A 17-year-old Black teen has now been cleared for takeoff and become one of the nation’s youngest pilots.
D.C. native Christopher Alexander Ballinger recently earned his license to fly through an Air Force Junior ROTC flight academy program, per WUSA9.
The program sets out to inspire the youth toward aviation careers and has successfully helped Ballinger become one of the youngest private pilots in the U.S.
On Wednesday (August 24), Balinger completed his instrument checkride with an FAA medical examiner on his 17th birthday, the minimum age one can attain a private pilot.
What usually takes months and thousands of dollars to achieve, Balinger finished during the eight weeks of the program, which the aerospace industry and the Air Force created to address the nationwide pilot shortage.
Ballinger said completing the program took a lot of hard work, but was worth every minute.
"This has been a phenomenal experience for me all the way around, but it has been intense," he said. "We wake up at 6 a.m., some mornings at 4:30 a.m. to get ahead of the winds to fly six days a week, hours and hours of ground school, studying to pass all the tests, but it's so worth it."
The flight academy program also seeks to combat the lack of diversity in the aviation industry.
Currently, minorities make up less than 12 percent of all Air Force pilots, per WUSA9.
Ballinger hopes to fly in the Air Force one day and be an inspiration for other teens.
"[I hope] it helps them realize there's a spot for them, too, and that they can reach their dreams if they work hard for it," he said.