Flying in safe hands

  • Published
  • By Maj. Brooke Davis
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Piloting 34 missions safely to the Antarctic, Lt. Col. JW Smith, 728th Airlift Squadron, also holds Air Mobility Command’s safety flying hour record of 17,753.5 flying hours, or nearly two years in the air, without any severe safety mishaps.

Weather changes quickly at the bottom of the world, and landing a C-17 with night-vision goggles packed with cargo on an ice runway calls for skilled and seasoned aircrew.

446th Airlift ‘Rainier’ Wing Citizen Airmen and active duty Air Force members from the 62nd Airlift Wing form blended aircrews who support airlift flights to the Antarctic in support of the science carried out by the U.S. Antarctic Program. The National Science Foundation manages the Antarctic Program.

Flying his first mission into the Antarctic in 2003, Smith’s depth of flying expertise helped aircrew perform these missions safely in the harsh Antarctic environment.

Senior Master Sgt. Derek Bryant, 446th Operations Group loadmaster, flew three flights with Smith as part of Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. military’s logistical support to the Antarctic Program.

“Flying with a pilot who is so seasoned into the Antarctic really helped facilitate safe landings and the safe offloading of people and equipment,” said Bryant. “He could anticipate the flow of operations and provide input that was a tremendous help when you’re working in a sub-zero, inhospitable climate.”

When recognized as the record holder of AMC safe flying hours, Smith humbly said he was just lucky enough to fly.

Smith was commissioned through University of Washington’s ROTC program in 1984 and served 11 years active duty, transitioning to the Rainier Wing in 1996. Prior to joining the Reserves, he was stationed in Colombia and got to fly as much as he wanted in the C-12 with the air attaché.

Airframes he flew include the C-17, C-12 and C-141. For Smith, any he loved any airframe he could fly.

“As long as I was flying, it didn’t matter which plane I was in,” he said.

In an article published in AMC’s Mobility Forum, Smith says there are no secrets to flying without mishaps. What he relies on is training, procedures, experience, and an element of luck.

He recalled a powerful quote from his pilot training that, “A lot of warnings in our flight manuals are written in blood.”

Smith retired in December and left words of wisdom for pilots, which is to fly as much as they can to hone their flying skills and knowledge to build a solid foundation that will stay with them throughout their flying career.

His squadron commander, Lt. Col. Kenneth Jambor, said Smith is a true warrior that was all about getting the mission done.

Jambor said, “Whenever I flew with him, he always said, "the guys and gals downrange are depending on us to get cargo to them. Let's get 'er done!"


Editor’s note: Severe mishaps include class A and class B mishaps. Class A mishaps include a safety mishap of $2 million or more, fatalities, and destruction of aircraft. Class B mishap includes a cost of $500,000 up to $2 million, permanent partial disability, and the hospitalization of three or more personnel.