Most teenagers dream of getting their driver's license, but 17-year-old Nilah Williamson is aiming higher -- literally.
Williamson, a senior at Yorktown High School in Arlington, Virginia, is on a mission to get her pilot's license and was learning to fly planes before she ever drove a car.
When she was in sixth grade, Williams attended a leadership program aimed at exposing girls to careers in STEM, and she met Adm. Arthur Johnson when he brought a flight simulator to the conference. He soon became her mentor.
After one ride she was hooked. She decided that day that she wanted to be a pilot.
From there, she put her plan into motion. When she got to high school she took an elective class that allowed her to attend a career center in Arlington and helped her prepare for her written test -- the first step in getting a pilot's license.
She has passed her written exam and now needs 40 flight hours before getting her pilot's license.
"What's involved in that is nighttime flying, daytime flying, takeoff practice and landing, there's cross-country flight and solo flight," Williamson said. "There are a lot of different portions of the flight hours you need to get in order to get the license."
Accompanying her on one of her first flights after passing her written exam was Johnson, the man who introduced her to her love of flying with his flight simulator six years earlier.
"We just had to laugh at it. I have this picture of me at 11 years old on this little flight simulator he brought, and then six years later I'm flying him in a real plane," Williamson said. "That's a true full-circle moment."
Williamson has big dreams to be a pilot, but not just any pilot. Her goal is to serve the country as a naval aviator in the U.S. Marine Corps.
"I have a large family history of military service," Williamson said. "My dad and brother are Marines, and it goes back to my great-grandfather and great-uncle serving in the Navy. Being raised around that kind of value and wanting to serve, that influenced my decision and grew into being my own decision of why I wanted to pursue that path. It really combined my love for service and my passion for flight."
Williamson said her role model is Madeline Swegle, who made headlines earlier this year when she became the first Black female tactical jet pilot for the Navy.
"That's really what representation means to me," Williamson said. "Seeing somebody look exactly like me ... pursuing her goals and actually accomplishing them was just really inspiring."
For young girls who dream of one day becoming pilots, Williamson has a message.
"Somebody has to do it, and you have to start somewhere. Don't be afraid of not knowing anything," Williamson said. "You can never be perfect. Failure is inevitable. Once you learn how to get back up from that and learn anything is possible."
In addition to getting her pilot's license, Williamson's goal for next year is attend the U.S. Naval Academy after finishing high school.
She might just get her driver's license, too.