By SCOTT JOHNSON
LOCK HAVEN - This "doctor" is still making house calls.
Clyde ‘Skip’ Smith has been enshrined
by peers in the aviation hall of fame
The difference is, local resident and Clinton County native Clyde "The Cub Doctor" Smith Jr. and his house calls have earned him national recognition.
Smith, who is affectionately known by family and friends as "Skip," is among the latest inductees into the Vintage Aircraft Association Hall of Fame in the famous aviation community of Oshkosh, Wis.
Oshkosh is home to one of the world's largest aviation shows, the AirVenture put on by the Experimental Aircraft Association.
For years, Smith has worked to keep the name of Piper Aircraft alive, restoring Piper Cubs and spreading the word - the history - of the famed model of airplanes throughout the nation and world.
"Way back in the mid 1980s, a guy was joking with me that I was looking at an airplane much like a house call after Piper left here," he said. "I went out to Illinois to look at his plane and he was teasing me about making house calls. That's when I was made 'The Cub Doctor.'"
The Piper Cub has been life-long affair for "Skip" Smith, as his father, Clyde Smith Sr., took his first lesson in a Piper airplane back in 1940 when Piper was headquartered in Lock Haven. He was then hired in March of 1941 at Piper as a final assembly inspector, and was hardly settled into Lock Haven, when he received his private flying license in August of 1941. He later moved into Piper's engineering department and became the chief experimental test pilot in 1943.
"He never forced aviation on me," Smith said. "During my high school years, back in the 1950s, he would come down to Piper in the evenings to finish up some paperwork, and I would go down there with him and do my homework.
"I can still remember the shine and the smell of brand-new airplanes on the way into his office. It was just a quiet place to do work or to do homework."
Later in his high school career, he would go out to Piper weekends and meet up with a group of engineers who owned a glider, and would take Smith out for rides occasionally.
Obviously, the love of airplanes was entrenched into his life, and he would make it his life-long passion.
He went to Lock Haven University for one year before transferring to the former Williamsport Area Community College to take up aviation maintenance, graduating in 1968.
"Within three weeks after graduating, I was hired by Piper in the engineering department," Clyde said, noting both he and his father worked in the same floor from June of 1968 until Piper closed its Lock Haven operations in August of 1984.
When asked why he didn't move to Florida for Piper's operations there, Clyde quickly responded: "I don't like Florida."
But after doing various other jobs in Clinton County, Piper called Smith back in 1988 and offered him a job to head an experimental project to produce airplane kits for aviation enthusiasts to build at their own homes.
At that time, Stuart Millar, a former World War II fighter pilot, purchased Piper and wanted to put Piper Cubs back into production.
THE CUB DOCTOR
"As word got out, some people knew me, as I was known as 'The Cub Doctor' in 1984, and he (Millar) wanted to know my interest," said Smith, the oldest of four children of Clyde Sr. and Evelyn Smith.
Millar's vision was to bring back the Super Cubs, one model as a turnkey unit, assembled at the plant, and one in a kit form, where the owners would assemble the planes.
"I was a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association and I was very familiar with kit-built airplanes," Smith said. "I went down there for three days and I talked to him (Millar) and he told me about the kit. Nobody had tried it before.
"He made me an offer I couldn't refuse," he continued. "I was the manager of the Cub Kit Program, and there were four or five people under me. We created the kit and I wrote the assembly manual."
Roger Peperell, company historian for Piper Aircraft Inc., said that is the first time he met "The Cub Doctor."
"That is where I first met him, but, unfortunately, the kit program was abandoned," Peperell said, noting the end came when Piper filed for bankruptcy two years later.
"The production chain continued through bankruptcy, but my program and other experimental programs were cut," Smith said.
He said a total of 47 kits were produced during his time at Piper in Florida, but none, unfortunately, made it out the door.
"We were so close. We had seven that were somewhat pre-packaged and then the bomb dropped," Smith said. "They were unwrapped and were made into turn-key airplanes. It's unfortunate none of them ever went out the door. I had two, three-inch notebooks on how to assemble them. I had the book done, all except for the last chapter on finishing, like covering the planes with cloth and paint."
There were, however, two prototype kit airplanes made. One was for a group of people at the Piper plant to put together on their own using the instruction manual.
"They built one airplane using my book. Once that was built, I made revisions to my book," Smith said.
That plane, registration number N587PA, was later bought by Millar. A check with the Federal Aviation Administration's plane database, that plane is now owned by Jerald D. Stansel and is housed in Fairbanks, Alaska.
"No one ever produced a kit plane that was FAA certified after it was built," Smith said. "It was unheard of at the time, and, still, no one has ever done it. That was a first, even though it fell through at the end.
"I was really excited about it. It made it nice to live in Florida."
Smith said he stayed three months in Florida before coming back to Pennsylvania in December of 1989, and started making his now famous "house calls."
"My first job was in southwest New York State. I then went to Grand Rapids, Mich., for a restoration job that took about two years. I would be there for a couple of weeks, then I would come back for a few days before going back out there."
That plane, he said, turned out to be the restored grand champion in the Antique Division at a show in Oshkosh. That would be his second award-winning entry as a previous one won the Grand Champion Classic Award in 1987 with an airplane his father helped him restore.
Later, in 1994, Smith said, he started teaching three-day service seminars for airplane enthusiasts, on the restoration and maintenance of vintage Piper airplanes. Those seminars continue to this day, with three such seminars last year, including one in Atlanta, Ga., and an annual one he conducts for employees of Univair Aircraft Corp., Aurora, Col., which makes parts for older Piper airplanes.
