Third annual aviation camp takes place at SPCC
The aviation experts of the future may have just begun their first training session here in Union County. South Piedmont Community College and the Charlotte-Monroe Executive Airport joined forces July 11 to host the third annual Ace Academy, held at SPCC’s Old Charlotte Highway campus.
The event, sponsored by the North Carolina Division of Aviation and the city of Monroe, is a week-long camp that exposes middle school students to aviation and aerospace science through hands-on learning experiences. The camp runs five days, consisting of four full days of education, projects, and trips. Breakfast and lunch are provided each day. The week culminates on Friday with student discovery flights and a movie, followed by a cookout for attendants and their parents.
Luke Baker, a 13-year-old rising eighth-grader from Weddington Middle School, is already cons idering career opportunities in aviation. Although he doesn’t want to be a pilot, Ace Academy has helped him see other options that are available.
“I might want to design planes,” he said. “I’ve made rockets before, I like making things fly, and I really like airplanes.”
Baker also hopes that his time with Ace Academy will help him succeed in Boy Scouts as well. “I know it will help me be a better scout because I’m working on the aviation badge,” he said.
Students from all over the area apply each year to get into Ace Academy. This year, the camp nearly maxed-out, with 26 middle-school students attending. During their time at Ace Academy, the students are exposed to a variety of science and history lessons about aircraft and aviation. Following lessons, the campers complete two projects: constructing a balloon buggy and building a rocket.
Rocket-building is the bigger of the two projects and a highlight of the week that many campers look forward to the most. Students partner off and construct the rockets in pairs. The project isn’t a contest, but it does reward progress to those who succeed. The students have the chance to build a rocket with three different stages of engines. If their rocket flies successfully with the first stage engine, then the students advance to stage B and potentially stage C engines.
Camp workers and volunteers are present during the rocket-building session to assist the students. Pete Hovanec, communications and tourism officer for the city of Monroe, has acted as camp director for Ace Academy all three years. The goal, Hovanec said, is to guide the campers through the project, but ultimately let the students do their own work. “We want (the students) to do it right, but we also want them to do it themselves,” Hovanec said. “We make sure we leave here with rockets that are good enough to take off.”
Wednesday, July 13, the group traveled to Parks Williams Complex in Monroe to launch their rockets. During the launching session, helpers stand by to ensure safety and to help with minor setbacks. “We want to make sure everybody’s rocket goes off the first time,” Hovanec said. “Most of them will have parts that rip off, so we have glue to do quick repairs.”
The campers also embark on numerous field trips, including visits to the Charlotte-Monroe Executive, Stanly County, and Charlotte-Douglas Airports. The students get the chance to tour the airports, view aircraft parts up close, embark on discovery flights in small aircraft, and learn more about careers in aviation.
Chris Platé, executive director of economic development and aviation for the city of Monroe, explained that the Charlotte-Monroe region has the highest geographic concentration of aviation companies in North Carolina.
“Aviation is important to our economy,” said Platé. “This camp is great because it exposes kids to different parts of that industry and the career opportunities that are out there. It’s a good workforce development tool, and it’s a good educational tool.”
Ace Academy will take place again next week as a camp geared toward high school students. Hovanec believes this camp is necessary to foster healthy relationships between aviation and the community, especially in an area so heavily influenced by aviation. “The city of Monroe is happy to be hosting this and working with the Division of Aviation,” he said. “It’s a great partnership to promote aviation to young people. This camp is a good experience that these kids aren’t going to get anywhere else.”