‘An absolute blast.’ Oakwood native, Navy pilot shares journey of joy

Navy Lt. Cmdr. Doug Schmidt will be at CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show starting Saturday

How does a young man growing up in Oakwood become a developmental test pilot and instructor in the U.S. Navy?

Ask Doug Schmidt at this weekend’s CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show.

The Oakwood native might tell you that his journey toward landing on aircraft carriers and training U.S. Navy test pilots had its “ups and downs,” but it was nevertheless a “labor of love.”

Schmidt is a Navy lieutenant commander (an O-4, equivalent to a major in the Air Force) serving as a test pilot instructor at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in St. Mary’s County, Maryland, about 70 miles south of Washington, D.C.

He will be at the air show this weekend after flying in a T-38C trainer (which is actually an Air Force trainer, but more on that in a bit).

Lt Cmdr Eric “Turbo” Thurber and Schmidt will be near the aircraft as a “static display” at the show both days this weekend.

Schmidt’s journey started early. By the time he graduated from the Miami Valley School in 2005, the young Schmidt — now 36 — already had earned a private pilot’s license.

“It all kind of started back in high school,” he said in a phone interview. “And I just had an interest early on in tinkering and flying. Those two combined serendipitously, with test-flying being the eventual goal.”

He learned how to fly at the Moraine Air Park. “I’d be remiss without mentioning that I had an amazing flight instructor named Susan Denlinger, who encouraged me to pursue military aviation.”

Armed with the pilot’s license, Schmidt studied flight technology at Purdue, minoring in physics.

“I was one of those strange guys who eventually got into test pilots’ school without an engineering degree,” he said. “And I think that was because I took a lot of physics classes at Purdue.”

He chalks that up to more serendipity. “I didn’t even know it at the time. I had no idea I would end up as a test pilot. That was early on what set me on the path of doing more test flying than your average flying.”

At Purdue, he joined the Navy Reserve Officers Training Corps and landed an aviation pipeline selection. He soon found himself in two years of aviation training and subsequently was picked for the F-18 pipeline, in 2013. He went on to Navy Test Pilots School in 2016, a major milestone.

“It was a lot of work, but it was also doing what I wanted to do,” Schmidt said.

Why the Navy and not the Air Force? Schmidt voiced respect for the Air Force, but he said he wanted to do the most challenging thing a pilot can do, in his view — land on an aircraft carrier.

“It was as difficult as you can imagine,” he said. “It was exactly what I wanted to do, which was the most difficult thing in aviation. It was an absolute blast.”

Simulators cannot do the physical forces involved in a carrier landing justice, he said.

On take-off, a catapult sends a pilot and his fighter off a carrier at a force of about 2 to 2.5 Gs, or about 2.5 times the force of gravity, straight ahead.

“That actually is more jarring than the trap, the carrier arresting net,” he said, referring to the net that slows and stops the plane landing on the carrier’s deck.

A pilot landing on a carrier is not supposed to look at the carrier deck. He or she may inadvertently dip or lean toward the deck if they become fixated on its surface, an impulse called “deck-spotting.”

The landing gear of the jet cushions the impact, with the arresting wire stretching out, controlling deceleration.

Living in Maryland, Schmidt is studying for a master’s degree in space systems engineering at John Hopkins University.

“I landed on an aircraft carrier, so why not shoot a little bit higher,” he said. “Who knows if I’ll ever get there? Honestly, in the near term, I don’t see myself applying for an astronaut job in any way, shape or form.”

But as with those physics classes at Purdue, who knows what doors the degree may open.

“You never know when the opportunity will arise,” he said.

The T-38 C trainer you can see at the air show this weekend belongs to a Navy test pilot program. The T-38s are intriguing aircraft from a performance standpoint, he says. With updated avionics, this particular warbird dates back more than a few years, at least to the 1960s.

“The aircraft I’m bringing is actually one of the aircraft I use to teach the students,” Schmidt said.

If there are any aspiring student pilots out there, he wouldn’t mind having a word with them at the show.

“We’d be happy to talk about the path to becoming a Navy test pilot and the benefits thereafter — after all, one of our fellow graduates, Capt. Reid Wiseman, was just selected as the commander of NASA’s Artemis mission to return humans to the Moon,” Schmidt said.

Tips for attending the Air Show

If you’re planning to attend this weekend’s air show, here’s what you should know: General admission parking passes should be purchased in advance. Parking passes per car are priced at $15, and RV and bus parking is priced at $25.

The general admission parking lot is accessible from I-75 exit 64 at Northwoods Boulevard. Look for signs directing you to a new entrance to the general admission lot, at Northwoods and Engle Road. If you’re on surface streets southbound from the Tipp City area, signs should direct you to Northwoods and from there to Engle.

Air show leaders ask patrons to come early to avoid traffic headaches.

For Chalet, Flight Line Hangar and Pavilion ticket holders, parking in a lot off West National Road is included in ticket purchase, and a free shuttle to the show is provided. This lot is accessible from I-70 exit 32 at Airport Access Road. A handicap-accessible lot will be available for attendees with handicap plates or hang tags off Wright Drive accessible from I-75 exit 64 at Northwoods.

For more information on the show, visit https://daytonairshow.com/.

How to go

The CenterPoint Energy Dayton Air Show is Saturday and Sunday.

Buy tickets and general admission parking vouchers at DaytonAirShow.com. Show leaders encourage guests to buy parking vouchers before the show. They also encourage you to come early to avoid traffic problems.

Where: East side of Dayton International Airport. Take exit 64 at Northwoods Boulevard from Interstate 75. Follow signs to the new general admission parking entrance at Northwoods and Engle Road.

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