From James Banning to Bessie Coleman, Black trailblazers have broken barriers in aviation to open doors for generations of diverse pilots to chart paths in the space. Among those standing on the shoulders of these pioneers is 17-year-old Christopher Alexander Ballinger who recently became one of the country’s youngest licensed pilots, WUSA reported.
The aviation industry has historically lacked diversity. Research shows a mere 2 percent of airline pilots are Black. The lack of representation has fueled a new generation of pilots to reach new heights in the industry. After participating in an eight-week flight academy program led by the Air Force Junior ROTC Ballinger, a Washington, D.C. native, became a licensed private pilot making him one of the youngest individuals in America to reach that milestone. He’s already ventured across the country on a solo flight.
Ballinger hopes his journey inspires others who don’t often see themselves reflected in the industry to pursue careers in aviation. “It’s freedom. There’s no one else in the air, really. You’re the one in control of the plane. It’s hard work but it’s freedom,” he shared in a statement, according to the news outlet. “[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.” Ballinger aspires to fly in the Air Force.
Over the past few years, programs have been created to empower young Black aviators. The New York-based flight school RedTail Flight Academy was cultivated to introduce students from underserved communities to flying. The school is inspired by the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. “I think we’re making a change,” the academy’s founder Glendon Fraser told CBS News. “There is a problem with awareness within the inner city and the urban areas to know that this particular career is a possibility.”
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