Sixteen-year-old Jennifer Duarte made her way toward a Cessna 172 single-engine aircraft, a plane she would fly as part of Aviation Career Education (ACE) Camp at Alliance Airport.
Yes, Duarte – a junior at Mansfield Legacy High School – would be flying the plane.
She was more excited than nervous, she said. She has gone up on a plane many times before with her father, who is a pilot, and sometimes he’d let her take the controls for about a minute or so.
This time was different, though. This time she would be at the wheel for close to 30 minutes.
But she wasn’t going alone. US Aviation Academy Pilot Jonathan Lloyd would sit beside her with his own set of controls. In the backseat was fellow student Mica Lewis, a 16-year-old junior from Treetops School International in Euless, who would also get a chance to fly.
When Duarte was in the pilot seat, Lloyd directed her on how to guide the plane on ground, using foot pedals to turn the plane left and right. Once they reached the runway, he instructed her to slowly pull a black knob on the control panel. She did, and the plane lifted from the ground and took off into the air.
And just like that, Duarte was flying. She took the plane over Eagle Mountain Lake before Lloyd took over to land the plane back at Alliance Airport.
“I didn’t think it would feel like that, driving the plane. I figured it was more like driving a car,” Duarte said. “It was a lot easier, in fact. At first, I was a little nervous, but after, I felt like it was no big deal. It felt natural.”
Flying a plane was just one activity on the agenda for ACE Camp, a weeklong educational event run by the Federal Aviation Administration and hosted by the University of North Texas and Tarrant County College. Seventeen students from high schools around Texas spent the week of June 13-17 learning about aviation careers, meeting with workers in the aviation industry and – of course – flying airplanes with the help of instructors from Denton-based flight school US Aviation Academy.
The camp is meant to educate students about what career options are available in aviation, as the industry is seeing an employee shortage looming on the horizon, said Steve Joiner, a lecturer at the University of North Texas’ Aviation and Logistics program.
Pilot jobs, especially, will be more in-demand as pilots are required to retire by age 65, and that’s if they pass their physical requirements, Joiner said.
“These guys are going into retirement and there’s nobody in the pipeline behind them,” he said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of both airline and commercial pilots is expected to grow five percent between 2014 and 2024. Employment of commercial pilots, in particular, is expected to grow 10 percent – 3 percent faster than other occupations.
And while Duarte is still a long way from making her career choice, she said ACE Camp helped her better understand the aviation industry.
“It’s definitely not what they do exactly, but it gives you a touch of it,” she said. “You really learn to have more a passion toward that field.”
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