Christopher Ballinger, 17, is on his way to becoming one of the youngest licensed private pilots in the country, per WUSA9. The Air Force Junior ROTC flight academy program is to thank for setting Ballinger up for success. It’s been time to crank up that 2 percent of Black pilots a few notches.
The report says Ballinger is a rising high school senior on track to enter his freshman year of college with a Private Pilot License (PPL). The minimum age to earn a private pilot license is 17. After he completes his instrument “checkride” with the Federal Aviation Administration, he’ll be set to fly.
“This has been a phenomenal experience for me all the way around, but it has been intense. 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,” said Ballinger via WUSA9.
Ballinger has dreams of flying in the Air Force one day. Luckily, they’re forming a strategy to grow opportunities for boys who look like him.
More from the Air Force Times:
Air Force leaders have signed off on a new plan to build a more diverse pilot corps by 2030, looking to level the playing field in a profession that remains dominated by white men. The strategy aims to grow opportunities for women and minority airmen in some of the Air Force’s premier professions, including manned and unmanned aircraft pilots, air battle managers, and combat systems officers.
Aircraft have long been a harder sell to minority communities, whether because of a lack of awareness of those opportunities, fewer resources for science and technology programs, or other socioeconomic factors that can hinder the pursuit of flight, than to white prospects. Now, the Air Force is pledging to beef up Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps and Civil Air Patrol programs, and target underrepresented groups in social media and marketing campaigns.
The service hopes to increase the number of events with underrepresented youth by 300 percent by fiscal 2025, to total 300 engagements a year. JROTC slots aim to grow from 120 in 2018 to 500 by 2023, with a particular emphasis on bringing in participants with no prior involvement with the Air Force.
Per WUSA9, Ballinger has been stationed at Walla Walla University in an eight-week Flight Academy program. He was the second cadet ready to perform a solo cross-country flight, a task most candidates take months to prepare for.
Between the Air Force and commercial flying, Black people make up less than 12 percent of all pilots. It will be our youth who begin taking over industries where we’ve been historically outnumbered. Just a few months ago, DMV teen Caleb Smith was honored by the Air Force, granted an opportunity to fly an Air Force helicopter over DC and is now working on getting his glider pilot’s license, per WUSA9.
It is so refreshing seeing kids’ “What do you want to be when you grow up?” answers come to life.