Soaring the open sky: Webb City High School senior completes solo flights on way to becoming a pilot

Pilot Corey Thompson (left), of Jack Henry Banking in Monett, flies an Embraer Phenom 300 with his cousin, Bailey Smith, 18, of Webb City, to New Jersey in 2018. Bailey is about to complete training and testing for a private pilot license. COURTESY | SMITH FAMILY

WEBB CITY, Mo. — Bailey Smith, 18, a senior at Webb City High School, may be heavily involved in the track team and other student organizations, but he makes sure to find time to reach for the sky — at the controls of an airplane.

“When you fly, everything on the ground, all of the stresses, really don’t matter because it’s just you and the plane,” he said. “You’re alone in the air, and you can actually relax. It’s something that has been keeping me going and getting me through high school. As long as I have this, I’ll be OK.”

Smith has been working to earn his pilot’s license for the last two years at Mizzou Aviation Co. in Joplin and plans to complete his final examination next week. He’s already completed several solo flights and is soaring closer toward his dreams of becoming a private or commercial pilot.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always loved everything about aviation, how a plane works, and I just love being in the air,” said Smith. “I was about 5 years old on my first plane ride, and I remember looking out the window, looking at the wings. It just fascinated me.”

Janel Smith, his mother and an Algebra 1 teacher at Webb City High School, said many of her family members work with airplanes, including her brother and nephew.

“My brother, Kyle Sperry, is an aerospace engineer, and he probably helped spark his (Bailey's) interest in flying,” she said. “Bailey’s a good kid. He cares about his grades, and I think he has the personality to become a pilot. He’s definitely all about it.”

Smith’s cousin, Corey Thompson, is a private pilot for Jack Henry Banking in Monett, and the two flew a crew of bankers to New Jersey in 2018 on an Embraer Phenom 300, one of the world’s best-selling business jets.

Janel Smith said her son “came back from that trip, and said, ‘Oh, my gosh! That was great. This is what I want to do.' He also got a drone and has been taking pictures. He just got certified through the FAA last week on that. He’s taking that passion, too, and he’s in multimedia. He went to Ireland this summer on a mission trip and made a video of it.”

Over the summer, Smith completed his first solo flight on a four-seater Piper Warrior aircraft, similar to a Cessna. He flew to Springfield and back. He completed another solo mission last month traveling from Joplin to Kansas City.

“This was supposed to be my last long cross-country, and it’s just to build up my hours,” he said. “I knew what I was doing. I just had to put things into the airplane and follow what I’ve learned. During my first flight, I was a little bit nervous because I was going to a different airport. But from then on, I feel comfortable going anywhere else now. Once you catch on, it’s like riding a bike.”

Currently, Bailey has about 78 hours of flying time logged into his book. He’s being trained by Chad Johnson, an instructor with Mizzou Aviation. The most difficult part of flying, Bailey said, is perfecting the landing.

“No matter how many hours you have, landing will always keep you humble because some days you can have really good landings, other days you’ll have awful landings,” he said.

After completing the required final tests, he said, he plans to take his best friend up in the plane to go soaring together. He will be graduating high school in May and plans to pursue a business major at a nearby college while also pursuing his true passion — flying in the open sky.

“Gavin Gannaway (senior at Webb City) and I kind of want to go to college together and finish out our career (in flying),” he said. “Once I get my license, I plan on flying with him and see what he can do and what I can do.”

News reporter

Kimberly Barker is a news reporter for The Globe who covers Northeast Oklahoma, Southeast Kansas, as well as Carl Junction and Webb City.

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