07/24/08 — SJAFB demo team pilot earns spot in Space Camp hall of fame

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SJAFB demo team pilot earns spot in Space Camp hall of fame

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 24, 2008 1:42 PM

Phil Smith had never been in an aircraft before.

So when he finally got the chance, the then-14-year-old let it all soak in.

Capt Phil Smith

Photo courtesy of 4th Fighter Wing Airman 1st Class Makenzie Lang

4th Fighter Wing F-15E Demonstration Team command pilot Capt. Phil Smith says a trip to Space Camp launched his career in the skies.

"Even on that big Delta airplane, I started thinking, 'This is cool," he said.

He was on his way from Tampa, Fla., to Huntsville, Ala. -- to the Space Academy at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.

"That was the first real aviation thing I got involved with," Smith said.

A decade-and-a-half later, he still refers to that experience as "the spark that launched me into what I'm doing now."

And that plane ride is the first image that surfaces when people ask him why he became a fighter pilot.

But Smith is no ordinary Air Force captain. He is the 4th Fighter Wing F-15E Demonstration Team pilot.

So Friday, he took another flight to Huntsville.

Smith was inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame at an evening ceremony Saturday, an honor he characterized as both humbling and unexpected.

"I still can't believe it," he said.

But he admits he can't believe a lot of things.

Like the fact that he was accepted into the Air Force Academy.

Or that he made it through flight school and was assigned to fly the F-15E.

"I'm a confident person, but I'm also realistic," Smith said. "My parents were probably expecting to see me two weeks after I left for the Academy."

Clearly, they did not.

And instead, they watched as their son worked his way into a job he has never really considered work.

"There has not been one day where I have regretted what I have done. Sure, sometimes, you're on a long flight and you get bored, you just want to get land," Smith said. "But then, you look left, you look right. You realize you're flying an F-15E and you're like, 'I can't believe I get paid to do this.' It's like never having to work a day in your life because you always enjoy what you do."

So even though he can't understand why his picture now hangs inside the Space & Rocket Center's Space Camp Hall of Fame, he takes pride in the notion that a younger version of himself might see it there one day and dare to dream as big as he did.

"I'm proof that you can have a dream at a very young age and be lucky enough to see it through. You don't have to be the biggest kid. You don't have to be the smartest kid, You don't even have to go to Space Camp or Space Academy," Smith said. "Just have a dream, work hard for it and remember that good things can happen to good people."