In November 1927, General Smith entered the Air Corps Primary Flying School at Brooks Field, Texas, and the following July transferred to the Air Corps Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas. He graduated in October 1928 and was assigned to the 40th School Squadron at Kelly Field. In December 1928, he went to the Philippine Islands to join the 66th Service Squadron at Camp Nichols, and the next month transferred to the Army Air Corps.
In March 1931, General Smith was assigned to Brooks Field as post education and recreation officer. In October 1941, he moved to Kelly Field as education and recreation officer, and in July 1932 assumed command of the Flying Cadet Detachment at the Air Corps Advanced Flying School. From March to May 1934, he served as a pilot with the Army Air Corps Mail Operations at Salt Lake City, Utah, after which he returned to Kelly Field as an instructor at the Air Corps Advanced Flying School. He was named flight commander of the 42d Bombardment Squadron at Kelly Field in February 1935.
General Smith entered the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama, in August 1936, and graduated the following June. He then moved to Mitchel Field, New York, as a student officer at the Group Navigation School. After completing the course in November 1937, he remained at Mitchel Field as operations officer of the Ninth Bombardment Group. In September 1938, he entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Upon graduation in June 1939, he resumed his duties as operations officer of the Ninth Bombardment Group at Mitchel Field.
From July 1940 to March 1942, General Smith served at Langley Field, Virginia, and Boiling Field, DC, as assistant to the assistant chief of staff for operations at General Headquarters Air Corps and later as assistant to the assistant chief of staff for operations of the Air Corps Combat Command. His next assignment was to the Strategy Section in the Operations Division of the War Department General Staff. In April 1943, he was made Senior Air Force Member of the Joint War Plans Committee, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and in January 1944, became commander of the Third Air Force at Tampa, Florida.
In January 1945, General Smith joined the 20th Bomber Command in India, and the following March was appointed it’s chief of staff. In August 1945, he became deputy chief of staff of the Eighth Air Force in that theater.
General Smith, in October 1945, was appointed assistant chief of air staff for plans at Air Corps headquarters. In November 1945, he became chief of staff of the Air University at Maxwell Field, Alabama, and the following July was named deputy commanding general of the Air University. In August 1946, he became commandant of the Air Tactical School at Tyndall Field, Florida.
In August 1947, General Smith assumed command of the Wiesbaden Military Post, and in November 1947 he was appointed as Headquarters Commandant of the Air Force in Europe, stationed at Weisbaden, Germany. While serving in that capacity in June 1948, he organized and commanded the Berlin Airlift in it’s formative stage, for which he was awarded the “oak leaf” cluster to a Legion of Merit.
A year later, in January 1949, General Smith was assigned as Chief of the Plans Division at USAF Headquarters in Washington, DC. The following August, he was appointed Deputy Director of Plans and Operations, Headquarters USAF, with additional duty as the Air Force member of the Joint Strategic Plans Committee for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In July 1950, the Directorate of Plans and Operations was split into two directorates, and General Smith became Director of Plans. He was appointed Director of Plans in 1951.
General Smith assumed command of the Military Air Transport Service (MATS) on 15 November, 1951, headquartered at Andrews AFB, Maryland. He had the distinction of having served as commander of that organization longer than any other individual, retiring from the position and the USAF on 29 June 1958. Under his direction, MATS achieved several notable successes. His personal crusade involved efforts to increase the command’s flight safety record, which dropped by 75 percent during his tenure. He was also instrumental in the preparation of DoD Directive 5160.2, 7 December 1956, which designated MATS as the Single Manager operating Agency for Airlift Services.
General Smith had been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with one oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star Medal, and various other service decorations. He was rated a command pilot, combat observer, aircraft observer, and technical observer. General Smith passed away on May 19, 1993.
Safety Advocate and Innovator
General Smith served for 35 years as an officer of the Army, the Army Air Forces, and the United States Air Force. He was intimately involved in airlift during only his last ten years of service, but his contributions to airlift have been both extensive and decisive. General Smith was the first commander of the Berlin Airlift Task Force, beginning the operation on 26 June 1948 and commanding it during the critical first month so many decisions affecting it’s ultimate effectiveness were made. For instance, General Smith set up management and maintenance procedures providing for daily operation of 65 percent of his assigned aircraft. This level of activity allowed the proper airlift flow for the C-47 and C-54 aircraft at his disposal, based upon the demanding requirement to haul 4,500 tons of cargo to Berlin each day. Next, he established a pattern of one-way operations through the three corridors, with aircraft flow set at five different altitudes. The first plane flew at 5,000 feet, each succeeding aircraft departed three minutes later and flew 500 feet higher than the previous one, up to 7,000 feet. The pattern was then repeated; all transports at the same altitude flew 15 minutes apart, but airplanes at all levels then converged on Berlin at a rate of one every three minutes. This optimum working rhythm required that the takeoff and landing times of all aircraft be precise.
General Smith assumed command on 15 November 1951 of the Military Air Transport Service, the immediate predecessor of the Military Airlift Command. He still has the distinction of having commanded this organization longer than anyone else, finally leaving MATS upon his retirement on 30 June 1958. During his tenure as MATS commander, he was responsible for several developments of lasting significance to military airlift. He expanded and refined the MATS route structure, extending it throughout the world as never before. He was especially effective at increasing MATS efficiency by adding aerial ports and organic airlift capability at key installations: McGuire AFB, New Jersey; Dover AFB, Delaware; and Charleston AFB, South Carolina. General Smith materially improved the safety record of MATS , lowering the Class A mishap rate from 16 per 1,000 hours of flying in 1951 to 3.65 per 1,000 hours of operation in 1958. This is so significant a downward trend that General Smith emphasized it in his USAF official oral history. He was also instrumental in modernizing and using more efficiently the MATS system of terminals. Innovations such as materials handling equipment were added to the MATS system during his command. Under his direction MATS was appointed by DoD Directive 5160.2 on 7 December 1956 as the Single Manager Operating Agency for Airlift Services, it began the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) in 1951, and implemented the Airlift Service Industrial Fund (ASIF) in 1958. MATS also acquired a portion of the combat cargo and airborne operations mission in 1958 under General Smith’s leadership. Finally, General Smith directed MATS during several critical operational activities: the airlift to support the Korean War (1951-1953); transportation of French Legionnaires from Saigon, South Vietnam, following French withdrawal (1954); airlift in response to the Suez Crisis (1956); and movement of Hungarian refugees fleeing the country following a Soviet invasion (1956-1957).