PeopleSkip to the content

Oral History Interview with James Buchan

In AIAA and IEEE I would tell a person that you’re going to give a paper next – six months from now at this conference… And in the last strategic conference, two of my fellows gave the best paper there. They gave it together. It was phenomenal. [And where were they from?] They were from Orlando… The paper was classified. [They worked at Martin Orlando?] Oh, yes. They were recognized. There were about 400 or 500 people there. That was at Naval Postgraduate School that’s where we had it up there. It was strategic systems and that was fun. It was just sheer fun and exceptionally good people as you can see. They were top of the people working on the stuff….

Listen as James Buchan describes his life and work in this oral history interview on February 25, 2015.

LISTEN Part I (20:17)


My name is James Frank Buchan I was born in a place called Holopaw, Florida which is halfway between St. Cloud and Melbourne. I was raised at Lockhart which is a winding road between Apopka and Orlando and I went to high school in Ft. Pierce, Florida before I quit. [You quit high school?] Yes, 15 days before they stopped the GI Bill. So I’m a veteran of the second World War, but a group of us decided we’d like to go in the service. And I was in the, just started the 12th grade. The rest of them were out of school. We went down to join the Navy and the Navy recruiter was out fishing. In Ft. Pierce, FL when the blues run people close shop and go fishing. So we walked across the street and joined the Army Air Corps….

World War II Military Service

From there we just, we asked, we said, “We’d like to go fast.” He said, “It’s just two hours from now. Can you get a train in two hours?” And we said, “Well, we’ll wait and go tomorrow.” We went in the service the next day.You want me to pick up and continue? [Yes, what did you do in the service?] We went out of New York City passed the Statue of Liberty heading south and went through the Panama Canal and stopped at, this is a cruise ship – had five deep, height, you know, and ended up in Yokohama, Japan. They put me back on another ship for three days to go to Korea… about three days later they put me on an airplane to go to Tokyo outside and outside of Tokyo was an Air Force Base called Johnson’s Air Force Base. And I was there for two months going to school eight hours a day on a P51 airplane. I was a crew chief on a P-51, a # 125. So I spent two and a half years in Japan. Then came back and that talked you into going to college. 

University of Florida

Didn’t go out of high school so I went to Florida Southern for two years and met my wife and got married after two years. And went to the University of Florida, both of us. And I went up to the Dean of Engineering and told him I’d like to become an engineer. And he said, “What kind?” And I says, “I didn’t know there was different kinds.” And he said, “Why don’t you try electrical engineering?” So I graduated with honors in electrical engineering and my pay went from $105 dollars to $120 dollars because I got married. And so we both graduated from the University of Florida and I interviewed and went to work for Westinghouse at the air-arm division in the analytical department. Most of this is on airplanes, autopilots for jet fighters, the mathematics associated with air to air combat and guns and rockets, sidewinders and those type of things.

John Hopkins University

Let’s see, Westinghouse had a thing that if you take a course in engineering some place they’ll give you half your tuition back. And if you got a degree they’d give you the other half back. So strictly on money I decided to get my master’s degree at John Hopkins and I did. I had to pass a language which I took French and translated a French technical report into English. And I showed my professor what I did and he started laughing. And I said, “What’s the matter?” I said, “This is how fast you can translate a book over this transmission thing.” And he says, “It’s not ‘Away with the Breeze’ it’s ‘Gone with the Wind’.” Well, anyway, I got my master’s degree from John Hopkins and the President of the United States was there, the Prime Minister of England was there. The President was there because the President of John Hopkins was his brother. 

The Martin Company

And so, well, anyway, my daughter got pneumonia, had to have a tracheotomy. And if I’d been out of any other town she would have died because they had medicine that arrested it. So the doctor says to leave town.  Get a job some place. And so I applied down here and they hired me sight unseen. And so this is where I came from anyway, my grandmother was still here, have uncles, cousins and everybody else in Orlando. And so it was like coming home. And I was there [The Martin Company] for 28 years. I have a list of a lot of the programs I was on. I was mostly in the analytical portion of the work there… simulation of missiles and training of those things. 

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

I was also for a year, Chairman of the AIAA Central Florida Chapter. And I really almost blew a presentation one time so I joined Toastmasters and took the Dale Carnegie course. And students in Dale Carnegie thought I ought to help teach the next class which I did. And then Toastmasters I was there for a good number of years and for 22 years I picked up a blind person and her dog to go to Toastmasters….

