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MTANG pilot first to train for unit's new mission

A C-130 Hercules transport aircraft assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard taxis toward F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft parked on the ramp of the 120th Fighter Wing on June 1, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

A C-130 Hercules transport aircraft assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard taxis toward F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft parked on the ramp of the 120th Fighter Wing on June 1, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

A C-130 Hercules assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard takes off from the runway at the Great Falls International Airport on June 1, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

A C-130 Hercules assigned to the Kentucky Air National Guard takes off from the runway at the Great Falls International Airport on June 1, 2012. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- The first pilot selected to train for the Montana Air National Guard's new aircraft mission is preparing to leave to begin his training later this summer. Lt. Col. Scott Smith, 120th Fighter Wing chief of safety, will be the first of MTANG's F-15 Eagle fighter pilots to undergo the intensive seven-month C-130 Hercules transport aircraft training provided at Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.

Smith enlisted into the Air Force as a senior at Cascade High School in 1990. His first job in the unit upon completing Air Force basic military training and technical training was serving as an F-16A Falcon fighter aircraft crew chief.

He continued his service as a traditional Guardsman participating in weekend unit training assemblies while studying for his undergraduate degree at Montana State University in Bozeman, Mont.

"I've always wanted to fly ever since I was a little kid," said Smith. "I had been around airplanes for so long and it was a goal that I wanted. I saw an opportunity to help pay for college and be around the airplanes and that was the route I took."

After graduating from MSU in 1994, Smith accepted a full-time position working as a crew chief for the 120th FW detachment located at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, Ariz.

His fascination with aviation led him to apply for and be accepted into fighter pilot training and become a commissioned officer in 1997.

This isn't the first aircraft conversion the MTANG veteran has experienced during his 23 years of service. Smith is qualified to fly the F-16 A/B and C/D models as well as the F-15 C/D model aircraft.

He feels fortunate to have been able to have flown fighter aircraft and now to continue his career as a C-130 transport aircraft pilot.

"My story isn't nearly as good as some of the Navy pilots who have been in our unit and flown many different aircraft," Smith said. "I feel lucky enough to have flown two of arguably the greatest fighters ever built, and now into arguably the greatest transport airplanes ever built."

But there are few similarities between the fighter aircraft he's used to flying and the transport aircraft he will be training on in Arkansas. Four turbo-prop engines of a C-130 will replace the two jet engines the fighter pilots are used to operating while flying the F-15.

"The speeds we'll fly are completely different, the altitudes we fly are completely different and the missions we'll do are completely different, so it is about as opposite of what we do now as you can get," Smith said.

The aircraft conversion will include lengthy schooling and time away from family. Smith had words of encouragement for unit personnel concerned about the stress involved in completing the aircraft conversion.

"You have to look past today and look at tomorrow to see how this aircraft conversion benefits our state, the Wing, and our Airmen," Smith said. "It's very hard on the individual and their family, but the biggest thing is you've got to look at the light at the end of the tunnel. There will be some great opportunities and it will open up some incredible avenues for people that weren't there for our last mission. It's a great thing for us to be a part of."
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