City kids soar to new heights with one-of-a-kind program

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CHICAGO – It’s the biggest day in a young pilot’s life: the first solo flight. Flight check, take off, landing -- all on their own -- usually after months of training.

Malcolm Dunn is doing it today after six weeks of study, and he’s only 19 years old.

Dunn is one of eight Chicago students in the inaugural class of the Tuskegee Next Academy, a new program out of the Illinois Aviation Academy in DuPage County founded to give urban African-American students a positive outlet.

The program is rigorous: eight weeks, Monday through Friday, each day starting at 8 a.m. It comprises flight training, ground training, oral exams and hours of study.

17-year-old Nikko Swain has never wanted anything else. Swain can’t drive a car yet, but he’s already soloed a cross-country flight -- and next week will earn his private pilots license.

Coming from a family of teachers, Selena Berry thought that was her destiny as well. Now she’s focused on flying planes in the military. The Englewood native has learned here, no matter where you come from, with dedication and determination, the sky is the limit.

It is the first program of its kind in the nation. By 2025 Tuskegee Next aims to turn out 100 successful pilots.

Everything from materials to mentors, time, tuition, room and board are made possible through donations.

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