I published a few papers while I was there and the most important thing was the chairman of the AIAA Missile Systems both strategic and tactical, offensive and defensive systems. The President of Martin at the time reported to me and as well as the CEO of Boeing, the Under Secretary of the Navy, the Under Secretary of the Army and so forth. So we had a big committee. We put on a conference in Monterey one year that’s on strategic missiles. Tactical missiles we did that every other year at San Diego. I was mostly in the missile guidance and the development of autopilots, this type of thing. I had a list of all the programs, but go ahead.

What was it like for you when you started with Martin?

I began as a lowly engineer working on Bullpup program, that was started up in Baltimore and transferred down here. And it’s a unique missile in that you launch it and you can see the missile. And you launch it at the target with a little thing on your stick, you can put up, down, right, or left to guide the missile down to the target. We had Point Mugu, California was where we were launching those missiles, most of them. And it was a fun program. You could train people on the computer with a scope and then see how good they are. And then they can train on the ground and then take them up in the air.

Some very interesting things went on, one was all of a sudden the missile got much better accuracy. And we found out that the fellow running the program at Point Mugu was giving the best Scotch in the world for each pilot who could guide it within a certain radius… But I worked my way up, when I left I was a program manager for the Kill Vehicle for SDI… But in the meantime I was working on a various number of programs….

So the Air Defense Antitank System, the ADAX, that was one of your programs after Bullpup?

Oh, yes.

I did a study for a company in Zurich, Switzerland. They gave us a little funding, a six month study. And one month they called us and said, “How are you coming with the study?” And we said, “Well, the money wasn’t turned on yet.” And he said, “Well the money’s in a bank in New York City, get busy.” So I was the technical director of that and had to go to Zurich a couple times. And it went, I got off the program. But the program went to firing missiles at White Sands and mostly at Eglin Air Force Base. The company ended up giving Martin over 800 million dollars for this program over a number of years and it was just a company. Nothing you can do with a government type thing. Governments weren’t involved. You can order stuff and circumvent all that hodgepodge that happens in working with the government.

I ended up getting a contract after there was a conflict of interest with me and Martin because I had a contract directly with this company and an export license with the state department to work overseas and also here in the United States. It was an independent subcontractor’s type thing. I’d get them in and if they wanted that person up in Canada where it was finally transferred to Canada, I had a crew of people working up there and some going back and forth to Zurich. I made a number of trips there which was beautiful. It’s one of those things. I used to tell people, “I have to go to Zurich.”

The other place I had to go to is Hawaii since we launched missiles in the Marshall Islands. They wouldn’t allow RV’s into from Vandenburg, CA and we’d shoot them down in Kwajein Atoll. So the system was fully developed when it went to Kwajein Atoll except the missile site radar sat right there at the launch site. But there was another launch site in Ailinginae which is a few miles away where there is a Sprint put in a hole and we launched remotely there. Because they were being deployed in North Dakota. They had to safeguard The Minutemen out there remotely as well as at the radar site, the MSR. Give me some more questions.

You were the Technical Director for these programs so what does that mean exactly? What would your day be like?

We have, with the government, we have specifications. And like on Sprint you had to pull so many G’s in so many milliseconds, okay. I take that and allocate how that area’s broken down to how fast should the control be. How fast should stiffs of the missile be and I tell people. I give them a new requirement. I do not tell them how to do it. That’s their job. And they got to prove it, Section 4 is specification. So we’re always bumping heads against each other. And we’re responsible for the autopilot design and we give them requirements, transfer functions for that. That’s it. We check up on people on the production line to make sure that’s going good, things like that.

And with your design, because you worked in Airborne Fire Control and Missile Systems, you did some design, too. So does that mean that you were sitting at a drawing board?

No. Other people do that. I give them the requirements. I tell the hydraulic people how fast they have to be and give them requirements for functions to figure out how to do that. They make it and we test it, make sure it’s tested right.

So the work was done at Martin Orlando, but the actual test was done offsite?

White Sands Missile Range, Eglin Air Force Base, I’ve launched missiles out of there. And out in California at Port Magu. What else? And the Kwajein Atoll, of course. But, one SDI program I had a contract out at Eglin Air Force Base to build a kill vehicle using the present technology where I put the reach arrows on the three X’s on the Hydraulic Table and proved that we could hit an RV in space. Yeah, that was fun! Also, on the contract with our division, we did a lot of work for them. That’s where we build models. It was on the front page of that magazine… It was a Popular Science… Also, our den division always did the exoatmospheric stuff. But the Army wanted me to build a satellite here in Orlando which I did. And it flew out of the Cape, but that’s all I can tell you. [So it was successful?] Oh yes, very successful.


