As a child growing up in the north end of Hagerstown, he played with radio-controlled planes until he broke them. In 1986, he graduated from the University of Maryland with a diploma in aerospace engineering. With that, his aviation career began. He taught flying for three years in Gaithersburg, Md., then flew planes with Com Air, a branch of Delta Airlines, for 17 years, and now he flies with Mac Jet Airways.
Along the way he married his wife, Tracy, and raised a family. Smith has eight kids, three of which want to work in aviation - Derek, 17; Kelsey, 14; and Clay, 10.
During my flight, I was amazed and awed. I didn't expect a small aircraft like the Cessna 172 to feel like it did in the air.
Before we left the ground, there were numerous things to check on the plane. Smith had to check the engine, the wheels, brakes, the meters in the cockpit, etc.
When all the checks were done, I boarded. It was a four-seater plane and my dad tagged along for the ride. I got in first and adjusted my seatbelt and seat. Then, my dad hopped in the back and put on his seatbelt. Smith entered last. He brought out a checklist we went down to make sure everything was accounted for. Pilots can't memorize everything. They memorize some but a list is a smart precaution.
He showed me how to steer down to the runway. This was unusual -- you adjust the steering with your feet rather than with the wheel. Following a bright yellow line down the center of the airstrip, we reached the point where Smith had to take over. He got an OK from the control tower, then he took off.
In the air, he showed me how to control the plane by using the wheel and my feet. He told me about keeping level by watching the horizon.
The most exciting part was when he took us into zero gravity. He basically stalled the plane and let it drop so we entered zero gravity where it felt as if we were floating. I held a pen in my hand and I saw it float in the air.
I highly recommend this small-plane flight; it's something you won't forget. Not to mention that it was really fun.
Thrills and chills
I learned about the sacrifices it takes to being a pilot. Full-time, professional pilots get limited time to see their families. They might have long shifts, such as working for four days straight, then taking three days off.
Smith also told me some interesting facts. When you become a student, it's illegal for you to take up passengers until you get your license.
He also told me about the scariest flying experience he's had. He had an engine failure right after takeoff -- one of the worst situations there can be. It was especially terrifying, Smith said, because everything was normal when he checked the aircraft before takeoff. He was 75 feet from the ground, but luckily he was able to land the plane. No one was hurt, and the plane wasn't scratched.
You want to fly?
The Hagerstown Aviation Academy offers a variety of programs for flight students.
If you want to learn to fly and get your license, it would take a lot of work. You need 40 hours of training, which includes classroom time, 20 hours flying with an instructor and 10 hours of solo flying. In all you might total 65 to 70 hours of flying before you get your license.
All this costs $6,000 to $8,000 at Smith's flight school. He teaches all ages. The youngest student Smith has taught was a 9-year-old. But you must be 16 to fly on your own without an instructor and 17 to get a license.
For more information about flying with Hagerstown Aviation Academy, call 301-733-8804 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also arrange sightseeing flights.