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San Joaquin Valley College Blog

Flying is in this SJVC instructor’s blood

November 28, 2013
Lionel has spent most of his life around planes, and it doesn’t look like that’ll end any time soon.

Lionel Smith is far from ordinary. He is a man with a passion, and a career capable of turning that fiery interest into useful expertise in the minds of his students.

It all began with the Navy, many years ago. A mere two days out of high school, Lionel enlisted.

“I had never even touched a plane before,” said Lionel.

During this time, he was part of the flight crew for a P-3 Orion, tasked with tracking submerged Soviet submarines. He worked with planes, but didn’t have the authorization to fix them himself. He could only inspect the aircraft, then “write the gripes”, leaving the real work of repair and maintenance to others. So, after 26 years of military service, he returned to civilian life.

He enrolled in SJVC’s Aviation Program. After spending most of his life around planes, Lionel could hardly turn his back on them. As a student, he excelled, so much so that the school sought him for employment after his graduation.

“I offered him a job the day he graduated,” said SJVC Aviation Campus Academic Dean Jason Alves. “And he took it.”

This week will mark Lionel’s 3rd year having worked as an instructor at SJVC. During such time he taught many of the things prospective mechanics would need to learn. He teaches about sheet metal, air-frame maintenance, hydraulics, avionics and instruments, all vital aspects of aviation maintenance.

After Lionel was hired, the Dean gave him two goals to work towards. The first was to attain his Private Pilot’s License. Lionel succeeded, making him the only faculty member at the SJVC Aviation campus to have one. Secondly, Alves tasked Lionel with getting the coveted Inspection Authorization.

“This is the highest honor you can get from the FAA, as a mechanic,” Alves explains.

Only 1 in 4 takers pass the grueling test. Passing allows the mechanic the exclusive privilege to conduct an aircraft’s annual inspection. Every plane needs it, but only they can provide it. After a plane undergoes major repairs, another inspection is needed, and only the Inspection Authorized can do it. Suffice it to say, Lionel passed. It took two months of studying, but it paid off. Lionel was now among that 25%, that precious few.

Such an accolade might very well be a great responsibility, but it has its perks.

“You’ll never have to worry about not having a job,” says Alves.

But Lionel has little interest in leaving the school. SJVC is like a family to him. His wife, normally a schoolteacher at Lemoore Elementary, teaches general education requirements for SJVC in the summer. Lionel’s son attended the program as well, learning the tools of the trade just as his father had. He is now employed, fixing aircraft.

But Lionel’s interest in aviation doesn’t stop with the end of the work day. A member of the Lemoore Navy Flying Club, he hones his trade on the weekends, helping maintain the club’s three planes.

Lionel simply loves working with planes.

“It’s in my blood,” he says.


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