Strategic Defense Initiative “Kill Vehicle” designed by James Buchan at Martin Orlando featured on the cover of Popular Science, September 1988.

LISTEN Part II (20:00) 


Tennessee Valley Authority

I’ve run a lot of experiments up at Talahoma, TN. We wait until midnight and then use all the power the Tennessee Valley Authority can generate for about four hours to run aerodynamics tests on missiles and did some experimental work up there also. One fellow came to me wanting to go to Talahoma. There was a structural engineer, they had a problem up there or something. I asked him if this was a boondoggle? And he looked at me and said, “Have you ever been to Talahoma? There ain’t nothing down there.” You drive by Jack Daniels on the way, you can stop and get something to drink, okay?

So when did you work on the Strategic Defense Initiative? You were also involved in the SALT Treaties, right?

I briefed the people that were doing the negotiation on how good we were, you know. There again, that’s about all I can tell you. It was no big deal. It was things that I know….

You mentioned that you worked with the AIAA… what exactly do they do?

It’s American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, it’s a professional society and the main thing they do is try to hold meetings. In our case it was once a year. They were all technical and they were primarily classified. And it was the generation of information that was shared throughout the community. There must be 25 or 30 groups some of them on propulsion, some of them on guidance, and mine was on missile systems. And with that we just, it was just technical stuff, yeah. 

So would you present papers and have discussions?

Yes, I gave one [a paper] at the University of Tennessee. Yeah, I forgot about that. I gave a paper at the Cal Palace one time when I worked at Westinghouse. That was interesting, because I got through giving the paper and a fellow stood up and says, “You know, you’re right. Your result is the subsection of my doctor’s thesis.” He presented too. He was very, very nice on me. Yeah, it’s a technical society. 

I noticed the list of the people who were on it when you were chapter chair. It is a very impressive list. The Technical Committee on Missile Systems, right?


The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Technical Committee on Missile Systems, Mr. James Buchan, Chairman, Martin Marietta Aerospace Orlando, January 1981.

Right. The committee, when I became chairman, it ruined my two weeks at Christmas and New Year’s. Because I really was overwhelmed by what the thing was. And then I woke up and said, “Heck, I know how to run a meeting.” And in fact, the president… Norm Orgenstein, took me aside and says, “You run the best meetings I’ve ever been at.” And so, I learned that in Toastmasters. You know, publish your agenda, allocate responsibilities, and let go from there. And I did that and I could sleep at night. All these people I could direct what they do. Like one time we were meeting up in – oh, Norm Orgenstein would get me rooms to meet at our corporate office and or in the Pentagon. And I said, “How did you get us in the Pentagon?” He says, “Buchan, you know where I came from?” he was Under Secretary of the Army, everybody liked Norm. And so he could get us meetings there.

At my meetings we went over responsibilities of things coming up. I remember the chief engineer at Eglin Air Force Base was having trouble. I was getting ready for them a meeting up there in their auditorium. And the fellow from Washington, Air Force says, “We can’t send anybody down there. Our budget is terrible.” And the chief engineer says, “How many people are you thinking about bringing?” I says, “15 or 20.” He says, “I’ll fly that airplane up and bring you down.” And that was an interesting thing, because I talked to a fellow who worked in NATO into giving a paper. And I would get up at three o’clock in the morning to place a call to talk to him. And I was a chairman of something up there and they wouldn’t let me go. I was too busy writing proposals. We had a little group, we generally had small contracts on nuclear effects and so forth. So it was fun. Sheer fun...

Most of the people on this list come from different parts of the country and you were chair so do I understand that they had a recognition of some of the work that was being done in Orlando at this time?

Well, in the strategic conference that we had in California, let me back up. Because I was in AIAA and IEEE [Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers] I would tell a person that you’re going to give a paper next – six months from now at this conference, okay? And so, get busy. And so, I allocated people, sort of twisting arms to give the paper. And in the last strategic conference, two of my fellows gave the best paper there. They gave it together. It was phenomenal. [And where were they from?] They were from Orlando… The paper was classified. [They worked at Martin Orlando?] Oh, yes. They were recognized. There were about 400 or 500 people there. That was at Naval Postgraduate School that’s where we had it up there. It was strategic systems and that was fun. It was just sheer fun and exceptionally good people as you can see. They were top of the people working on the stuff. 

