Lt. Col. James M. Smith of the Indiana Wing can claim a distinction shared by only 1% of pilots in the U.S. – he’s a recipient of two prestigious Federal Aviation Administration honors, the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award and Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award.
The Wright Brothers award recognizes pilots who have contributed and maintained safe flight operations for 50 or more consecutive years. The Charles Taylor award, named for the Wright brothers’ mechanic, honors lifetime accomplishments by senior mechanics.
A mission pilot with a CAP senior pilot rating and 1,600 hours of flight time, Smith served as director of logistics for the Indiana Wing from December 2008-March 2010. He’s now the Indianapolis Composite Squadron’s maintenance officer.
He also has instructed cadets and was a professional aircraft maintenance instructor at the Aviation Institute of Aircraft Maintenance.
Smith joined Civil Air Patrol in 1966 after his family settled in Valparaiso. “There was a unit at the airport — and I started flying that same year,” he said. “My first flight involved three takeoffs and landings around Valparaiso Airport.”
In addition to CAP, he’s a former Air National Guard member in both Georgia and Indiana.
“I love the freedom of flight, as well as troubleshooting and correctly repairing the aircraft,” Smith said.
His five decades of flight have not been without challenges. He recalled a hair-raising commercial/multi-engine check ride with an FAA examiner that thankfully ended well. “We lost an engine, for real, shortly after takeoff but had a successful shutdown and return to the airport, and a successful landing with no injuries,” he said.
His career as a pilot and in aircraft maintenance has been a natural fit.
“I worked on my stepfather’s semi-tractors at age 9, and my biological father was a pilot — I guess it’s hereditary,” he said.