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Arlington Teen Flies Before Driving

A rite of passage for most teenagers is earning their drivers’ license, but that dream took a back seat for Nilah Williamson.  Instead of learning road signs and speed limits, Williamson looked to the sky and flew an aircraft before ever driving a car. 

A senior at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Williamson recently passed her written pilot exam.  She said, “I had not even taken my driver’s classes, so definitely different priorities than other teenagers in life.”

While participating in a youth leadership program – Leadership LINKS, which introduces young girls to opportunities in STEM fields – she said she fell in love with aviation.

“I got on a flight simulator when I was going into sixth grade, and I absolutely fell in love with it, and I decided then that I wanted to pursue flying," she said.

Five years later, Williamson took an aviation class at an Arlington career center that cemented her goal to become a naval aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps.  

To date, she said she has flown twice, but needs to rack up 40 hours of flight time before earning her pilot's license. Her goal is to do so by the time she graduates.

“It’s actually very calming being up in the sky, so as long as you’re calm yourself, you know that the instructor next to you will keep you safe," Williamson said. "It’s a learning-as-you-go experience, being willing to make mistakes and learn from them, not being afraid of failure.”