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Fri, Sep 05, 2003

R.I.P. Frank Kingston Smith

'Weekend Pilot' Now Borne on Better Wings

Frank Kingston Smith passed away Wednesday morning. He was 84.

He worked with Naval Intelligence, and was on a PT boat crew in WWII; later he became a successful attorney in Philadelphia. He married Marianne Hiller, and they had three sons... all pilots.

Mr. Smith, though, is best-known for a hobby of his that got out of hand: flying. He started taking flying lessons in 1955. Two years later, he wrote the first of his many aviation books: Weekend Pilot introduced thousands to the pure joy of flying, and started many a career. When he moved up to high-performance aircraft, he wrote about that, too: Flights of Fancy let thousands more see the challenge of faster flying through Frank's eyes, and through his talented typewriter. Two years later, his third book, I'd Rather Be Flying, chronicled his getting the coveted multi-engine ticket.

In 1965, Mr. Smith went to Washington, as the elected Executive Director of the National Aviation Trades Association (NATA).

He stayed active in law, and co-founded the Lawyer Pilots Bar Association, in 1959. In the '60s, he started writing for Flying Magazine; and several years later, in the 1970s, he became a regular in the pages of AOPA Pilot. By the late 1970s, he was writing for EAA's Sport Aviation.

ANN talked with Frank Kingston Smith, the son.

The younger man of the famous name, himself famous in aviation as "One FINE Announcer," was doing just that -- announcing -- back on the circuit, after just a day to mourn. His schedule, his wife Linda told us, "hasn't given him time to grieve."

Frank was wrung-out, but committed; the show must go on. "I'm OK; I'm at NAS Oceana doing a show," he told us during a brief break. That schedule won't let up: "Next week, I'll be at Reno."

Middle brother Doug, a VP of Bombardier Business Aircraft, has a similarly-trying schedule. "He's in Vero Beach (FL -- the senior Smiths' home) right now, but he's about to have to go to England," Frank noted.

No "Senior" and "Junior"

Frank told us that his Dad didn't want to use the title, 'senior.' "'Fearless' said he's be damned if he'd ever use 'senior,' because it made him sound old," Frank (junior) said. "I used 'junior' on just one job. I dropped the 'junior' when I went to New York, in 1971." The confusion that lack of formal differentiation sometimes caused, hasn't stopped. Right up to this week, he said, "We still got each other's mail. ...Until two days ago, there were just two Frank Kingston Smiths in the country, according to the IRS." Frank reflected, his sense of humor bouying a tired body: "Now I'll probably get twice the mail from them..."

Linda added that she sometimes got caught up in the confusion, too. "We [she and her husband, the younger Frank] would be at an airshow, and someone would always ask Frank to sign a book... one of his father's books." The influence of Frank (senior) and his writing was always part of any airshow crowd. "'He's the one who got me flying.' We heard that all the time," she said.

Youngest son Greg, is retired, and himself is a pilot -- with two daughters and a grandson.

Frank Kingston Smith didn't stop writing in the 1970s.

He wrote a historical account of Harold Pitcairn, Legacy of Wings, in 1981; he also wrote another historical book that year: Aviation and Pennsylvania. Then, in 1982, Random House assembled a compendium of Frank's first three books, and issued Weekend Wings.

A member of AOPA and the Quiet Birdmen, Smith was also a goodwill ambassador for Piper during the late 1980s, sharing his enthusiasm with civic groups and spellbound children all over the country. In 1997, he received aviation journalism's prestigious Max Karant Lifetime Achievement Award from the AOPA; and in 1999, he was awarded the Elder Statesman Aviation Award from the National Aeronautic Association, "for his significant contributions to aviation."  His passing has left a hole in the soul of aviation, that will long in healing.

A private service is planned.

Note: As a young aviation writer who had read much of what he'd done, Frank was an idol of mine. Shortly after meeting the man, he befriended me and became a constant source of encouragement, guidance, insight, advice and great humor. Frank was an overly generous soul who was innately kind, always fair and talented beyond measure. I will SO miss this man... a true giant in accomplishment, but always "one of the guys" in every face to face meeting we ever had. Aviation has lost an amazing presence and a powerful advocate... and I have lost a valued friend. God bless you, Frank... -- Jim Campbell, ANN Editor-In-Chief


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