As editor and publisher of Professional Pilot, Murray Smith has a simple formula. He says the magazine just puts its focus “more on people than it does on airplanes.”
“When I started flying, you had to let the airplane spin, and then you had to roll it out on a point,” he said. “When you did the spins, you had to wear a parachute. The rest of the time, you didn’t. I remember my instructor saying, ‘Murray, I know you just love these airplanes, but don’t get so attached that you ride it all the way down, because this airplane’s a machine; it has no brain. It’s people that make it fly.'”
That’s when Smith began looking at “who” the people in the cockpit are. Today, he has managed to combine his love of writing and aviation in one of the most popular aviation magazines in the country.
Smith, who was born in Chicago and grew up in Waukegan, Ill., attended Lake Forest College and later, the University of Illinois School of Journalism, where he received a BS in journalism. After graduating, he worked for the Leo Burnett Advertising Agency for about a year before applying for the Navy.
He entered the military in 1958 and wound up working as a technical journalist.
Part of his job was evaluating systems, including autopilots, flight directors, deicing boots and weather radar. He realized that three groups of people would benefit from the reports—the military, which had to fly in all types of weather, airlines, and a growing group of corporate pilots. That realization gave him the idea for a magazine.
“While I was flying over the water inside a Navy patrol airplane, I dummied up a magazine called Corporate Pilot,” he recalled.
Smith thought he was on his way to Navy flight training at Pensacola after passing the flight physical, but a commander under Admiral Nimitz invited him to join the Navy Chief of Information Office at the Pentagon, and he did that instead. He didn’t waiver, though, from the decision of creating a magazine, and the first issue of Professional Pilot was published in January 1967.
Smith, who presently owns a Baron, a Saratoga and a Sundowner, is a certified flight instructor and the only publisher he knows of in this field with a valid ATP. He believes he spends more time with chief pilots and flight departments then any of his competition. That’s been true since the early days of his magazine, when he began mentioning that he was available to fly in the right seat.
Smith has three editorial canons: “accuracy ahead of speed,” “advertising follows readership,” and “people are more important than machines.” His gusto for aviation and talent for writing has given him a very satisfying life.
“I live well, and I fly around in my airplanes,” Smith said. “I made this little book here. I do this little corner, this little niche industry. I like the competition. I like going to NBAA, or going to see the advertisers or the editorial people. It’s a lot of fun. I love what I do here.”