Picture: Mike Smith

Subhead: Mike Smith, Aero Haven Flight School

Question 1: Who are you and what do you do?

I'm Mike Smith and I am the president of Aero Haven Flight School, which offers scenic tours and cargo flights, aircraft sales and rentals, and instruction for disabled as well as able-bodied student pilots.

Question 2: How did you get interested in flying?

I flew in Vietnam in 1968 as a combat pilot. In 1981, I broke my back in a crop dusting accident, but I stayed in flying. I found some guys with the International Wheelchair Aviators (IWA) who were World War II veterans and used hand controls that enable pilots with disabilities to fly without using their legs. We bought some hand controls and decided we'd go into business for ourselves. In 1989, we bought Aero Haven and started teaching people with handicaps how to fly.

Question 3: Is learning math important for a career in aeronautics?

Yes, it is, definitely. There are various things we have to do--to get off the ground we have to calculate weight and balance for the airplane, we have to calculate the takeoff distance for the airplane, whether or not the airplane will be able to climb over the obstacles in front of it and how many feet it can climb, calculate the fuel burned, calculate whether the runway is long enough--on and on with the calculations!

The easy part is doing the calculations. The hard part is leaving when everyone wants to leave, since we're an on-demand charter service. Sometimes we have to do the calculations really quick!

Question 5: Would you encourage young people to pursue careers in aeronautics? Why?

Yes, because since we haven't had wars in a long time, we're losing a lot of the pool of young people who would get interested in aviation.

Picture: Mike Smith

Question 6: What challenges have you dealt with in your career?

One of the big things is that since I'm disabled and I use a wheelchair, even though I can do everything I did before, it looks funny to the average person if I show up and let them know that I'm the pilot in command of the airplane that's taking them to their destination. The Federal Aviation Administration looks at us and says that we have to perform equally with an able-bodied person, but in my experience we usually have to perform better.

Question 7: Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Not only can people with disabilities learn to fly, they also can be flight instructors and hold pilot positions with airlines and air-taxi operations. If you have the will and you want to do it, you can do it.