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Almost on a daily basis, Kate McWilliams says she gets asked about her age. Passengers and cabin crew alike are surprised to learn that — at just 26 years old — she’s achieved the rank of captain at low-cost carrier easyJet. They have reason to be surprised by her age. After all, she’s one of the world’s youngest commercial airline captains.

But, Kate’s no stranger to flying. Inspired by her first airshow at the age of four, she began flying as part of the Royal Air Force’s Air Cadets at the age of 13. Her goal was to join the Royal Air Force once she finished school, but a lack of open positions forced her to look elsewhere. Unfazed, Kate started training for her commercial pilot license at 19 and joined easyJet as a first officer in May 2011.

Kate McWilliams achieved the promotion to captain this April. Image courtesy of easyJet.

With five years of commercial flying experience under her belt, she began the required command course to become a captain. Without any fanfare at the time, Kate succeeded in becoming the youngest commercial airline captain this April. She joins an exceedingly rare club of women captains. According to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, of the approximately 130,000 pilots worldwide, just 4,000 of them are female, with just 450 of whom being captains.

This week, easyJet came forward to share Kate’s story, hoping to inspire the next generation of female pilots. According to easyJet, just 5% of commercial pilots are female. But, easyJet wants to help change that. Over the next two years, easyJet wants to make female pilots at least 12% of new hires. The airline hopes Kate will become a role model for many aspiring young female pilots.

Kate McWilliams (26) and Luke Elsworth (19) recently flew together. Image courtesy of easyJet.
Kate McWilliams (26) and Luke Elsworth (19) recently had the chance to fly together. Image courtesy of easyJet.

On a recent easyJet flight to Malta, Kate was joined in the cockpit by another record holder: Luke Elsworth. At just 19 years old, he recently became the UK’s youngest commercial pilot. On that flight, the pilots’ combined age was just 45 — about the age many would expect for each person in the cockpit.

Here in the United States, we’re going to need many more young pilots to take to the skies in the coming years. Research shows that nearly half of the 60,222 pilots at the major airlines will hit mandatory retirement age by 2026. It’s not going to be long before major airlines start having trouble filling the cockpit. So, share Kate and Luke’s stories with your daughters, sons, nieces and nephews. It might help spark a lifelong passion.

H/T: The Guardian

Featured image courtesy of easyJet.

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