Sandia National Laboratories

Well, like, when Sprint quit because we got a second Sprint II contract and that went on for six months. And they stopped that, okay. So there’s hardware left over. Sandia [Sandia National Laboratories] said they’d like to use the first stage motor for some tests at Sandia. And they came in the office and said they would need a statement of work of what it is. And I said, “Well, you go have lunch and give me an hour and a half.” And so, I dictated a statement of work that my engineers would come in that design and build the controls of first stage Sprint. And when they came in I got a contract in two weeks. Sandia people really know how to get it over the humps with contracts, yeah.

So tell me about the Sprint program. You worked on Sprint II or both programs?

Both programs. Sprint first, I was in systems there and I worked my way up to become Chief Systems Manager. And sometimes like one time we had a launch at Ailinginae remotely and the first stage abskirts were melted away. So I had to stop production. It was on the production end. I had to stop production to make that fix for that systems there. But I was made chief engineer for a month or so which was fun.

Was that one of your favorite programs? Or do you have a favorite program?

I think Sprint was. Primarily because they were all young. The average manager on Sprint was 32 years old. And I, because where I worked I could do almost anything. Because if you launch a missile like Sprint or any missile, some of the ranges, you have to have a range safety officer. You got to satisfy him. So ours, we cut it in three pieces, the missile. Because of how fast it was we were cutting it up in three pieces and we’d get back little pieces. It would just shear up because of the hydromatic pressure. So I asked my boss one time, I said, “Can I have the missile after we do the stuff we want to do?” He says, “Yeah.” Next flight, after we got done doing what we was going to do to improve on that missile; because we send up certain information about the missile, I tumbled a missile in flight. And cut it in three pieces and it came back in three pieces. In fact some of the rate gyros passed the acceptance test. It was beautiful. And sheer fun.

The Sprint Missile, that work was of international importance because of the political climate, right?

Yes, oh yeah.


Lockheed Martin performance has significant effect on world history: Victory Without a Fight by Ben Drexler, REALM News, December 2013.

But the work was also done here in Orlando, a lot of it?

All of it. Except, well, the solid propulsion motors. We don’t build propulsion motors and all that in Orlando. You know, Hercules built the one for Sprint. And we use their facility up there to evaluate freon system control. First stage control system where we jetted freon to the tune of about 24 gallons a second. Phenomenal. 

And then where did you test it?

Well that one we tested at Hercules. They built a facility. Light motors often test the ISP and all that stuff associated with propulsion. But, they put it against a strain guage so we could test flow rate versus pressure and get how much angle we get out of it. It didn’t take much, two and a half degrees, I think, to pitch it over 60 degrees or so.

So this would have been one of the high points in your career?

Oh, yes. Yeah, I’d say it was the highest point. You know in the aerospace industry you go where the money is, you know. And programs go up and down. I was on an Orlando program for a while which launched Hellfire Missiles and kept flying more than one missile at a time. I can show you on my computer in Afghanistan what one would do. If you’d like to see it sometime. The missile was going to go into a building, but while it was up in the air looking at the site with our detecting, people came out of the building. And the pilot asked for, “Can I take them out after they get out on the street?” And he says, “Go for it.” You can see the people in infrared, the site, and you can see the bomb go off. It looked like probably a 500 pounder. So it’s very interesting.

I read in a paper one time and sent a regression analysis on the prediction of the number of people that were going to be coming to the International Airport. And they proceeded to give me the paper back on, that showed that I didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground because I didn’t know that much about it. They were nice.

You have worked in building your own airplanes, right?

Well, here’s one right here.I built that airplane. I also had a number of problems flying airplanes. That’s one of them. My first one is right here, you can see.


The first airplane built from a kit by James Buchan in 1996 at his home at 2617 Overlake Avenue in Orlando.

Yeah, here’s the first airplane. Isn’t that a pretty airplane? I built that in my garage… Also, the one I sent you on the Long Easy, I built that in there, too.


Jim Buchan in the cockpit before the high speed taxi test prior to the first flight of his homebuilt Long E-Z airplane.

This airplane, I had it inspected in my front yard. I taxied across the street, took the wings off, pushed it between the two houses, put the wings back on, taxied into Lake Conway and took off. Pure fun! Pure fun!


The instrument panel in James Buchan’s homebuilt Long EZ, full IFR and autopilot with GPS coupling.

