NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - Some say it takes around six months to master a skill. but what about spending fifty years doing one. For Nacogdoches pilot Sammie Smith, he recently celebrated 50 years since his first solo flight.
He began his flight endeavors in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he said he flew a lot in grad school at the University of Arkansas. His logbook showed his first solo flight was December 20, 1970. He made it to Nacogdoches in 1980.
“The last 50 years has gone by in a flash. I don’t know, I think everybody enjoys flying, that have flown,” he said. “I’ll never get tired of flying around and looking at the countryside. It’s absolutely beautiful.”
Smith credits his love for planes and flying to his childhood. Growing up two years before World War II, he said living in Fort Worth they’d often see air training activities.
“We’d go out in the yard almost anytime and look up in the air and you’d see some of the WWII aircrafts flying,” Smith said. “I think all little boys look up in the air every time they see an airplane and say ‘man, I would love to do that.’”
Smith got around to flying at thirty. Some of his advice after all this time is, “You don’t want to fly in thunderstorms, you don’t want to fly in freezing weather. Ice is a problem,” Smith said. “You greatly reduce the risk of flying if you fly a good plane, in good clear weather, and don’t fly at night.”
Nacogdoches Airport Manager Joe Cefalu says this is a big accomplishment.
“It’s not real common for someone to start early and continue to fly into those later years. A lot of times it’s medical issues, or just lack of interest, or family issues that might slow them down,” Cefalu said. “So there’s very few people that can say, in the aviation world, that they’ve actually flown for fifty years.”
Smith said COVID-19 has put fly ins and gatherings on hold but he is still able to take his plane out and not see many, if anyone. In all 50 years his one regret is, “When I was 25 years old I had a college classmate that was a retired Navy pilot who had flown in the early stages of Nam, and he almost talked me into applying for naval aviation,” Smith said. “And I thought about it seriously, I had one year to go because their age limit was 26 and I was 25, and probably if I had it to do over I would’ve tired a naval aviator.”
Smith says he hopes to continue flying for as long as his health allows.