About Wilbur L. Smith and his Termite

Wilbur Louis Smith was an aviation pioneer, inventor, aircraft builder/restorer, mentor and founding member of two Illinois EAA Chapters. He earned his private pilot license in 1939 and in 1942 enlisted in the Army Air Corp. Being 28, he was deemed too old to fly overseas, so he was commissioned to train younger men. At the end of the war, he returned home to Bloomington, Illinois.

A retail store manager by trade, his hobby was designing and building aircraft. He was a master woodworker. He had helped his friends build a Pietenpol Sky Scout, so it was natural that once Paul Poberezny founded the Experimental Aircraft Association in 1953, Smith would become involved.
Smith designed and built his first his first experimental all wood aircraft in the family basement. He later flew his airplane to EAA events in Milwaukee to share his woodworking skills with others. He regularly attended the national EAA events, volunteering and sharing his knowledge of aircraft design and construction at member seminars. The aircraft that Smith designed became known as the Smith Termite. Smith sold plans for the Termite, and built wing and tail assemblies for it as well. These items were sold mostly to other EAA members through his small company, "Wilbur Smith's Termite Aircraft". The original Termite is on display at the Oregon Space Museum in Eugene Oregon.

In 1956 Smith, along with other aviation friends, felt a need to establish a local EAA chapter. In March of 1957, EAA Chapter 29 based in Champaign, Illinois was approved. Smith was a charter member, and later served as president of the chapter. As a founding member, he also served as a lead volunteer with the chapter events including pancake breakfasts, fly-ins and fly-outs. When there was a chapter event, Smith was there to help. From 1959 until the late 1990's Smith volunteered each year to help with planning, setup, fly-in activity and seminars at EAA Air Venture.
Many of the EAA chapter 29 members lived in Bloomington and regularly traveled to Champaign for chapter events and meetings. In 1962, Smith and others from the Bloomington area fulfilled EAA requirements to start a Bloomington EAA chapter. It was designated as EAA Chapter 129. Smith was their first president and served in all leadership positions over the next 40 years.

In the 1980's Smith, along with Marion McClure, Bob Ryburn and fellow EAA members volunteered their time and expertise to restore the Tilbury Flash Midget Air Racer that had been owned by Art Carnahan. The Flash was designed by Owen Tilbury, a Bloomington Engineer, and with Art Carnahan flying it, took second place in the 1933 Chicago American Air Races. The aircraft was later found stored in a barn in McLean County. Smith was selected to restore the wings because of his expertise in woodworking. The beautifully restored Tilbury Flash now hangs from the ceiling of the terminal building at Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington.

The Illinois Aviation Hall of Fame honors the memory of Wilbur Louis Smith for exemplifying the spirit of the EAA by designing, building and restoring aircraft, sharing his skills and mentoring others, and supporting aviation events both locally and nationally.

I am honored to be entrusted by his family to be the caretaker of this "forgotten" design- Steve Speidel