth and change. In Bob's many travels and later consulting roles, he was invariably asked by someone from distant shore or of haughty concern where he made his home. He would stand tall, stare them in the eyes and with a slightly raised and clear voice, tell them, "North Fayston, Vermont!" Bob was an enthusiastic and diverse person who knew where he stood, had fantastic memory, marvelous story, curiosity and timing of well placed word and wit...truly and unforgettable inspiration.

Please do not send flowers. Donations in Bob's memory can be sent to the Mad River Ambulance, Valley Medical Center or Central Vermont Hospital. A gathering at Bob's house in North Fayston is planned for May 20, from 2 to 5 p.m., to which the community is invited.
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