F/O Nicole Poague (Delta) sits in the cockpit in Shang-hai, China. Poague’s father, left, and grandfather, below, were both ALPA members.
I began flying with my dad in light aircraft when I was still small enough that my feet couldn’t reach the pedals. My dad would fly a maneuver that he called a “whipper dill roll,” and when we leveled off I’d say, “Do it again, Dad, do it again.” That’s when my parents knew I’d be the family’s next pilot.
My family’s aviation story began with my grandfather, Lane W. Smith, in 1935. He flew a Waco biplane as an aerial chauffer before becoming an airline pilot for Western Air Express, starting out flying the B-247. My grandmother, Edythe Anderson, was hired as a stewardess for the airline in 1937. Western’s main base was in Burbank, Calif., and the airline flew the BUR–LAS–SLC route and back—and along the way my grandparents met.
My grandfather was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army Air Corps when World War II started and was assigned to the ferrying division of the air transport command. He ended the war as a colonel in the Eighth Air Force and earned the Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross, and the Legion of Merit for his writings in the Flying Safety Journal. Postwar he served as chief pilot and retired from Western Airlines on the B-707 (720B) after a 35-year career.
My father, Kagel Smith, started his aviation career at eight years old flying on the jumpseat of his dad’s Western DC-4. Like me, he knew following in his father’s footsteps was exactly where he wanted to be. In 1968, West Coast, Pacific, and Bonanza merged; my dad was in Class No. 1 of the new airline Air West, soon to be Hughes Air West, Republic, and then Northwest Airlines. After his 34-year career flying the Fairchild F-27, DC-9, MD-80, and B-727, my dad retired in 2002.
By then I was on my way. I continued flying with my dad through high school, soloing our Piper Tomahawk on my 16th birthday and working my way up to the Beech-18 (C-45). One day I was following him in the Tomahawk but couldn’t keep up with the Beech-18. Pushing full power, I thought I lost him. Then I looked off my right shoulder and there he was with the gear down and flaps out in slow flight, waving hello with a grin from ear to ear. That’s when I knew I wanted to be just like my dad; he always had a way of making things happen.
I attended Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University, where the flying was career-like compared to life at home. Then my internship with Northwest Airlines started, and I was lucky enough to sit on my dad’s MD-80 jumpseat all semester.
One memorable jumpseat with my dad started on a dark and stormy night, flying MSP–GTF dodging thunderstorms and turbulence so strong it kicked off the autopilot. I tightened my seatbelt, feeling nervous and sweating, thinking, “Is this what airline pilots do? I’m scared that I can’t do this for a living.” Then I watched my dad hand fly an NDB approach and grease it like nothing phased him. That’s when I knew I was going to be the next airline pilot in the family.
After college, I flight instructed student pilots and couldn’t wait to get employed by an airline. I was hired by Scenic Airlines and flew air tours in a Twin Otter from Las Vegas, Nev., to the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, and Bryce Canyon. After six months I upgraded to captain. Then I was off to SkyWest Airlines for nearly a decade.
In 2014 I was a new hire at Delta Air Lines. It was surely meant to be, since Western and Northwest Airlines, the homes of my grandfather and dad, had merged into Delta. I’m proud to say I’ve flown the mighty Mad Dog, just like my dad; the B-737; and now the B-757/767. And I wouldn’t change a thing about my journey. We’re three generations of airline pilots and three generations of ALPA. I love every minute of today and look forward to tomorrow.
By F/O Nicole Poague (Delta)