Sky is limit for Air Force Academy pilot trainee Mike Schmidt - TribPapers

Sky is limit for Air Force Academy pilot trainee Mike Schmidt

Mike Schmidt, in front, sits in a training glider he flew at the Air Force Academy.

Fletcher – Mike Schmidt made sensational split-second decisions in open field football running for Hendersonville Bearcats then Air Force Falcons, and next will make snap decisions in open-air maneuvers in military pilot training.

This potential “top gun” celebrates his 22nd birthday today/Thursday, July 9. Schmidt and 966 colleagues graduated from the Air Force Academy April 18, over a month early. Six Thunderbird F-16 jets did a flyover, as new grads hurled caps up toward the heavens.

He earned a B.S. in business management. His GPA was 3.47.

Schmidt quarterbacked the Falcons to a pivotal win at Hawaii, en route to their second-most victories (11) ever. He is the HHS Bearcat career passing yards leader, with 6,923 yards.

The 2016 HHS grad was a three-sport Bearcat star. He was born in Monroe, Mich. His elder brother Bradley and younger sister Kaylee were also esteemed HHS scholar athletes. Their parents are Scott and Kim Schmidt. Scott is an an electrical engineer. Kim teaches family consumer science in HHS.

The academy’s anti-COVID measures included switching housing from two-person dorm rooms to one-person apartments.

After graduation, 2nd Lt. Schmidt stayed in Colorado Springs, Colo. then briefly at home in Fletcher. He then reported to the 628th Air Base Wing, at the Naval-Air Force Joint Base (J.B.) Charleston. That is on Charleston, S.C.’s historic waterfront. He just finished two weeks of quarantine off base, for new arrivals. This week, he moved onto the base. He routinely wears a protective mask.

“It’s real cool to be in a new place, and see what the pilots’ livelihood is like,” he told The Tribune. “I want to serve, and give back for everything given to me.” The military is a “good personal fit, for the way I was raised. I challenge myself. This is good for my self-growth, and to help others.”

Schmidt learned time management and “prioritizing assignments,” and “communicating with and respecting senior leaders. They contribute valuable insights. You take responsibility for your actions.”

He values national defense and anti-terrorist action “outside of our nation’s borders, for making sure we’re going to be safe.”

In these tumultuous times, “it’s good to share opinions,” Schmidt said. Above all, “I hope everyone has respect for each other, and we come together.”

Fighter, Cargo Jets

Schmidt touts several fighter jets. The stealth, burly F-35 Lightning II debuted in late 2015. He eyes flying the maneuverable F-16 Fighting Falcon (a staple since 1974) or swift twin-engine F-15 Eagle (1972), A-10 Thunderbolt II (’76) fighter-bomber, and stealth F-22 Raptor (’97).

What jet he ends up flying for years is “about your performance, and timing — if that plane is available.”

Schmidt looks forward to simulator tests, then actually flying jets. Initially, he is apt to train in a C-17 Globemaster III cargo plane squadron. The C-17 debuted in ’91. The C-17 is not a sleek craft, but plays a critical support role. “We could not have won wars without the support of our cargo pilots,” Schmidt said. “I can’t wait to learn about what they do, and immerse myself in the culture of the C-17. Who knows, I might fall in love with the C-17.” He will observe, “run errands, and make the pilots’ work load less.”

His biggest thrill so far was riding in the back of a T-38 Talon two-seat, twin-jet supersonic training fighter jet during Air Force 2018 summer classes in Columbus, Miss. “It was awesome!,” Schmidt said. He managed “not to pass out,” despite “pulling a lot of G’s” in force. The T-38 (1959 debut) flew slower than supersonic that day.

Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Mike Schmidt charges in for a score, for Hendersonville Bearcats in 2015.

Game of His Life

The split-second decision-making of a fighter pilot mirrors that of an option quarterback gauging the defense at the line then in open field. “Qualities do translate well into pilot training,” he agreed. “You make a decision on the fly. Also, you watch film, correct what you did wrong, and you do it (correctly) again and again.”

Schmidt’s career highlight by far was leading Air Force to a decisive 56-26 victory at Hawaii, on Oct. 19. That was his sixth game ever. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder went in after starter Donald Hammond II and got injured on the opening drive.

“It was awesome, surreal. It was so much fun to put up many points,” Schmidt recalled. He scored four touchdowns. Smooth-throwing number 16 connected with Geraud Sanders for a 75-yard scoring play.

Schmidt rushed for three touchdowns — one a 61-yard scamper in the final quarter. His focus was to “keep my knees high, and drive” them for brisk strides. He ran for a team-most 120 yards (8.6 ypc.), in the triple-option attack. He threw for 147 yards.

His first pass was a 39-yard gain, for first and goal to go. Air Force scored on seven of ten drives. “Once we moved the ball a few times, it really got fun,” Schmidt said. “It was like in high school again. I got more encouraged.”

Schmidt said the key against Hawaii was to stay calm, and focus on executing option plays he ran “a million times in practice,” and trust teammates.

Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun called Schmidt a diligent practicer “highly respected” by teammates, who earned his big chance.

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