Heart of Louisiana: Swamp Smith

Bonnie "Swamp" Smith
Bonnie "Swamp" Smith

When Bonnie "Swamp" Smith wants to take a trip, he doesn't always hop in the family car. Sometimes his preferred mode of travel is his L-19 Bird Dog airplane. Or he has a couple of vintage Stearmans he can fly.

Smith says, "I like them, everybody hasn't got one. And one of mine here is made in 1941 and the other is made in 1942."

Those planes and a few others are parked in a hanger, across the driveway from smith's home near DeRidder in western Louisiana. Flying has been his lifelong hobby.

Smith says, "Didn't have no other hobby, didn't like to fish, don't like to hunt, never had time to play golf and so I just sort of took up airplanes."

Smith says he started flying when he was working in Libya in the 1960's, when he got tired of hearing the pilots complain about the poor flying conditions.

Smith says, "We had to make our runways out in the rough, and we were always complaining, the pilots, it was too windy, it was too dusty, it was too something. And about halfway through that project I said it ain't that hard to learn to fly."

Smith has owned as many as eight airplanes but has cut the size of his collection in half now. He's also a history buff – Smith's airplane-filled hangar is decorated with a massive mural of scenes of famous World War II air battles, from the skies over Europe to the Pacific Ocean.

And if you look at an aviation map, you will find the Swamp Smith Airport. The runway cuts across Smith's front yard. The airstrip is plenty long enough, but its 60-foot width is fenced in between two cow pastures.

Smith says, ""You know, mine is like a railroad, it's long but it's narrow."

It's also private. Smith says, "You've got to be invited here legally, you know, but I never turn no one away. A lot of people have trouble and somebody will come here if they can make it, you know. "

Over the years, Smith has hosted many of his pilot buddies at an annual Stearman fly-in. He invites his friends over for lunch and ends up with 80 to 90 planes parked on his lawn. But these days, the 77-year-old pilot takes a more leisurely approach to flying.

You can still hear the rumble of a Stearman or one of Smith's other planes flying above the treetops of rural Beauregard Parish. The tiny Swamp Smith Airport has been a part of the neighborhood for the last 30 years.

And apparently Swamp's wife doesn't mind the airplanes -- she got her pilot's license before he did.