Truman L. Smith, 86, built small airplane in his home

December 22, 2003|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Truman L. Smith, a mechanical designer who built a small aluminum airplane in the basement of his Timonium home, died Thursday of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. He was 86.

"He had this great imagination," said his son, Terry Smith of Arlington, Va. "It took him 11 years to finish it, and the first flight was in 1967 out of the Fallston Airport. The last we heard, the plane was sold twice and is now in Texas."

Born in Northampton, Pa., Mr. Smith graduated from Allentown High School in 1934 and moved to Baltimore, where he began working as an assembler for the Glenn L. Martin aircraft company in Middle River.

He attended the Johns Hopkins University at night, but didn't earn a degree.

"That didn't stop him because he worked for Martin, then Bendix Radio in Towson and finally for Westinghouse, and he always had ideas jumping around in his head. He worked on some important projects," his son said. He retired in 1982.

Mr. Smith earned his pilot's license in 1939 while at the Martin plant and flew rented aircraft on weekends until he realized that owning a plane would be more economical. So he purchased an airplane kit from a California firm and started assembling it in the basement of his home in the 1900 block of York Road.

"Dad's hobby never bothered Mom, the laundry routine or such, but he pretty much took over the basement," his son said.

The plane, called a Honey-bee, was made of aluminum. Mr. Smith drafted plans for the plane to fit in his confined shop and then hammered the metal to fit over wooden frames.

"One day a snowstorm canceled school, so me and my brother had to help Dad hand-rivet his work. ... It was kind of fun," his son said. "Dad had a metal lathe, a drill press, everything he needed to build."

There were thousands of rivets, each driven with a hammer and rivet-set, he said.

The family helped carry each wing, fuselage and tail assembly out of the basement to the carport, where the plane was assembled. The plane was taken to Fallston, where it took wing.

Mr. Smith flew the one-seater around the Baltimore area and occasionally to Allentown to visit his family.

"Dad was so precise that I remember carrying out the wings and plane's body and there was one-half-inch clearance getting through the door," his son said. "He was very proud of that plane."

Mr. Smith was past president of Chapter 143 of the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Mr. Smith's interests also included playing piano and organ and listening to classical music. He served for several years as a church organist and choir director at St. Paul's Methodist Church in East Baltimore.

"He was a good dad and husband," his son said. "And he was far more interesting than a lot of other grown-ups at the time."

A funeral will be held at 11 a.m. today at Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 65 years, the former Virginia R. Schmidt; another son, Todd Smith of Manassas, Va.; and four grandsons.

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