It is with great sorrow that I announce to you the passing
of Robert N. Buck on Saturday April 14, 2007. He died as
a result of injuries sustained from a fall at his home in
Vermont. I first spoke with him on the telephone during March,
2006, shortly after putting this page online. We planned
to meet, as I have done
with all living signers of the Davis-Monthan Register. I
procrastinated about going to visit him.
On this Web site we have three first-person accounts of flights
to the old Davis-Monthan Airfield. Bobbi
away in 2003. To my knowledge there are now just two surviving
signers of the Register, Wm.
T. Piper, Jr. and John
Miller. If you know of any others, please let me know,
See published tributes to Bob Buck here,
N. Buck started flying early. He soloed on March
15th and received his pilot's license
on April 10, 1930 at age 16.
A month later, the New York Times (5/11/30) headlined, "Youth
Takes an Older Generation Skylarking", wherein it reported
a 20 minute flight during which pilot Buck took his 73 year-old
grandmother aloft over Westfield, NJ for her first airplane
flight. She reported that she enjoyed
the flight greatly and would readily make another. Image,
right, is of Bob and his grandmother, Mrs. Elizabeth Bellingrath,
from the New York Times.
In the fall of 1930, he attempted to break the 2,510 mile
Newark to Los Angeles junior transcontinental record. The
record stood at 29 hours and 40 minutes. He flew the same
airplane, NC549K, that he later brought to Tucson. A photograph of him taken in that airplane in 1930 is at the link.
After a couple of
delays due to weather, he left New Jersey on September 29th. A motion picture of his departure from Newark Metropolitan Airport is at the link.
He refueled at Martins Ferry and Columbus, OH, and at Indianapolis
and St. Louis, MO. He had been flying for eight months and
had accumulated 150 solo hours. He carried six chocolate
bars and an old army canteen of water.
When he reached Wichita, KS he was an hour and 15 minutes
ahead of record time. Then things fell apart. He had an oil
pressure problem upon departure from Wichita, and returned
there for repairs. He departed again, and headwinds delayed
his arrival at Amarillo, TX by about an hour.
He departed Amarillo on October 3rd, only to have engine
problems about 70 miles west. He landed at Glenrio, NM where
it was determined that he needed to replace an engine cylinder.
After repairs, he headed west again and, on October 7th,
completed his westbound flight to California in 28 hours
elapsed flying time, an hour and 40 minutes faster than the
old record. Below, from friend of dmairfield.org, John Underwood, is a photograph of Buck and his airplane in Alhambra, CA, the western terminus of his record flight. Note that it is autographed for contributor Underwood.
Robert Buck and NC549K in Alhambra, CA, Ca. October 7, 1930 (Source: Underwood)
Below, from Mr. Underwood, in response for a clarification of location, confirmation from Captain Buck of the location of the photograph. Note how this contemporary letter is written on facsimile TWA stationery that advertises the Constellation sleeper service that Captain Buck used to fly in the 1940s-50s. The reference to Hollywood actor Tyrone Power has to do with a round-th-world flight Buck made with Power. The details are in Buck's "North Star Over My Shoulder" referenced in the right sidebar.
Confirmation of Photo Location, 1930 (Source: Underwood)
He then turned around and captured the west-east record
by flying from Los Angeles to Newark, NJ in 23 hours 47 minutes
elapsed flight time. He landed back east on October 19th.
These records earned him some notoriety. Within a year after
his flights, he published a book, "Coast to Coast on Wings"
with Putnam & Sons, and dedicated it to his flight instructor.
On February 15, 1931 at 3AM he left Newark headed for Havana,
Cuba. After stops in Raleigh, NC and Jacksonville, FL, he
landed in Miami on the same evening at 6:14PM (a long day,
even by today's small plane flying standards). He departed
Miami on the 16th at 2:53PM and reached Havana at 5:25 the
same afternoon. His flying time was 14 hours and 17 minutes,
a record for juniors.
He intended to return to New Jersey in one day, but was
thwarted in that attempt because, on February 22nd when he
arrived at the airport bright and early, there was no one
around. He waited until 11AM for someone to arrive and unlock
the hangar where his airplane (NC549K) was stored.
He finally flew to Miami, spent an overnight there, and
flew to Newark the next day via Jacksonville, Columbia, SC,
and Camden, NJ. He did not follow the same route during his
return. His flight time north was 13 hours
5 minutes, bettering his southbound time by over an hour.
He had flown all day without eating or drinking. He was 17
years old and had accumulated about 330 total flight hours.
Less than a week later, on February 28, 1931,
he earned his automobile driver's license. The Motor Vehicle
Commissioner told him he hoped his road record would be as
good as his flying record (Newark Star-Eagle, 2/18/31).
On March 22, barely a year since he had soloed, pilot Buck
and his parents visited Washington, DC by rail for a meeting
with President Hoover at the White House. Buck presented
the President with an 18-inch cigar he carried from Cuba.
Now comes pilot Buck to Tucson. Bob Buck landed at Tucson three
times, on August 14 and 22,
1932 and on
October 8, 1933. He was solo each time flying Pitcairn PA-6
NC549K. His airplane, a Sport Mailwing, was named "Yankee Clipper".
His 1932 visits to Tucson were made in conjunction with
a flight record attempt to Mexico City. According to contemporary
newspaper accounts, he departed Newark, NJ at 3:05 AM on
August 9th on a 2,250 mile route to Mexico City.
scheduled stop was Richmond, VA. He landed at Richmond at
6 AM and departed for Spartanburg, SC at 6:25. Later on the
9th he made refueling stops at Atlanta, GA and Montgomery,
AL, then flew to New Orleans for an overnight.
Next day he flew to Houston and then Brownsville, TX. On
the 11th he departed for Tampico and Mexico City. His total
flight time was 24 hours and 5 minutes.
After his flight to Mexico, he returned to the U.S. north
through El Paso and Tucson on his way to Los
Angeles, CA. He set another record by flying that route
in 20 hours.
One thing that comes through to me from the reading I have
done to prepare this page, is the nurturing support Robert
Buck received from his parents and family. His mother, father
and grandmother had no concerns (that they shared openly)
flying with him. Indeed, Robert flew his parents on a vacation
tour to Boston in June, 1931. Likewise, he flew his aunt,
a character actor, on a tour of New England in July, 1931.
They cheered his departures and welcomed his returns to
New Jersey. They accompanied him to some of the speaking
engagements that followed his notoriety. Apropos this
support, his mother is cited in the Newark Star-Eagle, May
15, 1931, as, "...an ardent aviation enthusiast and believes
Bob will develop into one of the greatest flyers in America."
There's a lesson for us here.
THIS PAGE UPLOADED: 03/03/06 REVISED: 04/15/07 (obituary), 01/18/08, FIN