"Clyde goes around the country each year giving restoration and maintenance seminars to Piper aficionados. Our company hosts one of these seminars, usually sometime in September," said Mike Sellers, marketing and sales manager of Univair. "Clyde usually plans on spending a few extra days with us to allow him to go pick through our parts inventory and find the occasional odd bit or treasure that we often aren't aware of.
"Clyde is a pilot. He is also a licensed FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic. He has answered thousands and thousands of questions from aircraft owners, mechanics and even staff in our company including myself," he continued. "He has done this freely, gladly and without asking for any compensation in return. He has not only restored his own aircraft, but he has also restored or assisted in the repair or maintenance of countless aircraft around the country. As a result, he is the preeminent curator and archivist of product knowledge and history for this older family of Piper aircraft. He has no equal in the world. After selling parts for these aircraft for 35 years, I have gained considerable knowledge on these old birds, but even then, what I know pales in comparison to what Clyde knows.
A HISTORY BUFF
"Clyde is also a history buff in general, particularly a railroad buff," he continued. "During his visits with us, he usually makes a point to kick around up in our Colorado mountains, seeing the leaves of the Aspen trees change color, looking at old mining head frames, driving abandoned railroad beds and searching out railroad memorabilia in general."
Railroads are another of Smith's passions, said Todd Hunter, director of marketing for the North Shore Railroads, based in Northumberland.
"He has in interest in railroads and railroading in general," Hunter said. "He owns and operates a couple of rail 'speeder cars' and we often go on rides on various railroads together... One thing that he enjoys is flying his planes to trace out existing and former railroads and railroad grades from the air.
"I think he has a large and unsung impact in aviation history, in that his company, "Cub Restoration Services," has had no small part in keeping many planes air-worthy," he continued. "From the parts he manufacturers in his little Lock Haven shop to his travel for seminars, and his airplane inspection services, he is 'keeping them flying!'
Mark Erickson of Dakota Cub Aircraft Inc., Valley Springs, S.D., said "The Cub Doctor" has made many trips to that company to help with airplane parts since 1993.
"Clyde visited our facility in South Dakota and helped with our first aircraft parts certification effort, that was 1993!" Erickson said. "Clyde has visited South Dakota many times over the years and we spend a lot of time together at Oshkosh and Sun and Fun (fly-ins) each year. I have only missed 2 years in the last 35 years, but Clyde has a perfect record, zero misses.
"Clyde participates in several EAA maintenance forums each year and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Piper, especially the older fabric covered models," he continued. "People restoring old Pipers rely on Clyde for information and advice.
In addition, Smith makes parts for the vintage planes, "nobody else wants to make," he laughed.
"I make specific instrument panels for all the older models. I also make other specific instruments to help them get their planes flying, or to keep them flying."
That work, he said, has also lead to increased business for Keystone Instruments, which also has a shop near Smith's near Piper Memorial Airport.
Concerning the hall of fame induction, Smith said he was "overwhelmed."
"I didn't expect it," he said. "I got lots of cards and emails from people saying it was well deserved."
Those people include Sellers, who said Clyde Jr. shares many personal traits of his father. Sellers called Clyde Sr. "one of the nicest and easiest people I have ever had the privilege of knowing."
"I have known or met several individuals inducted into various aviation halls of fame around the country," he said. "Some were war heroes, aviation record holders, businessmen and innovators. Clyde certainly deserves to be in the company of these distinguished individuals, not because of any records he holds or business legacy. What Clyde has done is freely pass along his extensive knowledge and experience to promote the sport and industry of aviation to a couple of generations of the common individual owner and operator. He has done this year after year without some big splash of publicity or press but through personal contact with one person at a time."
Erickson echoed those comments.
"It was a well-deserved award and we are all proud of his accomplishments," he said.
Chuck Thomas of Fairbanks, Alaska, has had many encounters with "The Cub Doctor" over the years. And, the relationship even goes beyond that, as he noted his wife, Pat is originally from Lock Haven and rode the bus with Clyde during their school years.
"We reconnected when he came to Alaska to present one of his Piper seminars," he said. "Pat and I have lived in Alaska since 1974, but visit Lock Haven often and always see Clyde when we're in town.
"Clyde has had, and is continuing to have, a major influence on the history of Piper aircraft. His father was a well-known figure at Piper when Clyde was young and that close connection obviously had a major impact on Clyde's vast knowledge of, and interest in, various Piper models. If you want to know when a particular change was made on a Super Cub or Tri-Pacer, ask Clyde. He'll tell you what the change was, when it was made (even the month), and why the modification was instituted.
"Clyde acquired his interest in Piper and its history long ago and, very importantly, had the foresight to preserve many photos and information about the many Piper airplanes when the operations moved to Florida," Thomas continued. "He didn't do this for personal gain as this type of information doesn't really have much monetary value, but because he knew that it was important to do these things and he realized that if someone didn't do it much, valuable information would be lost forever. He personally saved much of the concrete information of those early days of the Piper Aircraft Corporation that would otherwise fade and disappear with the memories of those involved.
"Clyde Smith, in my opinion, is THE authority on Piper Cubs. I doubt that there is anyone who knows more about Piper history, or cares more about Piper history, especially the Piper Cub genre, than Clyde Smith."
It is that knowledge, Thomas said, that makes Smith "the perfect fit into the hall of fame."
"I can't think of anyone more deserving of induction into the Aviation Hall of Fame," he said. "He is knowledgeable and generous with that knowledge. He is an aviator first and foremost, a fine gentleman and is truly 'The Cub Doctor.'"
As for Smith, himself, he sees his work over his lifetime restoring Piper Cubs and maintaining their history, as more of a passion than actual work.
"I enjoy doing it," Smith said. "It's a labor of love. I'll probably continue to do it as long as I can. I don't know anything else."