Fascination With Flight Starts Early In Life
“When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.” Anonymous
History shows that Man’s fascination with flight begins at a young age.
For instance, Matthew Laird, renowned aircraft designer in the early 1900’s, was only 14 when he made his first airplane from butcher paper and rubber bands. Neil Loving, the first African American air racer, paid three dollars for his first airplane ride when he was 13. Many people have probably read that SUN ‘n FUN supporter and founder of Piedmont Airlines, Tom Davis, used his allowance to take flying lessons as an excited 16-year-old.
Today, young people who continue to be curious about the mysteries of the sky, welcome the opportunities to learn more about flight at the Aerospace Center for Excellence, (ACE). With its 14 buildings, a Boeing 727 classroom and a schedule of over 20 educational programs, ACE is considered by many to be the most unique learning platform currently operating throughout the United States reaching 30,000 students annually.
Neal Loving inside his racer, Loving’s Love.
One of its shining stars is the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, (CFAA), operated by the Polk County School Board in partnership with SUN ‘n FUN and ACE. In 2017, it was named a ‘Model’ academy–the highest distinction awarded by the National Career Academy Coalition– and is one of only 240 aviation academies operating throughout the country.
With its focus on careers in science, technology, engineering and math, (STEM), the academy accepts students in grades 9-12. They choose from tracks such as avionics, engineering or aerospace technology with courses on building and flying aircraft rounding out the curriculum.
Since the pilot program began in 2011, a total of 65 pilots have been certified, according to Robb Williams, ACE director.
Other educational opportunities such as field trips, Discovery Weekends and Career Day abound on the campus throughout the year. One of the most popular is summer camps and because of the area’s avid interest in aviation, the camps have sold out each of the last 10 years.
Williams said, “I call the camps the best value for aviation in Florida.”
Financial support for ACE is made possible in part by SUN ‘n FUN who contributes over $2 million annually to support scholarships and education. It also partners with Polk State College to support advanced degrees in several aviation fields of study so graduates can take the next step toward creating a rewarding career in aviation.
The future for ACE is optimistic according to Williams, who hopes to see the model spreading throughout the country over the next 20 years. “Ideally, we would have a North, South, East and West that would serve as outreach for the community, students and teachers.”
With its success, perhaps the sky is not the limit for ACE, but just the beginning!