And that’s the one that landed upside down in the water. I wasn’t getting enough power. I was doing touch and go’s in Lake County on a lake and I was trying to get rid of the drag put on by being in water. And I was just making it and I was talking and the nose went in and turned me upside down and flipped me upside down. And I’m a very good swimmer. And so, I just undid my seatbelt and held my breath and got out of the airplane. And then someone saw me go overboard and came over and pulled me to shore. And I had it flying again in about three weeks.

What did you have to do to it to get it flying again?

I had to replace the hull and some of the glass and stuff I had to replace. The electronics I gave them to Shorey over there at the airport and he has some sort of stuff he mixes to get rid of the water and stuff. And that had to be done. But that’s about all. 

LISTEN Part III (18:56)


Here’s the other one. Here’s another little problem there. I had just been reading a report on if you bring your flaps up real fast after you land you can stop sooner on the ground. And so, that’s a V-tail Bonanza that I owned half of. But the gear up on this Bonanza is exactly where the flaps are on a 172. And so that’s what happened there.   

You actually built a plane inside the Science Center, is that right?

Yes, that’s correct. And it’s just like this. This airplane is a kit.


The pilot and aircraft designer, Mr. Cary Richter, in the cockpit with staff from the Orlando Science Center on Lake Barton at the Orlando Science Center’s Touch the Sky event.

It comes in a box and it’s from Progressive Aerodyne which used to be here across the street from the place that had Ferris wheels, but now they’re north of here on a lake. The doctor that was running the Science Center at the time he’s a professor of physics and he was building an airplane. He belonged to EAA. So he said he’d fund it. And so the Science Center bought one. And so we had teams of retired Martin engineers and EAA people that does airplanes and I oversaw it.


Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) members Glenn Ball and Jim Buchan at Orlando Science Center’s Touch the Sky Event.

We completely built the whole airplane including paint and everything else. This fabric will last you a hundred years if you paint it right and keep the infra red off of it. And so it’s a process that Progressive Aerodyne sells you all the pieces in the kit. 


The Searey airplane flying over Lake Barton at the Orlando Science Center’s Touch the Sky event. The airplane was built in the Orlando Science Center by James Buchan and a team of retired Martin engineers from a kit.

And when we rolled it out, you know you got to go across the road down below. The clearance was 3/4 of an inch. I had to think about maybe letting air out of the tires and a whole bunch of other stuff. But we took it out and took it up to Apopka to put wings on and all that stuff. And we flew it out of Apopka down there and had it inspected by the FAA and they sold it. Okay. But this professor, I inspected one of his airplanes. He was building it and I didn’t find one mistake. The only plane that I ever inspected that I couldn’t find something wrong. And then I found out he had a professional airplane builder doing the whole thing. But, anyway, we sold it and that was it. We took pictures of it and the layouts. We had built a wind tunnel that you could stand in with various wing configurations to field a lift and that kind of thing. We had simulations that you got in and flew. And I didn’t take any pictures of that, but if you want some see Joann Newman. [Orlando Science Center Director]. Do you know her?  Oh yeah, she’s like Showalter. [Organized.] Showalter sold that business recently, last month. 

So you inspect airplanes that are being built?

I fill out forms and tell them what I found out. They go off and fix it. And then before they fly I go through a mental thing to get them ready to fly, how to fly. What do you do? When do you do it? Should you have this? Should you have that? I fill out a checklist for the pilots. So I did that for EAA. That was fun. I got to know a lot of people. And it’s still a group that meets every month.

Are there many people in Orlando building planes… did you inspect for the entire state of Florida?

No. Mostly just around here.


The 2005 VANS Airplane built by Tim Sweeney and Jim Buchan here in Orlando.

I would say I probably inspected 25 to 30 airplanes. I have the ability to look at something and put it through negative G’s. Most people don’t realize negative G’s can kill you. And so you’ve got to look at things like that when you inspect an airplane as well as making sure everything’s tied down, regular stuff. And generally you find something. My P-51 in Japan, pilot, first flight in a P-51, he took off and blew a tire. And he wanted to get out over the ocean because they had an airplane there that could drop a boat to you. I’ve got that here. I’ve got a picture of that, too, after it landed, skidded wheels up. And I had it flying. I had it where I thought it was ready to go. And I had it around 70 gigs. So I think it is better to have inspection through more than two eyes. You know, it’s much, much better. You always find something. Always. 

And the people that you’re inspecting the planes for do they know about your background?

