Dreams take flight PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Staff Writer   
Saturday, 05 April 2014 08:14
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Catherine Smith is chief flight instructor at BG Flight Center. (J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
When Catherine Smith, then Catherine Grassley, was a child growing up on Dunbridge Road, she would climb out her window and sit on the roof watching the planes fly over.
Now, Smith may be in one of those planes, either piloting herself or guiding a novice pilot.
Smith is a key player in Bowling Green State University's growing aviation program. She teaches three classes in the College of Technology and is chief flight instructor at the Bowling Green Flight Center.
That puts her at the nexus of the new collaboration between the university and North Star Aviation, which now provides the flight training for the aviation program.
Smith's roots in the program go deep. She graduated with a degree in aviation from BGSU in 1998.
All that, said Kevin Doering, the flight center manager, makes Smith "a vital ingredient to the future success of the partnership between Bowling Green Flight Center and Bowling Green State University."
Just because the 1993 Bowling Green High School graduate's career has kept her in her hometown doesn't mean she hasn't spread her wings. "Sometimes you say you're a local and people think you're not worldly, but I'm proud of it."
Bowling Green certainly offered her a solid start to her dream of flight. She attended the fly-ins at the Wood County Airport, and went to the Dayton Air Show. She joined the Aviation Explorers and started learning about flight theory.
And she took her first aviation course while a senior in high school.
After graduating in 1998 from BGSU, she took a job as the assistant flight instructor at her alma mater. Then she headed north to take a job with Northwest Airline's regional carrier Mesaba Airlines.
After being trained in London where the plane she flew, the Avro RJ 85 was built, she started flying out of Detroit, carrying up to 69 passengers.
Pilots thrive on the challenges posed by flight, Smith said. Each encounter with wild weather or a mechanical problem is an opportunity to learn, and a pilot, especially one who also teaches other pilots, is always learning.
Smith recalled her plane being struck by lightning while flying into Detroit. The plane was 25,000 feet in the air, and one radio and the autopilot system went out.
Now the throttles had to be set manually. "I just had to revert back to being a pilot again."
Another time coming out of Cincinnati, she was confronted with "pretty violent wind shear." She push the plane to its maximum speed to rise above the system.
As she told her co-pilot: "That worked out just like it did in the simulator."
When she landed in Minneapolis, the passengers thanked her. "You can tell when passengers are nervous about conditions, and it's very gratifying to know you did your job well."
It also demonstrates that  "the hours and hours we do preparing for these situations is truly important."
That's a lesson she drills into her students.
Smith returned to BGSU in 2005. She and husband, Scott, welcomed their son Adrian, but not without complications. She decided tending to his medical needs, including surgery, after a complicated birth, required her attention. Then the position at BGSU opened up.
She always loved teaching, so it was an easy choice.
Using the program's two flight simulators, Smith can take students through all manner of emergencies, including fires and engine failures "without the inherent dangers" of having them happen midair.
"This is a fantastic program," Smith said. Back in the mid-1990s there was talk of closing the program. But it survived, and continued to grow.
It had reached the point, she said, where it couldn't grow anymore. The administration realized that, so it partnered with North Star Aviation out of Minnesota to provide the flight training component with students getting classroom training through BGSU.
Smith straddles the two entities as a flight instructor and classroom teacher. She is also an designated FAA flight examiner
The collaboration has already had results. Planes have been refurnished with digital control panels added, and a new facility is being built and will be ready next fall.
Just this week BGSU announced a new collaboration with the University of Toledo to provide training to UT students, including about 100 from China, starting in 2016.
"I think this partnership is an amazing opportunity," Smith said, of the collaboration with North Star.
Smith believes Doering and North Star President Mark Smith are essential to the success of the partnership.
"They're probably the biggest reason why this will work well," she said, "because they care and their passionate about what they do and that matches who we are."
Noting Smith's experience, Doering said: "I see her as a vital ingredient to the future success of the partnership between Bowling Green Flight Center and Bowling Green State University."
He said she is one of the top chief flight instructors in the nation. "She is committed to safety, integrity, reliability, honesty and follow-through. Her knowledge of FAA and the Aviation Industry requirements along with her zeal for academic excellence puts her in a perfect position to mentor our group of flight instructors and also teach students in the classroom, while at the same time constantly contributing as a member of the senior management team here at the Bowling Green Flight Center."

Last Updated on Saturday, 05 April 2014 10:10
 

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