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The Smith family of Washington State loves to fly.

KELLY SMITH: "My grandfather, however, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Army Air Corps and he flew everything. He flew helicopters, large aircraft, fighters. And we have some pretty cool pictures of him and he's got some great stories. My grandmother and my mother were both flight attendants. My cousins fly. Everybody flies." 

Kelly Smith belongs to the third generation of Smith family pilots. Kelly is the oldest of three sisters. She flies the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft for the Air Force. Her sisters Amber and Lacey are also pilots, and have served in Afghanistan.

Lane Smith is the father of the three sisters. He has flown military fighters and other aircraft.

LANE SMITH: "I am glad I got to help them learn to fly. And I hope I'm not too old to maybe teach their kids, but I'm getting up there now."

Now retired, Lane Smith and his wife Betsy are happy about the success of their daughters. But the sisters did not always share their parents' love of flying.

KELLY SMITH: "We weren't expecting to all go into flying, let alone in the military. My middle sister was a cheerleader at University of Washington. My youngest sister wanted to be a veterinarian. And, I wanted to travel the world as an English journalism person."

In college, Kelly wrote a paper that got her interested in flying.

BETSY SMITH: "She did a paper on her grandfather, Lane Smith, because she thought he had such an interesting career in aviation, which started in the 30's. General aviation, then went to the military in World War Two, and commercial airlines then until he retired out. And, I think that really, truly peaked her very first interest in military flying."

LANE SMITH: "Amber, the number-two girl, wanted a helicopter ride when we were at an air show and it was quite interesting. And she went up on that with a fellow and just absolutely fell in love with helicopters."

Lacey says her older sister forced her to learn how to fly.

LACEY SMITH: "Kelly says, 'Lacey, you better do this or we're going straight into the river. So that's really scary when your sister says you better fly or, you know, basically we're crashing. So of course, she wouldn't let me crash, but never have your sister be a flight instructor. That's what I would say."

One by one, the sisters became military pilots after college.

KELLY SMITH: "Definitely, being in the right place at the right time, but also a real sense of wanting to do something after the destruction on 9-11. There's ... I mean everyone had a real sense of patriotic duty at that point, and myself as well. And, fortunately, that hasn't gone away." 

Patricia Murray helped to train Kelly.

PATRICIA MURPHY: "And as soon as she got on the squadron and you kind of saw how she worked, her work ethic and how energetic she was about her job, you knew that she was going to fit in well and do a fantastic job."
KELLY SMITH: "As soon as I soloed the airplane ... everybody describes it as being bitten by the aviation bug, and it's true. As soon as you're at the controls for the first time by yourself, I think I was over the radio screaming, I was so excited on my first takeoff. So that was my first, that was when I first realized, you know what, flying is for me. It's not just a pastime. It's something I really, really enjoy. I'm really, really happy both of my sisters are in it -- not too excited about them being deployed; that is really scary when you're not there. When I was deployed with Amber and we got to see each other nearly every day it helped a lot."

LACEY SMITH: "Our parents have always been very supportive of what we do and our career paths. So they've always been our backbone and our support." 

The sisters love what they are doing, but the careers can make their parents worry.

BETSY SMITH: "Well, I'm not so sure that you can quantify the worry. If I just had one kid out there flying in the military, I don't think I would be any less worried than I am with the three, or more. And, I think about all the military families there are out there in this country that know exactly what I'm talking about."

Lane has spent his whole life flying and knows how important luck is for a fighter pilot. He carried the medals his daughters gave him everywhere he goes.

LANE SMITH: "It's kind of keeping my girls close to me because each one of them gave each one of these to me. Yes, I carry them every day with me, and I always will."

I'm Bob Doughty.

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