A Frisco pilot killed in a weekend Iowa air show crash is locally recalled as an attentive flyer, extraordinarily picky about the care of his vintage aircraft and keenly aware of the risks in pushing the limits.
Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday were continuing to investigate the cause of the Saturday accident that killed Glenn A. Smith, 59, a war bird enthusiast and philanthropist who held a life membership at Tyler's Historic Aviation Memorial Museum.
A home video captured footage of Smith's last moments in his beloved L-39 Albatross military jet trainer, shown veering out of a mid-air maneuver and crashing into a field at the Quad-City Air Show in Mount Joy, Iowa.
In a June interview, Smith, who has been flying for decades, talked about the seriousness of his pastime.
“We're here, for a short period of time, to take care of a significant piece of history,” he said. “I'm just a caretaker for a piece of history.”
The L-39, developed in Czechoslovakia, saw duty in the 1960s for light attack missions and pilot training, records show.
Federal investigators provided no new details Tuesday about a possible cause for the crash, and calls made to the agency's press office were not returned.
Cedar Creek Lake pilot Randy Ball, listed as one of Smith's emergency contacts, said Tuesday he was advised the agency is awaiting word on preliminary autopsy results before issuing an initial ruling.
Final results of the agency's probe could be months away, the agency's Senior Air Safety Investigator Aaron Sauer told the Associated Press on Sunday.
Ball, who has flown vintage planes for more than 20 years, called the loss of his friend profound.
“I gained so much insight and knowledge from him on how businesses operate and how they work,” Ball said. “I think he looked up to me because of the war bird and what I do.”
Ball said his flight partner was ultra passionate about old aircraft, which intensified upon his retirement from a career in software development.
Smith's earlier business ventures included the successful development of software for Texas taxing entities, including cities, school districts and counties.
“He left his career in his early 50s and he really wanted to do the airplane thing,” Ball said. “He had no dependents; no kids.”
In recent years, the men embarked on a life adventure to reclaim and reunite two Cold War-era Russian MiG-17s, which flew together 18 years in the same enemy squadron and were a single digit apart as they rolled off the production line.
During restoration efforts, the friends found the numerical link between the two sister aircraft.
All three fighters are housed in a private hangar at the aviation museum. Only about a dozen fighters are still flying, officials said.
The men flew their sister MiGs publicly in the United States for the first time in July, during the Thunder Over Cedar Creek Air Show.
Shortly before that flight, Smith expressed satisfaction with the restoration and reunion of the two air fighters, each capable of hitting speeds of 700 mph.
“It's truly hard to imagine that two aircraft built in the Cold War and flew together would be here,” Smith said in June. “It's just highly unlikely. I was looking for a jet to add to my collection.”
The pair said earlier they spent hundreds of man hours restoring the plane and countless more for routine upkeep and maintenance.
Ball said they were planning to fly the pair as a special act in a series of upcoming shows, slated for later this year and into next.
It's unclear whether Smith's aircraft, which represents only part of his collection, will remain in Tyler.
“He was really just, in a lot of ways, just starting in the Tyler community,” Ball said. “He's brought his airplanes to HAMM so people could see and touch and feel a piece of history themselves. They can see it up close, not just in a picture … they (museum) are getting a flying piece of history.”
Smith held credentials as both a private and commercial pilot.
Carolyn Verver, museum board president, said Smith and Ball are the only two air show performers with membership in the nonprofit organization.
The group recently extended an offer to Smith to serve on the board for a three-year term, starting next year, Ms. Verver said, describing his death as “devastating.”
Ms. Verver said Smith joined the museum shortly after walking in the door — he and his girlfriend had stopped in Tyler to fuel up in the same L-29 he was piloting Saturday.
He walked in the door and after seeing what the museum offered, handed over a check to become a lifetime member of the museum, she said.
“Glenn was such an immaculate person and he was very particular with his planes,” Ms. Verver said. “When he did something, he did it right, in everything he did.”
Commemorative Air Force B-29 pilot David Oliver, 30, has been manning new and vintage aircraft since he was 8, perched alongside his father, also a pilot.
He said Tuesday that many restored vintage flyers are safer and better cared for than some modern aircraft.
“I'd say they are just as reliable as new aircraft,” he said. “They are rubbed on and loved on more than any new aircraft out there, and they were built with a different type of thinking involved.”
Older planes were built for longevity and durability, and most restored aircraft have received hundreds of hours of care before they return to the skies, Oliver said.
At the time of his death, Smith was performing with the Hoppers, a group of private pilots dedicated to educating the public about jet war planes.
A statement posted on the Hoppers' website describes Smith, by his nickname, as a man who loved nature, travel, scuba and airplanes.
“'Skids' was a careful and very accomplished pilot and was rated in a variety of airplanes,” the website states. “He left us too early and we will miss him.”
Smith and two other aviators embarked on a 35-day around the world flight in 2010 to help raise money for the charity, records show.