Making A Difference

13-Year-Old Dreams of Becoming a Pilot, Chicago-Area Flight School Gives Her A Head Start

The 13-year-old from the Chicago's West Side didn't think her dream would be possible, but WAir Aviation in northwest suburban Wheeling offered her a free discovery flight to experience her dream firsthand

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Attalah James is only 13 years old, but she's already thinking about her future. Her dream is to one day become a pilot.

"I always wondered what it would be like to sit in the pilot seat and be able to fly on your own," said Attalah, who is from the Chicago's West Side. "It would be great for me. You don’t see many women pilots or African-American pilots who are women."

She's right. There are currently less than 250 Black female pilots in the U.S., less than 1% of total commercial pilots in the country, according to the organization "Sisters of The Skies."

"It's an expensive passion and it only gets more expensive," said Daniel Wirt, co-owner of WAir Aviation in north suburban Wheeling. "It hinders a lot of people with talent who don’t have the means to do it."

So when Wirt heard about Attalah's dream, he decided to give her a head start. He offered her and her twin sister Shattalah a free discovery flight, to get an introduction to flight training.

"If this is a career they want to pursue, there are ways for them to do it and I want to help them, at bare minimum point them in the right direction," said Wirt.

Attalah and Shattalah James pose in front of the Cessna they flew in for their free Discovery flight, thanks to WAir Aviation

Shattalah doesn't mind flying, but her dream is to one day become a doctor. Regardless, she decided to join her sister to suppport her.

The twins were partnered up with flight instructor Francis Zurek at their hangar at Chicago Executive Airport in Wheeling.

They received basic instructions on how to perform pre-flight checks, before getting onto a Cessna 172.

Flight instructor Francis Zurek goes over instructions on pre-flight check requirements

"We were nervous and excited and now her dream has actually come true," said Ellen James, Attalah and Shattalah's mother, who watched everything unfold from the sidelines.

Before taking off, Attalah was given a chance to speak to air traffic control from the cockpit. And once they were in the air, it was love at first sight.

Once they landed, the reviews were in.

"It was great. A 10 out of 10. Just great," said Attalah, who is now more inspired to obtain her pilot license once she turns 16 years old.

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