Yes, most of them did… That is different than the airplane stuff, you know. But I sent you a picture of the instrumentation for the one that’s made out of fiberglass and foam. But I did all that wiring and I built all the antennas internal so there’s no drag to them. Yeah, the airplane could go about 190 miles an hour and burn 26 gallons an hour. It was very, very efficient. She and I have been to the Bahamas maybe five times to a place called Long Island where I helped build three houses down there. We just go down for a week and stay. It’s fun. 


Mrs. Lillian Buchan next to the Buchan’s Long-EZ airplane right after landing on Deadman’s Key in Long Island.

Was that part of your work for Kiwanis?

No. Work for Kiwanis, we started an Orlando-Central Florida Kiwanis Foundation. We started a 501(c)3 organization and I ran that and was the treasurer of that. And also ran and was the treasurer secretary in the regular Kiwanis. I enjoyed Kiwanis. It was fun. I was Kiwanis of the year twice. We developed, we sell golf balls. Golf balls cost you $10.00. And on the golf ball is a number and we go to the airport strip out there… Bob White. And we cut a hole in the ground and make an “X” with toilet paper so the pilot can see it. And we go and dump the balls off and the one that is closest to it wins. And the top prize is a thousand dollars. And then we used the rest to help kids. Arnold Palmer kids we gave them all wagons rather than gurneys to go places. They like sitting in the wagon and being pulled. And that’s the kind of thing they did, all kids. Oh, yeah, the first time we did that was in Groveland. You know Groveland has two airports. We did the first one out of, in my Sea Ray. Dumped them out of the Sea Ray.

Science and Engineering Fairs

For years I did Science and Engineering Fairs in this county and the county north of us, was inspector. I just love working with the kids. It is sheer fun to help them, you know. I did that for a number of years… I was on a committee one time to pick the best high school kid to represent Orange County at the state level. And we interviewed every student that’s in the fourth grade, that’s in high school in Orange County. And I was highly amazed at how smart these kids were. I mean just phenomenal. I was just aghast at how these kids worked. Some of them are well advanced. In fact, some of them were doing [projects] on chaos years ago. And so they knew more than I did. So I had to go get a book on chaos and learn how chaos works, why it works. You know how you can never predict the weather in advance because a little thing can happen and change the whole thing?

Because I always thought when we finally got to a good fast computer we would be able to predict the weather for months in advance. Not so, okay. It’s like the time you found out that you can’t predict the stock market. It can’t be done. Smarter people than me have tried to do that and they’ve fallen flat. And so you don’t worry about it. You just don’t worry about it.

Speaking of the stock market I understand you actually started some investment clubs?

We started three investment clubs and went to around six, but I started just the first three with Wing Wy Chin. And we had meetings at my house once a month … on how to invest. Oh, that reminds me, years ago Martin Marietta put up 500,000 dollars to give any science and math teacher in the county their free master’s degree. So I was retired so I volunteered to help over at Liberty Middle School for two and a half years. And I got them to buy and sell stock. I got them changed, you know, I’d give them 10 or 20,000 dollars and when they bought stuff I charged them 5%. And they ran it like a business. And we’d have meetings and go do that and it was fun!

I also taught them how to build missiles and flight test them out in the back yard. And they were in Middle School, Liberty Middle School. And how to set up, you know how to balance your budget. Budgeting and filling out checkbooks. You know, just had a ball….


See, I have this philosophy, God didn’t put me on this earth to make money. And if He was dead I’d still be working. My philosophy is to help people. You know I spent three years on the board of the church… Christ the King Episcopal Church. I was on the vestry. And right now I make communion bread for them about once every six weeks.

LISTEN Part IV (14:55)


And I ran the program here in Orange County that puts up homeless people for a weekend in the church. There’s about thirteen churches involved and my wife and I ran the program for about five years at this Episcopal Church. And someone else now has taken over. It’s a phenomenal program. Everything is given to them. Transportation and everything. We give them a meal in the evening. Sleep them overnight and give them breakfast in the morning. And they go off and look for jobs. They have a place the hospital lets them use. I put in five computers for them and tied them all together so they could get the Internet and look for jobs. And that’s been working pretty good. That’s all I wanted to say.

The majority of your career was spent at Martin, so how would you describe your time there?

I have a very warm feeling about leaving it. I hated to leave the people, you know. But it was time for me to leave and I left. They talked me into staying an extra year because of what I was doing on SDI. I was a spokesman for the whole company. Giving presentations up in Washington, DC and making those models of kill vehicles. It was fun. It was sheer fun.

The presentations you gave up in Washington those would be for members of the military or Congress?

