Born: January 29, 1914
Died: April 14, 2007
Robert Nietzel Buck was born January 29, 1914 in Elizabeth and grew up in Westfield. He was fascinated by the exploits of Charles Lindbergh, who crossed the Atlantic on a solo flight when Robert was 13. Bob’s parents, Abijah and Emily, nurtured his dream of flying and at 15 he and a friend built a glider—which he promptly crashed. For his 16th birthday , they bought him lessons at Westfield Airport, and within a few months Bob was the youngest licensed pilot in America.
In the fall of 1930, Bob flew from Newark to Los Angeles, shattering the junior transcontinental speed record in an open-cockpit biplane. On the way home, he broke his own record, completing the flight in under 24 hours.
In 1931, Robert became a published author, authoring Burning Up the Sky. Bob was a national sensation, eschewing radio, memorizing maps and steering by the stars. After completing each flight, he would call his parents to let them know he was okay. By the time he turned 18 he held 14 different junior aviation records.
Over the winter of 1933–34, Bob and a friend spent three months flying above the Yucatan jungle, photographing Mayan ruins for the University of Pennsylvania. At the age of 23, he was hired by TWA. During World War II, Bob flew B-17s into the worst weather, establishing protocol for less experienced bomber pilots. He became one of the few civilians to be awarded an Air Medal for his work.
Bob continued to work for TWA after the war. In 1965, he was one of a group of pilots to fly a Boeing 707 around the world from pole to pole. In 1970, Bob published the book Weather Flying, which is still required reading for pilots. That same year, he flew TWAA’s foirst 747 from New York to Paris. In 2002, he published his memoirs, North Star Over My Shoulder. Bob died on April 14, 2007 in Vermont at the age of 93.