Our many RAF supporters have such vast and varied experience, and we’re capturing some of their words of wisdom to share with you. This month’s guest editorial is by Todd Simmons, the President of Customer Experience at Cirrus Aircraft, and the Vice President of the RAF.

Give me a sign …

In a world of non-stop stimuli, streaming anything and near limitless ‘information’, it can pay to take a step back from it all to find real direction and guidance in our lives. Those influences often can come from people we are close to, especially when a) we look carefully; and b) their life experiences have shaped them in significant ways.

Let me briefly share with you how three particular folks have been an important part of my life and how the way they lived their lives and their accomplishments have shaped and inspired my thinking about The RAF and our purpose. 

I am very fortunate to come from a family, generations, of aviators. This is a photo of my grandad, Oliver Walton Simmons, taken in front of his Stearman trainer when he was only 22 years old. While later in life he was far too humble to have considered himself part of “the Greatest Generation”, that is exactly what he was for aviation and more. He flew the B-26 closer to the end of WWII and later privately for business in Georgia. He passed his love of aviation on to all three of his sons: Bill – a naval aviator, Bob – an aerospace engineer; and John (my dad) – a flight medic in the Army. They all did the same for their families and the legacy continues today to its fourth generation with my son Clay.

Next is my close friend Jeff Smith…on the far right in this photo as we flew the backcountry together at the end of Summer just a few weeks ago. Jeff is instrument-rated, tailwheel, two-time airplane builder (RV and Carbon Cub), EAA chapter vice president; and in addition to all that he’s the most recent director of world’s premier research institution, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in East TN.

There he led more than 6,000 of the world’s foremost scientists, engineers, researchers, and staff; oversaw the Enterprise Frontier, the world’s first and fastest exascale supercomputer; and two of the world’s most powerful sources of neutrons for research: the High Flux Isotope Reactor and the Spallation Neutron Source…you get the point. Jeff has used these resources and the platform of ORNL to help address some of the most complex national and global challenges that society faces. With breakthroughs in science, medicine, materials, technology – aviation – and more, through his leadership he has empowered and inspired others to pursue and achieve very (very!) big ideas and outcomes. 

Third, we all lost a proficient and passionate aviator, tireless flight safety advocate and true RAF supporter with the very untimely and recent loss of Richard McSpadden. Here we are together with friends at Trigger Gap a few years back. A former Commanding Officer of the Thunderbirds and most recently the recognized voice for general aviation flight safety, I was fortunate to know Richard personally, fly the backcountry with him, and call him a mentor.

Through his thoughtful guidance and counsel, five years ago he helped me find the courage, humility, and voice to tell my own accident story….which was then and still is the best therapy I have ever received. I am eternally grateful to Richard for that. 

But it’s his own words that paint the picture of someone who so well understood his opportunity to make an impact in aviation. ‘Flying has brought so much to my life and in many ways has been my life. The feeling of gratitude to the many people who’ve boosted me here comes back frequently… in ways that it seems unfair that I was exposed to aviation and given opportunities few have…and I feel a growing urge to give back, cast a wider net and expose more people to this splendid experience that can change the trajectory of a life.’ I know I speak for all of us when I say that the gift of Richard’s contributions to aviation has been ours, that it is actually all of us that have unfairly but so gratefully had him in our lives and that together we shared the sky and a passion for flight.

So what do Oliver, Jeff, and Richard all have in common in the way that they each live or have lived their lives, their commitment to others, and the lasting legacy and impact of their efforts? Summed up simply, each has ‘left flying and aviation better than they found it’ …profoundly so.

And so it is for each of us and our talents, gifts, effort and engagement with The RAF, our commitment to the mission, and our motivation to sustain the culture – culture that I believe can be summed by that same simple phrase that the lives of these three folks represent. I am confident you each know similar folks that challenge, inspire, and motivate – think about them often and the example of their lives when you appreciate the opportunity, privilege, and obligation we have to ‘leave things better than we found them’ through The RAF.

Fly safely,

Todd is the President of Customer Experience at Cirrus Aircraft, where he has worked for 15 years. His passion is recreational flying, primarily in his SuperCub, with his wife Melissa, son Clay, and daughters Anna and Cameron. He furthers his passion by serving as the Vice President of the RAF.

Submitted on October 26, 2023


  1. Randy O’Boyle on November 1, 2023 at 7:09 am

    Excellent and inspiring-well said Todd. Aviation and the mentors that come with it change lives for the better everday.

  2. Carol Dodds on November 1, 2023 at 8:39 am

    I appreciated reading your heartfelt commentary, Todd. A good reminder to hold up those who bring in the light and who offer their skills and guidance wherever they may be.

  3. Julie Boatman on November 1, 2023 at 2:47 pm

    Well said, my friend.

  4. Mike Whitehead on November 1, 2023 at 3:03 pm

    Great post – thank you. Humility doesn’t come naturally to me and yet I’m profoundly humbled by everything aviation has given me. I think about it when I pull the mixture on a remote strip, pull off my A20s and there is no noise left to cancel but the rustling of trees. I think about it camped under my wing and when I meet anxious students in the FBO. When you are in a position to have gotten so much, the gift at this point is giving back.

  5. Christine Mortine on November 2, 2023 at 6:55 pm

    Beautifully written, Todd. It is our mentors who led the way and provide experience and support for all of us. Thank you for this writing.

  6. Chris Glaeser on November 4, 2023 at 12:55 pm

    Todd ; very thoughtful and well said comments. Spad’s recent loss was a loss to the entire community and a reminder that every flight can bring risks, even a benign photo shoot on a CAVU day. You are very lucky to have so much aviation heritage in your background, and I join with you in feeling a need to give back to the aviation community after a lifetime of opportunities.

  7. Ken Wittekiend on November 10, 2023 at 4:56 pm

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Todd. Remembering those who taught, mentored and influenced each of us along our aviation journey provides a measure of solace and comfort when we come face to face with the inherent risks involved.

  8. Jim Klick on November 13, 2023 at 6:47 pm

    Well written. I have had a similar “life experience” and wish I could articulate it as well as you
    I do my best in “paying it forward” whenever I can.
    Jim Klick
    EAA IAC, WoA, AOPA, RAF member.

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