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A highlight on 10 Tanker's Captain RK Smithley

Updated: Mar 27, 2021

RK’s first job fresh out of high school was in 1977, when he joined an airline ground school in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Teaching all things travel, RK learned how to be a rental car agent, hotel management, airline customer services and reservations agent. Unsure of his career path, RK went into an industry that felt most comfortable to him; his family worked as truck drivers. After trade school, he joined Allegheny Airlines’ feeder operation, Allegheny Commuter, that operated outside of Pittsburgh. As a customer service agent, RK performed many functional duties, including deicing the plane, managing freight, loading passengers and cargo and ticketing. It didn’t take RK long to realize, though, that he belonged in an airplane cockpit.

While working as a CSA, RK lived at the junior base in Johnstown with two pilots, who rented rooms from him. These pilots mentored RK and guided him to begin the journey he’s still on today. After a little more than a year with Allegheny Commuter, RK moved to Daytona Beach, FL, ultimately graduating as a commercial pilot from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 1983. From there, he began flying cargo aircraft overnight for UPS and DHL. Then, RK began flying corporate charter planes, a regular passenger included Arnold Palmer’s financial manager.

RK was hired as a direct entry captain for United Express at Washington-Dulles and in 1989, he joined World Airways as a DC-10 first officer. World Airways took RK all over the globe-from co-piloting cruise lines to sports charters for the NFL (Jacksonville’s Jaguars, and New York State's Buffalo Bills). This also included military contracts with the U.S Forces. RK flew into war zones during both gulf wars,

and Afghanistan. Eventually he ascended to the

position of Senior Director of Operations for World Airways.

After World Airways was dissolved in 2014, he was back in his corporate suit and flying sport charters. But his story didn’t end there, unhappy with where he was; he used his experience with the DC-10 to join 10 Tanker Air Carrier as a pilot. After 7 years, we’re happy to still have RK as a member of our family and are grateful for his contributions as a Captain and instructor in both the DC-10 and in the flight simulator.

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David Rosenblum
David Rosenblum
Nov 02, 2022

I remember doing MD-11 OE with RK. A real pro and a great teacher. Heard he and other World alumni were at this operation. Clear skies!


Buggs Stevens
Buggs Stevens
Aug 21, 2021

Oh Wow, Such a great little time line to your journey to becoming an AA Pilot! When did you realize you wanted to be an aerial fire fighting captain? I'm just so curious how this entire business of Air Attack became what it is today? I noticed my first AA Tanker in 2008 bc I live on top of a huge mountain..I realized very quickly that in my area our only chance we had at slowing down a fire was in the hands of a Tanker laying retardant lines..accessibility is a huge issue. Im a Camp/Dixie fire survivor!

Anyway..I truly appreciate all the hard work, time & energy that 10 Tanker VLATS and other AA tankers have done to…


Claudia Rodriguez
Claudia Rodriguez
Apr 13, 2021

Congratulations RK. Wishing you the best.

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