Lucas Smith is about to enter his junior year at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado

by: PHOTO COURTESY OF LUCAS SMITH  - Lucas Smith gives a thumbs up from the cockpit during one of his familiarization rides as a sophomore at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

It was a love of flying that led 2012 Crook County High School graduate Lucas Smith to leave Prineville, but it is the upcoming rodeo and fireworks show that brings him home this week.

In the fall, Smith will enter his junior year at the U.S. Air Force Academy, located outside of Colorado Springs, Co.

“I’ve wanted to fly ever since I was a little kid,” said Smith. “It fascinates me. I just want to be up in the sky.”

Smith first experienced flight as a high school sophomore, participating in the Young Eagles program under the direction of Cmdr. Russ Robison.

Wanting to fly and gaining acceptance to the Air Force Academy are two different things, but Smith pursued both with the same passion.

“I took AP classes whenever possible and the SAT exams multiple times to get the best score,” said Smith. “I also went to all of U.S. Congressman Greg Walden’s town hall meetings to tell him I wanted to go to the academy when I graduated.”

Smith got the word in December of his senior year that he was on his way, even though he knew that receiving a nomination did not guarantee acceptance.

Smith appeared before the academy’s Board of Admission, which reviewed his SAT scores, high school grades, GPA, and ACT test results.

Smith, whose father is a Mill City native, moved to Prineville with his family as a fifth-grader from the San Francisco Bay area.

Smith attended Cecil Sly, before moving on to Crook County Middle School and High School, where he lettered in soccer, wrestling and baseball.

With acceptance in the academy came a mandatory six-week boot camp and a challenging freshman year.

“You go through freshman year without a lot of privileges,” Smith said with a smile. “Not until March do you earn ‘recognition’, a three-day event where you are recognized as an upperclassman, earning your ‘Props and Wings’.”

Learning to fly, academy-style, is, as Smith described it, a “trial by fire.”

“Flying is something that you either get or you don’t,” he explained. “After 10 flights as an observer in a glider, I soloed for the first time.”

Smith recalled getting towed up to altitude being the most difficult for him but, when released, found himself just flying around and having a good time.

Not until he made his initial approach for landing did it hit him that he was on his own.

“There was no one there to help me,” he laughed, “But, I did what I was taught and had a great flight.”

Before coming home this week, Smith was assigned to Shepard’s Air Force Base, where he spent two weeks meeting foreign and American officers and checking out the T6 and T38 aircraft, taking advantage of five T38 familiarization flights.

“I did get some stick time, which was amazing,” he said. “I did a loop and some rolls and some formation flying with five different instructors. It was a great experience every flight. I couldn’t wait to get back up.”

After his time in Prineville, Smith returns to the Academy in August as an element leader, having responsibility for three sophomores and three freshmen.

For Smith, it is all about obtaining a coveted pilot’s slot and training in the T38 to be assigned to the bomber and fighter pilots track.

While home, Smith admitted to being a little lost, as he is not used to determining his own day-to-day schedule.

“At the academy, every day is planned out from when you get up to when you go to bed,” said Smith. “When I came home it was weird because I don’t know what I am doing.”

He does, however, appear to know what he is doing at the academy, having earned Dean’s List status for the spring term.

For now, Smith is just happy to be home, relaxing with family and friends.

“We can choose our summer period and I chose this time as I haven’t seen the rodeo or fireworks for three years,” said Smith. “I am excited to be here.”

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