17-Year-Old Becomes One of America’s Youngest Pilots After Earning License to Fly Single Engine Land Plane

by Caitlin Berard

For Washington D.C. teen Christopher Ballinger, roller coasters and video games were never quite enough to satiate his thirst for flight. At the young age of 15, the skies were already calling, so he applied for the Air Force’s Aim High Flight Academy the moment he was able.

A program for 16-18-year-olds interested in pursuing a career as a pilot, Aim High matches its students to a partner university flight training program. Those accepted into the program then take their first steps toward becoming professional aviators.

Less than 100 students are admitted to the program each year, so Christopher knew the odds were stacked against him. To his surprise, however, he was accepted.

Now, part of the purpose of the Aim High program is to give students a taste of flight. Some are accepted into the program only to find that piloting an aircraft isn’t for them after all.

For Christopher Ballinger, however, it was only confirmation that he was headed in the right direction. And after the three-week program, the young pilot wasted no time in moving to the next phase of his journey. Though Aim High enabled him to fly solo, it didn’t grant the budding aviator his full pilot’s license.

Thankfully, the fearless teen had successfully demonstrated his proclivity for flight, and it wasn’t long before he took the next step with the Air Force. “I actually got referred to the Air Force ROTC Flight Academy, which is what I did,” Ballinger explained to Fox News. “It’s the 8-week program to get my full pilot’s license.”

Christopher Ballinger Becomes One of the Country’s Youngest Pilots

The ROTC Flight Academy was far more challenging than the Aim High program. And though Christopher wasn’t deterred in the slightest, he can’t help but admit it was a grueling process.

“It was pretty hard,” he recalled. “We were in the classroom every day for about two hours, flying for about two hours, you know, studying non-stop. It was a very, very intense training.”

Despite the intense schedule, the 17-year-old pilot persevered and has now stamped his name in the history books as one of the youngest aviators in America, joining the ranks of Mack Rutherford, the 17-year-old who’s currently on a solo flight around the globe.

As for any in-flight unease? Christopher Ballinger says it’s all about practice. “Once you get used to it, you get really confident,” he explained. “And once you start to understand all about the aircraft systems, the weather, your environment, it all comes together. That makes you a great pilot and allows you to be better focused and know what you’re doing.”

Christopher Ballinger obviously has nerves of steel. But what about his mother? How does she feel to watch her teen son rocketing thousands of feet into the air? “She was over the moon,” the young pilot chuckled. “She couldn’t believe it. I mean, I still can’t believe it. It’s a great opportunity, we’re both very excited.”