By Braden Hamelin
A frigid wind swept through a small crowd on a Saturday in mid-February as they stood next to the runway at the College Park Airport. They excitedly pointed to the sky as they spotted a single-engine plane piloted by Caleb Smith, who made history in November 2021 by becoming the youngest glider pilot ever licensed in the country at that time.
Smith landed safely and carefully completed his post-flight maintenance before he made his way into the airport’s aviation museum’s conference room to loud cheers.
Smith has been passionate about flying for as long as he can remember. As a young kid, he loved to sit in a window seat right behind the wing when his family flew commercial so he could look at the wing flaps. He was fascinated. When he was 10 years old, his father, Chazz Smith, took him on several flights designed to introduce him to some of the technical aspects of flying. Caleb Smith was more than enthusiastic.
“There was that drive for him that said, ‘man I wanna do this,’” Chazz Smith said.
Caleb Smith is down to earth, a humble teenager who just happens to have a true passion and talent for flying.
“I don’t let it get to my head — I just keep going, keep pursuing. It just came to be that I was the youngest glider pilot in the nation at that time,” Caleb Smith said. “And when I first heard about it, it was pretty amazing.”
Chazz Smith said he realized his son was extraordinary after having conversations with Caleb’s flight instructors, when his son was 15.
“I knew he had a skill set of becoming a good pilot. But once his senior aviators started talking to me offline about his skills, that’s when I really knew,” Chazz Smith said.
Now a junior in high school, Caleb Smith, who lives in Prince George’s County, has been training at the College Park Airport to earn his single-engine private pilot license. Indeed, he was training on that frigid Saturday when the excited crowd watched him touch down.
Despite his otherworldly skills in the sky, Caleb Smith’s speaking appearance that day was his first major presentation. College Park Aviation Museum Director Kevin Cabrera was at least as excited as the crowd that watched Caleb Smith land.
“The airport and the museum is known as the field of the first, and we call it the field of the first because you’ve had so many firsts in aviation occur out of this airfield,” Cabrera said.
Cabrea said the museum is revamping its exhibits with a focus on important people in aviation who have ties to College Park and Prince George’s County. He noted that there will be a gallery dedicated to the history of Black aviation, a history that Caleb Smith is actively contributing to with his every accomplishment.
Caleb Smith also serves as a mentor to a number of young Black kids who are interested in aviation, and two of them were at the airport that day.
“I remember my first mentee a couple of years ago was that little girl that came up, and it was a little strange for me to teach, but I liked it,” Caleb Smith said, “So I grew a passion for teaching others how to fly.”
Caleb Smith said he wants to be an example for people who want to follow his footsteps, proof of concept that dedication and passion can help you achieve your goals.
“For those [people] who don’t know what they want to do with their life. I just want to make sure and let them know that they can explore out to see different avenues and see what passions they have,” Caleb Smith said.