Military mostly, generals and above. Although one time I gave a lot of the stuff to the Navy. Two one hour sessions at the Pentagon. That’s what got me in trouble. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Pentagon, but their basement has one of the best libraries you’ll ever see. Phenomenal. I was there once and I saw this book on how to build this VE4 airplane and looked at it and left. And the fellow that I was with looked at it with me. I didn’t go back to the Pentagon. I didn’t do too much work out of there. But I told him, “Buy me that plane.” And so he did. And then I bought a partially built airplane out of Texas and had it trailered and I started building on that for about two years. Didn’t get any place and so I gave it up – I sold it to somebody…. That’s why I saw this thing on kit building and made my first airplane there. And so a kit, if you can read directions and follow directions, there’s nothing to it. It’s fun… In fact, I had my airplane put in publications and they showed me in an airplane and that comment about following directions, you can build one. And that’s a true statement. Most of the things today, you know, we Google, there’s nothing you can’t do. Positively nothing. It doesn’t take brain work to put something together. Just follow the directions. That’s why I’m a good cook, I can put stuff together.

It sounds to me like the people that you met at Martin and that you worked with, you thought were really good people. You really respected their bright minds, but also they were good people to work with?

Oh yeah, I highly respected them. Some of them were geniuses. Well, you take Dave Emmons. He’s a genius. Didn’t graduate from college. When I put him designing and building the first digital autopilot they ever made out there he was – I had people come up and say – well, he doesn’t have a degree. And I said, “He knows more than anybody else here. I mean what more could you ask for?” I mean, you interviewed him, what did you think? [Absolutely fascinating… he was the one who suggested you – for an interview. He said that you are a native.] I am a native. All my people that I know are smarter than I am by far. It’s just a phenomenal group of people that I highly respect. Years ago I said, that I’m never going to spend time even talking to someone I didn’t respect. Life’s too short. It really is. And we had some good people out there and some bad ones. But not many bad ones. They’re all very smart, aggressive, easy to get along with, would listen.


You know there’s six “L’s” for longevity: 1. You have to love. 2. You have to have a longing, that carrot in front of the donkey works – you have to have something to strive for. 3. You have to be able to laugh at yourself. 4. You have to labor. Keep laboring. Don’t give up. 5. You have to listen…. I listen to a radio program on Sunday out of Plant City, FL that went through these and they worked pretty good…

I had skin cancer. What’s a bad skin cancer? Melanoma. And they cut it out. Then I was seeing double and I went and had an x-ray and everything for my right eye. It wasn’t tracking. So I went down there to the Palmer down there in Miami and they did a biopsy and said it was lymphoma, cancer, which took by the way my right eye. I can’t see out of it. But my bowling average went up to ten pence. They did a biopsy and they saw masses everywhere. I had one on my groin and on Friday they did a biopsy. I don’t know if you know Dr. Z, oncologist here? He saw me and he says, “You know, if that’s melanoma down there I can’t save you. But if it’s the other type, lymphoma cancer. There’s a 98% probability, but we won’t know until Monday.” And when Monday rolled around I didn’t care what it was. I was at ease with God. It sure didn’t matter. And I took 40 x-rays to kill it and then I went through I don’t know how many chemos, six, seven, something like that. So that took care of the other part. I’m happy….

Oh, I had open heart surgery one time. And so, I got grounded and so I took up ‘unusual attitude program’ where it taught how to do flips, maneuvers, rolls, chandelles, everything like that. And this last year I rented an AT6 in Kissimmee and took it up and did acrobatics for an hour. Then a few weeks ago I rented a P-51 and took it up and for an hour did acrobatics and everything. That was on my bucket list, the P-51. Sheer, sheer pleasure.

Well, I knew how to taxi an airplane like that. You got to keep moving back and forth because my Sea Ray was a, you know, it’s an amphibian, but I keep it mostly at Executive. I could be in the air in 30 minutes from here. But P-51, I got video of all of them. And so, I don’t have a bucket list anymore.


Jim Buchan flying an AT6


I’ve been in IEEE ever since I got a degree in electrical engineering back in 1953. But here’s one on Star Wars: “SDI: The Grand Experiment”.


James Buchan’s copy of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), SPECTRUM issue on Star Wars SDI: The Grand Experiment, September 1985.

And I did give a paper when I worked at Westinghouse in San Francisco at the Cal Palace where they roped it off and had four sessions going at once. And it was all unclassified, but it was, it was one of my growing up experiences standing before an audience and presenting a paper. I have the paper around here some place. Yeah, I have it. It was on radar modulation in a closed loop mechanism type thing. But you can have that if you want I don’t need it anymore. 

