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High school students could be the answer for pilot shortage

Free falling is one way to describe the current number of pilots both in the military and for commercial airlines.

A pilot shortage is a growing problem, especially in the Air Force. But a program targeting high school students may be the key for getting the numbers off the ground once again.

By the amount of planes coming and going from Lynchburg Regional Airport you'd never know that the country is running low on pilots that fly them.

But a program that Liberty University has joined through the Air Force may have a fix -- molding high school students into pilots.

"This is a once in a lifetime opportunity something I just have to do. So I was like I'm going to take the leap and go for it. So I took the flight all the way out here to Lynchburg and started flying," said Eli Seals.

120 students are participating in the program, and 54 of them are being trained right here in Lynchburg.

Seals is one of them. He's 16 years old from Phoenix, Arizona, and after about 3 and a half weeks of being here in Lynchburg he is already flying a plane by himself.

"My response I would say is basic, but it's like feeling free. Like fliying in the air. It's a different experience like so different from being on the ground in a car," he said.

Speaking of cars, Seals can legally drive at 16 years old in Arizona, but his classmate Sadie Schindler, also 16 from Ohio can't. But she did just do her first solo flight in the skies over Lynchburg.

"At first I was kind of stressed out because I didn't want to go wrong with anything, but it was really fun and I really enjoyed it. It made me really feel like a pilot, and like empowered kind of. I don't know. It was just really fun," she said.

Schindler says she's had her eye on the Air Force for a while, but admits she didn't immediately think about flying.

"But because of this I defintely want to be an Air Force pilot, and I knew some people here aren't looking for the Air Force, but more airlines or cargo. So I think it's really cool how we get the option," she said.

And while there's a little bit a ground work to do before flying, both of these students flew by themselves in less than a month once behind the controls.

The Air Force is hoping to raise the amount of pilots from 1,100 per year to 1,600 per year by 2020.


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