CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s an industry that flies high, but aviation could soon be struggling to soar, because of a shortage of pilots.
That’s where Air Force Academy High School, a public school on the South Side, comes in.
In a Bridgeport classroom, students’ heads are in the clouds, but the rest of them is planted firmly on the ground.
There are only a few dozen high schools in the country where students train to fly in simulators every day. Air Force Academy High School is one of them.
“It’s like, dang, imagine me in the pilot’s seat, you know?” 10th grader Zechariah Gonzales said.
Enrollment at the school is quite small, around 200. Aviation studies complement standard coursework. Their preparation comes at a time when a growing aviation industry is preparing for some turbulence on the horizon.
“In the next 20 years, the world going to need over 600,000 pilots, because a lot of people are retiring and the airlines are desperate for pilots,” said aviation teacher Kristen Arambula.
The growing need for their developing passion isn’t lost on Air Force Academy High School students.
“I think I found my actual calling when I was flying an acrobatic aircraft,” said 10th grader Angel Cardenas.
That’s one of those planes capable of gut-wrenching turns and twists. At 15, Cardenas was selected to help pilot one.
“It was the best feeling, because I felt weightless, then I felt heavy, then I felt weightless again,” he said. “It’s like I was really giddy the entire time.”
Students at the school can follow tracks concentrating on aerospace engineering, piloting, or aviation mechanics.