Meet Retired MSGT Matthew Smith. Matthew had a unique experience with aircrafts during his over 20 years of service in the Air Guard. He was the man that kept the aircrafts going and in working order. But that didn’t mean Matt wouldn’t jump at the chance to take a flight in a plane he worked on. Today, Matthew’s love of aviation still runs strong!
Why did you initially join the US Air Force?
After graduating high school, I attended Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, IA. Some of the buildings had once been part of the naval air station at the airport President Nixon was once stationed which aroused my interest in the military. The Air Guard provided college reimbursement, so I decided to be sworn into the military and for my first flight ever, I boarded a Boeing 727 to San Antonio, TX for basic training. Six weeks later, I was off to Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, CO for Fire Control Radar school on the F-4 Phantoms II which became my favorite fighter plane.
Can you tell us a bit about your roles and service?
Once I completed my training, I returned to Des Moines, Iowa to the 132nd Fighter Wing and went on my first deployment in our unit’s C-131B support aircraft, nicknamed “Bertha,” to Biloxi, MS. This aircraft was flown and maintained by a team of dedicated professionals in the Guard. Soon after, I entered the technician program working full-time in the weapons control shop primarily on the forward-looking radar, weapons delivery computer, and the heads-up display. Later in my career, the unit transitioned from the Vought A-7D aircraft to the General Dynamics F-16 Block 40 and my job moved to the flight-line avionics shop where I worked on almost every system from digital flight control systems to navigation and instruments.
What intrigued you about working with aircrafts? Which aircraft was your favorite and why?
The work I enjoyed most was on the A-7D as it was less automated from a trouble-shooting perspective and provided more of a challenge. We took oscilloscopes and other pieces of test equipment to the flight-line and hanger buildings to aid in repairs and adjustments. We swapped line replaceable units on the planes such as radar transmitters and then repaired them in the shop and sent them to the supply to fix the next aircraft. I loved learning how things like fuel measuring systems worked and learning from the more experienced technicians.
Can you tell us about a memorable place you visited or a special event you have encountered during your service?
One of my favorite experiences happened while deployed to RAF Waddington in England. We had a broken aircraft in Germany that couldn't fly until it was repaired. My supervisor asked if I’d like to fly over in the two-seated A-7K aircraft and, as you might expect, I said “yes” before he could even finish asking! After a quick class from our egress shop to learn how to eject safely and locating a flight suit and helmet for me, I found myself flying over the English Channel. Once in Germany, I made the aircraft repairs, performed all the necessary post checks, and we were off to dinner and a German hotel for the night. The next morning, I experienced formation flying when the three jets were launched back to England.
What advice would you give someone looking to join the technician team or the Air Force in general?
I’d definitely encourage anyone considering joining the Air Force or Air National Guard to do so. I suggest putting in for an overseas tour. You’ll gain some great experience for future careers, earn retirement points and learn so much being part of a professional team. The Guard is the perfect place to serve your country and be a part of the total Force. You’ll have the opportunity to travel as there are many support fights to join.
My best memories are of the people I was able to meet and the friends I made. I loved all of the deployments and working together. My part in the maintenance group may have been small, but it was an extremely satisfying technical role with a very clear mission: Bombs On-Target.
Any plans for the future?
After 20 years of service and several years in a civilian vocation, my wife and I will be retiring and plan to travel and enjoy more road-trip adventures together. We got a small taste of what our future holds last summer when we stopped at the Air Zoo in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Volk Field in Wisconsin. This year we are planning a trip to the Oregon coastline and as always, I’ll have my radar on to see as many planes as possible.