Robert L. (Lee) Smith

Year Inducted: 1993

Year Of Birth: 1907

Year Of Death: 1989

Robert (Lee) Smith – identical twin brother to Les Smith, was born in Primghar, (Sanborn) , Iowa. He came with his family to St. Cloud, MN, then to the Twin Cities where he attended South High School.

He soloed in a Jenny the same year he graduated. Lee, like his twin brother, flew with Midwest Air Transport at Madison, WI, selling airplanes, travel, and flight instruction. He took a job as Chief Pilot for a company at Hibbing, MN. He and Les bought a surplus Jenny and their older brother, Chad Smith, taught them to fly. Lee was the second Smith brother to be hired by Northwest Airways in 1929. Chad had been hired in 1926 and, twin Les, would be hired in 1930. As the eighth hire by Northwest, Lee began his career flying the open-cockpit Waco. He learned to fly on instruments and became the first Northwest pilot to secure an Instrument rating. In August, 1929 he began flying the night airmail from Chicago to Minneapolis, and kept the run for three years because the pay was more than for daytime flights.

During WWII Lee worked as the Superintendent and Operations Manager of the Eastern Regional Office of Northwest Airlines, managing the domestic routes from New York to Billings, MT and military supply routes from New York to Shemya, AK. While at Northwest, Lee was also one of the organizers of the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) which lobbied for safer working conditions and flight crew benefits. Lee retired with over 33,000 hours in his log book, over three and three-quarters of a year in the air!