James Buchan and his wife Lillian.


Interview:  James Buchan

Interviewer:  Jane Tracy

Date:  February 25, 2015

Place:  Mr. Buchan’s home in Orlando, Florida.

Back to top
TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

James Buchan in his Home Built Long-EZ

Jim Buchan in the cockpit before the high speed taxi test prior to the first flight of his home built Long-EZ airplane,...

Tim Sweeney's Orlando Built 2005 VANS Airplane

Photo of the 2005 VANS Airplane built by Tim Sweeney and Jim Buchan here in Orlando. Jim Buchan took the photo while flying...

James Buchan's Home Built Long-EZ

The instrument panel in James Buchan's homebuilt Long EZ, full IFR and autopilot with GPS coupling. Mr. Buchan built the plane at his...

James Buchan's Orlando Built Searey Airplane: N2617B

The first airplane built from a kit by James Buchan at his home at 2617 Overlake Avenue in Orlando. Jim built the plane...

Lockheed Martin Performance Has Significant Effect on World History

Sprint is the fastest tactical reaction missile ever successfully developed to production status, and had a minimum of serious developmental problems....

James Buchan's "Kill Vehicle" Design featured in Popular Science Magazine

Strategic Defense Initiative "Kill Vehicle" designed by James Buchan at Martin Orlando featured on the cover of Popular Science, September 1988. James...

IEEE Spectrum: Star Wars SDI: The Grand Experiment

James Buchan's copy of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), SPECTRUM issue on Star Wars SDI: The Grand Experiment,...

AIAA Technical Committee on Missile Systems with James Buchan, Chairman

The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Technical Committee on Missile Systems, Mr. James Buchan, Chairman, Martin Marietta Aero...

IEEE SPECTRUM Ad for Martin Marietta Aerospace

Martin Marietta Aerospace meeting the challenge for advanced technology today, tomorrow... and beyond, advertisement in The Institute of Electrical an...

Lillian Buchan of Orlando at Deadman's Key

Mrs. Lillian Buchan next to the Buchan's Long-EZ airplane right after landing on Deadman's Key in Long Island. Mr. Buchan built the...

James Buchan Flying an AT6

We went out of New York City passed the Statue of Liberty heading south and went through the Panama Canal and stopped...

Orlando Science Center's: Touch the Sky

The Searey airplane flying over Lake Barton at the Orlando Science Center's Touch the Sky event. The airplane was built in the Orlando...

Cary Richter in the Searey Airplane at Orlando Science Center's Touch the Sky

The pilot and aircraft designer, Mr. Cary Richter, in the cockpit with staff from the Orlando Science Center on Lake Barton at...

EAA's Glenn Ball and Jim Buchan at Touch the Sky

Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA) members Glenn Ball and Jim Buchan at Orlando Science Center's Touch the Sky Event. James Buchan describes buil...

Mr. and Mrs. Buchan

Photo of Mr. James Buchan and his wife, Lillian Buchan. James Buchan's most recent assignment prior to retiring from Martin Marietta Aerospace Orlando...

There are currently no video related to this memory.
There are currently no links related to this memory.
Lockheed Martin Performance Has Significant Effect on World History

Sprint is the fastest tactical reaction missile ever successfully developed to production status, and had a minimum of serious developmental problems. It broke entirely new ground in dynamic mechanical and nuclear event environments, and induced innovations in methods for producing and reliability testing solid state electronics devices....

Martin Marietta produced 70 Sprints and installed them in launch cells near Grand Forks, North Dakota. The Soviet Union responded to their knowledge of the program's successes by coming readily to the negotiating table and agreeing quickly to the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, under which our government agreed to remove the deployed Sprint and Spartan missiles from their launch cells, leaving the cell covers open and permitting Soviet inspections to verify. The USSR had realized that we had a workable system with a credible ability to intercept attacking IBMs.

Martin Marietta Orlando thus played a very strong role in achieving the ABM treaty, one of the first steps in the ongoing Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). It is very good to have weapons that perform well if one must fight a war, but it is even better to have weapons that work well enough to keep others from waging war on you!

Excerpt from: Victory Without a Fight by Ben Drexler, REALM News, December 2013. READ the article.

Comments to “Oral History Interview with James Buchan”

  1. Shirra Long says:

    Thank you for sharing your history.

Leave a Comment