In the early 1920s, planes began using trailing banner advertisements as a way for businesses to promote their products and services more clearly and boldly. For Jonathan Smith, getting up in the air had always been a dream — but he had no idea that once he achieved his goal, flying would allow him to communicate his message more clearly.
Smith suffers from a severe stuttering disorder, which he later learned would make it impossible for him to get his pilot’s license. After reaching out to multiple flight schools in 2010, and being subsequently turned down by each one, Smith all but gave up on his aviator dreams.
“I became interested in flying as a kid, but was told time and time again that, due to my stuttering, I could never be a pilot,” Smith said. “The stuttering made it very hard for me to find a CFI that would give me a shot at learning to fly.”
Smith was told that his stutter, which impacts his speech for each syllable, would keep him from passing a check ride (which requires English fluency) and his ability to obtain the required medical certificate for private pilots.
To try to come to terms with his dream deferred, Smith took up a different flight-oriented hobby. He put his IT skills to good use by building and racing drones. Upon his move to Surprise, Arizona a couple of years ago, he started participating in drone-racing competitions.
But in 2015, his flying fantasy came roaring back. He and his girlfriend took a helicopter tour, and after the fun they had, Smith was once again filled with the determination to learn to fly.
Smith started calling different flight schools, which is when he learned about light-sport aircraft. It was possible, he was told, to earn a Sport Pilot license, which would allow him to fly LSAs without the FAA-mandated medical exam. Soon after, Smith started working on his Sport Pilot license with the Arizona Flight Training Center.
But while up in the air, Smith made an amazing observation. His debilitating stutter completely disappeared when he was flying.
“I didn’t realize it at first because I was too busy flying and learning,” Smith said. It was only after he landed that he put it all together. Smith guesses that the headset’s feedback makes his stuttering vanish.
Three months after his training began, Smith passed his check ride. His instructor, Daniel Lamb, noted that Smith’s stutter never impeded his ability to safely fly an aircraft.
Lamb said, “I think a lot of people didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. They might think somehow his speech impediment reflects his intelligence, but that’s not the case.”
And Smith didn’t stop there. In September of 2016, he became an advanced ground instructor. In January of 2017, he became a Sport Pilot Certified Flight Instructor. In fact, he’s now teaching several students at the school where he first learned to fly.
One of Smith’s students, Bobby Steidel, commented on his instructor’s natural knack for teaching, saying it’s “his greatest asset.”
Steidel went on to say, “It’s amazing because when I first met [Smith], he was stuttering, but when he gets to know a person, he doesn’t really stutter. And when we’re flying and we’re speaking into the headsets, there’s no stuttering.”
While Smith hadn’t ever planned on teaching, he loves the fact it allows him to give back. To that end, he’s trying to inspire and help others who, like him, were told they could never be pilots.
“I am giving anyone with disabilities or disorders free flights out of my pocket to encourage them to try it,” said Smith. Thus far, he’s given out 10 free flights.
“I love to see someone’s face the first time they take control of the plane,” said Smith. “It really makes everything I went through worth it.”