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TAFFY LOPES/FOR THE EXPRESS Clyde L. “Skip” Smith, right, is pictured with FAA officials.

LOCK HAVEN – Clyde R. “Skip “Smith, a born and raised Lock Haven resident, received a prestigious FAA award.

That’s pretty good for someone who says of his current career, “I turned a profession into a hobby.”

Federal Aviation Administration officials surprised him on the Sentimental Journey to Cub Haven Fly-In on Wednesday with a plaque acknowledging him for “50 years of dedicated service to aviation safety.” The FAA selected him for the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award, named after the mechanic who worked with the Wright brothers.

Smith’s plaque indicates that he received the award for five decades of “exemplary experience in aircraft maintenance, distinguished professionalism and an unwavering commitment to aviation safety.”

Do that 52 years.

Smith was actually the recipient of the award in 2020, but the pandemic kept the FAA away from public events until recently.

At his booth inside the Fly-In supplier building this week, Smith speaks with customers about his passion for fabric planes and the parts that make them fly, as a stream of well-wishers pour in to congratulate him.

Ten years ago, he received another significant honor – he was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, where the Experimental Aircraft Association hosts AirVenture each year.

“It makes me feel old” Smith said with a wry smile.

Smith’s life story begins as so many others do at the Fly-In, with the words “my father… “

Clyde Smith Sr. worked as a test pilot at Piper Aircraft Corp. here from 1941 through the mid-1950s. He captained all of the Cubs, his son said. He then worked in engineering for Piper in the 60s and 70s, a department his son eventually joined.

Skip said he was initially interested in a career in meteorology and studied for a year at Lock Haven University. He found that wasn’t quite what he had in mind, so he continued his education in Williamsport, at a precursor to the Pennsylvania College of Technology. Two weeks after graduating, in 1968, Piper Aircraft called him. “My dad said he had nothing to do with it” he called back.

The company offered him a choice of three jobs, and he chose engineering/drafting. Among the many people he remembers, he spoke fondly of Dick Clark and John Akeley. Clark created detailed paintings of the all-new Piper aircraft even before the first such aircraft was built, Smith said. Akeley designed aircraft seats and interiors and handled custom orders.

Over the years at Piper, Smith worked in the Editorial, Publications, and Product Support division of Customer Services.

“I stayed until the end” he said. The end came in August 1984 when Piper closed the Lock Haven plant and consolidated production in Florida.

After stints with Taylorcraft at Lock Haven and the Lock Haven Aircraft Company, Smith got another call – this one in 1987, from Stuart Miller who had purchased Piper Aircraft in Vero Beach, Florida. Miller had returned the Super Cub to production and wanted to sell a version of it in kit form so that individual owners could assemble their aircraft themselves. As the idea for the kit grew, Smith’s name started to come up again and again.

“He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse” Smith said, so he moved south. At Vero, he created and led the kit program, with, as he recalls, two technical writers, two illustrators and the first secretary he ever had. The Super Cub kit could have been a great idea, but unfortunately the company “went belly up” in December 1990.

Shortly thereafter, Smith returned to Lock Haven and began his current career in product support for “Vintage Pipers, fabric ones, all Cubs, Pacers, Tri-Pacers.”

His workshops are a mainstay of the Fly-In, and since 1994 he has made an annual trip to Aurora, Colorado, near Denver, for a three-day session with Univair Aircraft Corp. Univair suits him perfectly. , he said, because this company makes parts that allow Pipers to fly.

Smith is recovering well from a fall in an ice storm in February which cost him a head injury and time in UPMC Williamsport Hospital, then days later an ambulance trip to the ER caused by distress related to a blood clot, as well as the resulting surgery to deal with it.

“Twice in a week and a half, I had my life in front of my face,” he said. What did he see in that flash? His grandkids and other loved ones were there, sure, And chances are he saw airplanes, lots of little fabric airplanes.

He knows these unique planes well and basically shares his knowledge. “I don’t really know how to charge it” he said. “That’s what I do.”

He gave his seminar this week in the Piper Aviation Museum building – which is the old engineering building.

Smith said he sees new faces at his seminars, as well as familiar faces. “A lot of people come back because they can’t absorb everything I say in one sitting.” he said with a smile.

He doesn’t have time to write a book, he says, but years ago he wrote articles for the Cub Club newsletter, starting in 1984. The club and newsletter still exist, and older editions with his articles are sometimes available.

“I love what I do and I will keep doing it for as long as I can” he said. “I have customers everywhere.”

Piper aircraft continue to be restored, flown and loved today. They were designed to be affordable and appeal to everyone, Smith said.

“Of all the small aircraft of this type ever made, the Pipers have the most following and the closest, because of this attraction”, he said. “Mr. Piper was pretty smart that way.

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The journalist is a daughter of John Akeley and a childhood neighbor of Skip Smith.



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