By Dan Shine
Ramey Air Force Base
Aguadilla, Puerto Rico
Cold War, Autumn, 1953
Air Force Crew Chief George Belbusti watched from the ground as his ten-engine B-36 Bomber labored down the runway and powerfully lifted itself from the ground. Suddenly, its number four reciprocating engine exploded into flames.
As he began to tremble, George feared for the B-36’s crew: they were now part of what was quite literally a flying bomb, and which was loaded with 26,000 gallons of high-octane fuel and 80,000 pounds of explosives. What would happen next? Belbusti considered the chances of a devastating crash, a “ditch” at sea, or the very unlikely possibility of a safe landing. The situation looked very, very bad.
And then it happened: Somehow, the B-36 began a wide sweeping turn, and while trailing smoke and flames it landed safely on the same runway that it had just used for takeoff. Sixty-six years later, George Belbusti can still remember the look on the pilot’s face as he and his crew hastened from the plane: “He was as white as a sheet!”
George Belbusti was born at home on Stevens Avenue in West Haven, the fourth son of Anthony and Mary Belbusti. He attended Thompson School from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade and graduated from West Haven High School in 1949; while he was in high school, he served in the National Guard. After he graduated from West Haven High School, he joined the US Air Force, where he served from 1949-1954
The Air Force had wanted to make a pilot out of George, but by this time he was looking for something different in his life. Upon returning to civilian life, he applied for entry into what was then Southern Connecticut State College under the GI Bill. He was accepted and successfully pursued a degree in Elementary and Special Education; later he completed his studies for a master’s degree in Reading, followed by an administrator’s degree from Bridgeport University.
In 1958 George began teaching at what then was Bailey Junior High School; he taught Social Studies, English and Reading, and stayed there until 1964. He was proud of the fact that he brought the SRA (Science Research Associates) reading program into West Haven, and many Westies will remember the SRA program well. In addition, George Belbusti is credited with ensuring that all West Haven schools had libraries within their walls. His introduction of IGE (individually guided education) brought a new dimension to grades K-6.
As time passed, George Belbusti became supervisor over twelve elementary schools. During that time, he met Colleen Bartlett, who was one of his co-workers in the school system. Later they were both widowed; subsequently they were married, and have celebrated sixteen years together.
George is warmly remembered by many of his students, both for helping them with their academic studies, and also for teaching many of them about aviation, in which he partnered with Henri Pozzouli at West Haven High School. George had a pilot’s license and flew regularly for 35 years.
Today, George Belbusti is enjoying his life in retirement and traveling with his wife Colleen. It should be noted that his son-in-law Rob Bohan is the current principal of Bailey Middle School.
When asked what he would do differently if he could live his life over, George said, “I don’t think I’d make any changes. Although limited by their lack of education and limited resources (due to the Great Depression) my immigrant parents managed to support their five children through high school. The Air Force and the GI Bill allowed me to enter a rewarding profession supported by a loving family and the West Haven community which I consider to be top of the line and a pleasure to serve.”