"To fly west, my friend, is a flight we all must take for a final check."
It's with great sadness that I report the passing of one of our early members and all-around good guy, Captain Gene Smith. Gene passed away last night, June 4.
Gene earned his A & P rating at the U of I Champaign. He was employed as a mechanic for TWA at both MDW in the late 1950s and ORD during the early 1960s. His first corporate job as a pilot/mechanic was with International Minerals & Chemical (IMC) in Houston flying and maintaining an Aztec and Howard 350. Gene joined Sears at MDW in the late 1960's just in time to get a right seat checkout in the DC-3 just before Sears transitioned to an all turbine fleet. During his career at Sears, Gene rose to the Chief Pilot position. With the Sears spinoff of Dean Witter, Gene became Chief Pilot at Dean Witter, based at PWK and ultimately Dean Witter/Morgan Stanley from which he retired.
I remember Gene as a Connie trivia expert with knowledge gained while working on TWA Connies. His photographic memory could recall Connie N-numbers and fleet numbers on which he had worked along with 707 trivia gained working on the early 707's at ORD. His photographic memory applied to ALL Sears aircraft be they piston or turbine. We had quite a few discussions on all these trivia subjects and I always learned something I hadn't know before our discussion.
I remember Gene telling us at one of our meetings that when he was working at MDW for TWA, one of the TWA fuelers always carried a camera with him and always took pictures during his shift. Gene said if we could ever find Charlie Feigel - the fueler, we would have a treasure trove of MDW photos taken during the late 1950s. At a subsequent meeting, I remember Gene almost choking on his soup at the Kerry Piper when he looked up as Charlie Feigel walked into the Kerry Piper with Bob Jesko to attend our meeting. And yes, Gene was right, Charlie's photos provided us an irreplaceable photographic history of all the airlines serving MDW in its 'heyday' of the late 1950s. These photos captured not only all the majors airlines, but the non-skeds and international carriers too including the first Caravelle, a Varig, which diverted from ORD on a demo flight.
Gene will be greatly missed but not forgotten. May you have clear skies and smooth air on your Flight West Capt. Smith.
Until we meet again, Bob Russo President -- The Midway Historians