Fourth generation of Smith family takes to the air

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Town Crier News Staff

Matt Smith celebrated his 16th birthday on June 1 from the air as he made his first solo flight. He has been taking flying lessons through Sky Venture Aviation Training in Jonesboro and had been looking forward to the day.

"It was a little different being at the controls all alone but I was not really nervous," Matt said.

He had a lot of ground support including his instructor and family members.

Matt is working toward getting his private pilot license. A pilot has to be 17 years old to be able to carry passengers.

Matt has been flying in small aircrafts ever since he can remember and is the fourth generation of the Smith family to share a passion for aviation.

Matt's great-grandfather, the late Edward Smith; his grandfather, Earl Smith; and his dad, Greg Smith, all received their private pilot licenses at the age of 29.

Earl Smith fell in love with airplanes at an early age. At the end of World War II when the Blytheville Air Base was deactivated, his dad had a mattress factory in one of the airbase buildings.

Ed Smith purchased one of the World War II trainer airplanes at the end of the war and a family tradition started.

As a child, Earl loved being around airplanes on the former Blytheville airbase. When he was a young boy, he would sweep out two of those large hangar buildings just for a five minute airplane ride.

"It was worth it," Earl said. "I loved flying."

Pilots always remember their solo flights no matter if it has been two months or years. Earl Smith said he did not have time to get nervous when he soloed as he thought he was just going for another flying lesson.

Greg Smith said he can remember flying with his dad before he was able to see over the instrument panel.

"He taught me how to fly by reading the instruments," Greg Smith said.

Greg started working on his license during his high school years but put it on hold during college. He always planned on getting his pilot license later but got busy with life. His wife, the former Melinda Laffoon, gave him a gift certificate for flying lessons as a birthday gift. It was all it took to get him back into the pilot's seat.

It wasn't planned, but it is ironic the three generations received their licenses at the same age of 29.

The aviation circle is close knit.

"Older pilots are all very encouraging to young people who are starting out flying," Greg said. "They are happy to see young pilots coming in to the aviation field."

Greg learned to fly from John Fairchild in a 150 Cessna years ago. On one of his trips to Wisconsin, he saw the very airplane he had trained in at Manila still being used as a training plane there.

The Smith family has owned a five-seat Beechcraft Bonanza since 1988. The plane is housed at the Manila Airport. It has been used for short pleasure trips just enjoying the day to traveling as far as Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and other places.

Matt said he can remember he and his sister, Lindsey, sleeping in the back in the baggage compartment as young children when the family traveled.

All three of the Smith men agree they prefer taking their own airplane to commercial flying when it is possible. They like to be in control and they can see where they are going and know what is going on around them.

Through the years they have made several upgrades to their aircraft including adding a GPS system and a new engine.

"Dad likes to go fast," Greg said. "He has a lot of trophies from his teenage years of car racing to prove it."

Matt said he feels more comfortable riding in an airplane than riding with someone in a vehicle on the interstate.

One piece of advice passed down from Ed to Earl to Greg to Matt is, "Don't be clowning around."

They all take the responsibility of flying very seriously.

Among all of them they have a lot of combined flying hours with Earl's 5,000, Greg's 1,000 and Matt's 13. Matt flies every day he can.

Aviation has come a long way in a short time since Dec. 17, 1903, when Wilbur and Orvill Wright made a successful flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C. There has been a member of the Smith family keeping up with the changes and enjoying flying for over 50 years.

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