New manager settling in at Freeman Municipal Airport

Since he was 8, Colin Smith knew he wanted airports to be part of his life when he grew up.

That dream was realized when he accepted the position of manager at Freeman Municipal Airport in Seymour a few weeks ago.

The 22-year-old Holland native recently moved to Seymour for the job, which officially began Oct. 26.

Smith is a 2018 graduate of Southridge High School in Huntingburg, just 15 minutes away from his hometown of Holland, where he moved from to come to Seymour.

“Holland is a really small town where everybody knows everybody, so that’s important because you’re able to have those types of relationships, and that’s were I was born and raised,” Smith said. “I currently live in Seymour, and the move went perfectly and I’ve settled really well.”

He is a double major in aviation management and unmanned systems graduate of Indiana State University in Terre Haute. He graduated in May of this year.

“My main focus in college was aviation management, and then I was referenced by a teacher of mine to alter a double major there so I’d have a better chance of fulfilling within the aviation industry,” Smith said. “So I ended up majoring in unmanned systems, as well, because I’ve always been interested in drones.”

This summer, Huntingburg Regional Airport was home to Smith as he was an intern there and worked hand in hand with the airport staff.

Smith applied for the mentorship/internship program in April 2022 to experience the airport’s daily operations and gain practical hands-on knowledge.

Huntingburg has an established Career Technical Education STEM program partnership through Patoka Valley Career and Technical Cooperative, where regional high school students can participate in the internship designed to introduce candidates to aviation career opportunities.

The STEM program was created while Smith was attending college, so the aviation program wasn’t offered when he was in high school.

“During the time I was at Huntingburg Regional Airport, I was able to help and mentor high school students from around the county at the airport during my internship,” Smith said. “My internship was completed in October.”

He said he worked in all aspects of airport operations with airport Manager Travis McQueen and airport technician Andy Kippenbrock. Smith also fulfilled tasks for Steve Oser, administrative assistant, on all airport projects.

Smith said being involved in all of the operations gave him the experience necessary for coming into a position like he has now, so he is very thankful for that.

McQueen said Smith did everything they do there, including small things overlooked by college graduates, like cleaning restrooms and push mowing grass.

“He showed progressive leadership by getting those jobs done and single-handedly responded to a disabled jet aircraft at another airport (Orange County),” McQueen said. “He helped get it back in the air by applying his newfound experiences and skills.”

Kippenbrock, a 19-year veteran airport employee in Huntingburg, walked Smith through various learning experiences at the airport.

The excitement around Smith, who spent the summer job shadowing all aspects of managing a general aviation airport, makes for a great career pathway launched from Huntingburg, said Jim Hunsicker, board president of the Dubois County Airport Authority.

After a statewide search, gaining on-the-job training and receiving written recommendations from INDOT Manager Martin Blake and McQueen, the Seymour Airport Authority board hired Smith as the new Seymour airport manager.

Working in an airport environment has been Smith’s dream job since childhood.

“When I was living in my hometown, I would see jets fly over our house all the time because we lived close to the airport,” Smith said. “But what mainly drove me to the opportunity to getting into the aviation industry was when I was 8 years old in a baseball tournament down in Louisville.”

He said after the baseball tournament, his parents drove him to an airshow called Thunder Over the Ohio.

“So that airshow over the Ohio River actually was the deciding factor of what I wanted my career to be,” Smith said. “Seeing the amazing aircraft and jets flying over us, I looked at my parents and said, ‘That’s what I want to do for the rest of my life,’ so I was was very blessed to understand what I wanted to do at a young age.”

Smith knew he wanted to be in aviation but didn’t realize until high school that he didn’t want to fly professionally, so he focused his efforts on aviation management.

“Being a private pilot is one of my main goals as long as it doesn’t take my focus off of Freeman Field,” he said.

Smith started taking flying lessons at Huntingburg Regional Airport in May after college. He is an advanced student pilot, working on receiving his private pilot certificate, which he has put on hold temporarily to focus on the operation of Freeman Field.

He said all of the airport authority board members and airport staff are phenomenal and the support has been amazing.

“The support of a community where everyone knows everyone is beyond compare,” Smith said.

Outside of airports and flying, Smith said he likes to stay active and likes all sporting events, including softball and volleyball tournaments in the community.

“I feel community involvement is very important, and when you stay busy, you stay out of trouble. That’s what my parents taught me,” he said. “I also plan to meet as many people as I can because I’m very sociable and don’t know many people here yet.”

With no family around this area, Smith is extremely thankful for the hospitality everyone has been showing him.

“I always participated in church events back home, and I was involved in KIC (Kids in Christ), where we help out the younger generation through our church,” he said.

Smith said he plans to make Seymour his home, and home is where the heart is.

“This completely includes the next level of Freeman Municipal Airport because we’re able to complete projects and advance,” he said. “But I know these are big shoes to fill with the culture of this area and the airport, and I plan to do everything I can to fill those shoes.”