FAA-supported ACE Academies take kids from the classroom to the cockpit


Isaiah Silla, a 15-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, leans into a KC-135 pod simulator, examining the controls that allow the Stratotanker to refuel military aircraft in flight. Earlier in the week, he practiced landing a business jet in a full-motion simulator and pondered the physics of flying a C-17 Globemaster.

The activities were all part of a week-long Aviation Career Education Academy (ACE) that ended July 16. The academy was hosted by the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) and supported by the FAA.

“You can do things and see things that very few people can see. [and do]said Silla FLYING in a telephone interview. “I can’t think of any other way to see everything they do, with the depth that camp gives you.”

OBAP began partnering with the FAA in 1992 to offer ACE academies specifically focused on exposing young black people, ages 13-18, to aviation and related subjects in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). According to OBAP, this first year the organization sponsored two academies and had 41 students participate. Since then, OBAP said it has reached more than 30,000 students at more than 30 ACE academies across the country. This summer, 75 FAA-approved ACE academies will host or have hosted students, including 26 academies offered through OBAP.

Students attending ACE Academy in Columbus, Ohio are introduced to drone technology, as well as a variety of careers in civil/military, commercial and corporate aviation. [Photos: Michael Milton and Eric Haynesworth]

Creation of an aviation labor pipeline

Andrew Pierce, who runs the OBAP-sponsored ACE Academy in Columbus, Ohio, said it’s important to expose aviation to teens, especially in light of the workforce needs. industry work.

While ACE academies are open to any child, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc., who has an interest in aviation, Pierce said the OBAP-sponsored academy in Columbus is recruiting specifically African American children. “The main reason we are focusing on African American children is the demographics of the airline industry… less than 5% are African American pilots and of that number, less than 1% are women African Americans, and it has been that way for a very long time,” he said.

Blacks, women and other underrepresented populations are a mostly untapped resource that could have a positive impact on current and projected shortages of pilots and maintenance technicians in the aviation industry, and Pierce said that very few black youths in the Columbus area had exposure to aviation. Most students who attend Columbus ACE Academy have never flown in a single-engine aircraft before and the majority have never flown in a commercial aircraft either, he said.

It’s not just for future pilots

An airline pilot and C-17 pilot in the Air Force Reserve, Pierce said one of the main goals of the ACE Academy in Columbus, aka the Buckeye Tigers ACE Academy, is to show teenagers the variety of careers related to aviation that are available. for them. “Not everyone will be a pilot. It’s just a variable in this whole cog that makes our aviation system work,” he said.

The week-long, concentrated program introduces middle and high school students to aviation through hands-on activities, discovery flights, and field trips to aviation museums, military aviation facilities, local airports and air traffic control towers, to name a few.

The Buckeye Tigers ACE Academy Class of 2022 and their volunteer leaders and instructors pose for a group photo at the 445th Airlift Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base (KFFO), Ohio. [Photos: Michael Milton and Eric Haynesworth]

Since 2008, Pierce and four other volunteers have led the program, after it was founded by retired line captain John Mitchell. The academy partnered with OBAP two years ago. “We wanted to launch this program to show kids interested in aviation all of the potential career fields that they wouldn’t normally be exposed to in their schools or even through their families or communities,” Pierce said. “One of the reasons why there is a lack of representation [of Blacks in aviation] it’s often, if you don’t see someone who looks like you… it’s kind of like “out of sight out of mind”.

Although the FAA provides no funding to ACE Academies, since 1989 it has “co-sponsored” the summer programs by providing access to Federal facilities and FAA personnel through its Aviation and Space Education Program ( AVSED), and by marketing the academies on its website.

Each academy is self-funded through individual and corporate donations, volunteer work and local sponsors. Students generally pay a nominal fee to participate as well; however, some academies are able to offer the program for free.

“Choose to Succeed”

According to Pierce, the Buckeye Tigers academy also incorporates life skills into its curriculum; for example, problem solving, teamwork and conflict resolution. “Not everyone will go into aviation, but we like to plant seeds…that they can take with them,” he said.

The academy’s motto, “Choose to Succeed,” also aims to inspire students. “Success is a choice,” Pierce said. “We explain to students that to be successful, you have to choose to show up, you have to choose to ask questions, you have to work hard in your academic work. If there is something you want to do in this life, you must choose to do the research and do the work necessary to do it.

Isaiah Silla, 15, a two-time ACE Academy graduate, expects to go solo in the Flight Design CTLS in which he learns to fly at the Columbus Flying Club in Ohio when he was 16. [Photo: Courtesy of Isaiah Silla]

For two-time ACE Academy graduate Isaiah Silla, those life lessons have already taken root. After completing his first Buckeye Tigers ACE Academy in 2021, he signed up for flying lessons, joined a local flying club and is now well on his way to earning his private pilot certificate. Anticipating his first solo on his 16th birthday in November, he said he loves everything about aviation: “A metal tube, flying through the air at 500 miles an hour, that’s pretty awesome.”

Silla said her ultimate goal is to become an airline pilot, ideally for Southwest Airlines. With two academies under his belt and the ACE Academy Award, which he won in 2021, Silla is already building his CV.

Metal tube, flying through the air at 800 km/h, it’s pretty awesome.

Isaiah Silla

Students who attend Buckeye Tigers ACE Academy earn points throughout the week’s activities and take a test at the end to determine the Ace (top student) and Wingman or Wingwoman (second place) award winners for the week. “I had the most points,” recalls Silla. “I was the only one who had everything [test] good questions.

Despite his obvious study skills, Silla said he was delighted that many airlines no longer required new pilot candidates to have a university degree. “I’m not interested in going to college, if I can help it,” he said. “I think it would be a better idea to start getting paid to fly jets than to have a $100,000 debt.”

After completing her discovery flight at the Columbus, Ohio, ACE Academy, student Angel Christmon said she wanted to be a pilot one day. Christmon has been named Buckeye Tigers ACE Academy Wingwoman for 2022. [Photos: Michael Milton and Eric Haynesworth]

How to Start an FAA ACE Academy

According to the FAA, there are many ACE academies across the country, but not all of them are co-sponsored by the FAA. If a group or individual is interested in becoming an FAA co-sponsored ACE Academy, the first step is to contact their local FAA AVSED representative. The FAA AVSED representative will work with the organization to determine if it meets the requirements to be co-sponsored by the agency.

“Some basic requirements include showing that the camp follows non-discriminatory practices for participants and staff, appropriate background checks are carried out for staff working with minors, establishing a program that includes at least two activities math and two science, and the organization must be willing to coordinate camp activities with FAA AVSED representatives,” an FAA spokesperson said. Contact an FAA AVSED representative at [email protected]


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