April 18, 2007
Famed weather research pioneer and longtime AOPA Air Safety Foundation Board of Visitors member Robert N. Buck passed away recently in Vermont. He was 93.
Among other accomplishments in his more than 70-year flying career, Buck literally "wrote the book" on how general aviation pilots should cope with weather. Read the biography from AOPA Pilot.
"Almost every pilot has read or should have read his 1970 classic Weather Flying," said Air Safety Foundation Executive Director Bruce Landsberg. "And as a foundation Board of Visitors member since 1991, Bob was not only a great personal friend, but an inspiration for many of the foundation's current weather programs."
Buck laid the groundwork for much of what GA pilots know today about severe weather. He pioneered research in the 1940s by flying through thunderstorms and severe icing conditions in B-17s and a fortified P-61 Black Widow. That work won him a Civilian Air Medal from President Harry S. Truman. In 2006, he contributed to the Air Safety Foundation online program "WeatherWise: Thunderstorms and ATC," with a chilling personal account from those days of a DC-3 heavily damaged by hail. ( Click here for a 90-second audio clip of Buck's first-hand description of what it's like to fly through a thunderstorm.)
His other books were Flying Know-How (1975), The Art of Flying (1992), Pilot's Burden: Flight Safety and the Roots of Pilot Error (2000) and North Star Over My Shoulder (2002).
Buck retired from TWA in 1974, after an airline career that took him from the copilot seat in DC-2s to captaining Boeing 747s. He became TWA's chief pilot in 1945 and oversaw delivery of its first Lockheed Constellation. In 1970, he flew the airline's first Boeing 747 revenue flight, Flight 800 from New York to Paris. In 1965, he flew around the world from pole to pole in a Boeing 707, with several other pilots in shifts.
Since Howard Hughes was a major stockholder in TWA, Buck often flew Hughes and could recount experiences with many celebrities of the day, including Tyrone Power, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Jackie Kennedy, and others.
During his retirement in Vermont, Buck continued to fly actively, indulging his special interest in gliders. "If I were king, every pilot would have to get a glider license before ever getting a power license," he once said. "Glider pilots are extremely conscious of terrain, of wind, of learning to land away from an airport."
Tributes from Buck's fellow Air Safety Foundation Board of Visitors members acknowledged his contributions to general aviation safety. "Bob Buck was indeed captain to a whole generation of pilots," said Dr. Ian Blair Fries. "His Weather Flying began as a giveaway brochure for an aviation insurance company and grew into the best commentary we have on flying and weather. His thoughtful proposal to the novice on how to tackle easy weather situations first still provides the best way to assess the difficulty of any IFR flight. We who have known him have been honored and will miss his sage advice."
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