Love has a funny way of creeping up on a person. Just ask Lt. Col. Steven R. Smith, 93rd Bomb Squadron flight instructor.
On March 3, 2017 ... Smith exceeded the 10,000 hour mark in the B-52 Stratofortress, a jet he now loves. Smith’s deep affection for the bomber has led him to a long and successful career in the Air Force. But three decades ago, upon receiving his assignment to the jet, his first reactions were disappointment and anger.
March 3, 2017 - U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Smith, 93rd Bomb Squadron flight instructor, fields questions from the media at Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. Smith just returned from a training mission where he surpassed 10,000 flight hours in the B-52 Stratofortress. During his career, Smith helped train more than 1800 B-52 air crew members. He was also instrumental in developing a targeting pod for the jet that improved weapon accuracy. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ted Daigle)
“I was in the top 10 percent of my class in navigator school and the B-52 was not even on my wish list, so I was really upset,” said Smith. “I remember my advisor trying to tell me I was going to love it, but I didn’t believe him.”
He is a believer now. The milestone gives him more hours in the aircraft than any pilot currently serving in the Air Force, according to officials at Boeing. For Smith, however, 10,000 flight hours is just another number.
“It does not mean I’m smarter or better than anyone else here, there are lots of people in this unit smarter than I am,” he said. “It just means I love the B-52. It has been the center point of my whole career”.Smith never planned on having so many flight hours in the B-52. When he arrived at his first duty station, rumors circulating throughout the bomber community sounded like his time in the aircraft would be short.
“There was talk about a new bomber coming into the inventory soon, so I thought I would just stick it out until they replaced it,” he said.
The change never happened, but a change in perspective certainly did. In spite of his initial dislike of it, Smith found himself growing fonder of the B-52 with each passing year.
“I was on active duty for seven years so I flew quite a bit and it was something I just found myself enjoying,” he said.
After separating from active duty, Smith joined the Air Force Reserve and was assigned to the 93rd BS. At that time, the squadron had a combat mission and a high operational tempo. Smith’s fondness for the jet propelled him to attend every mission briefing he could.
“I figured each time I went to a briefing, there would be a 25 percent chance I’d get on the jet,” he said. “Turns out, I got on almost every time.”
With each flight hour, Smith’s love of the B-52 grew and he gained a reputation for excellence and ability.
“He is the B-52 warrior of warriors”, said Col. James Morriss, III, 307th Bomb Wing vice-commander. “When he is part of the flight crew, you know there is nothing to worry about on that mission.”
After the 93rd BS was designated as a flight training unit, Smith was tapped to be an instructor. Soon, all his experience began to have an impact on the larger Air Force community.
“His training and mentorship are directly responsible for preparing two generations of B-52 pilots,” said Morriss. “People all around the world owe their capabilities to him.”
Col. Rob Burgess, 307th Operations Group commander, agreed with Morriss’ assessment.
“His experience and credibility are priceless for the students,” he said. “At 2000 hours, a pilot really has their respect, but at 10,000 hours you are a B-52 legend.”
March 3, 2017 - U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brent Weisner, 93rd Bomb Squadron commander waves the U.S. flag and gives a thumbs-up prior to takeoff at Barksdale Air Force Base, LA. The gestures by Weisner signified the historic nature of the flight which gave Lt. Col. Steve Smith, 93rd BS flight instructor, more than 10,000 flight hours in the B-52 Stratofortress. Smith has more hours in the B-52 than any other current member of the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Ted Daigle)
Smith said he never intended to be an instructor, but is grateful for the duty.
“It has been extremely rewarding, watching the students learn the jet and it has been a great privilege to see them perform so well in combat,” he said.
Smith’s contributions extend beyond the schoolhouse. He has flown in multiple combat missions, including some while still serving as an instructor. He’s also helped to develop the targeting pod which allows for greater target accuracy.
All of Smith’s efforts have been to improve things for others, said Burgess.
“He is a real team player,” he said. “It was never about him, always about the students, the jet and the Air Force.”
As for the future, Smith said it is getting more difficult to keep up his current pace, but he still wants to try.
“I’ve got another two years to go and I’ll probably ask for an extension,” he said. “I’d like to fly another 1,000 hours.”
By U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ted Daigle
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article