Twenty-three teens from all regions of Idaho and as far away as Trout Creek, Mont., assembled in Boise this week to learn more about aviation and aerospace fields at the annual Aviation Career Education (ACE) Academy. ITD’s Division of Aeronautics presents the annual event.
During the four-day program, participants toured the Idaho National Guard, visited the National Interagency Fire Center, went into the traffic control tower at the Boise Airport and even tried their hands at the controls of a small airplane.
On their first morning together, the students learned how to build balloon satellites, or BalloonSats, which they launched later. The satellites carried a camera, thermometer and other data-collecting devices to record their ascent to 100,000 feet into near-space, and their descent back to earth.
The challenge was to build the BalloonSat to meet stringent weight restrictions, while making it tough enough to stand up to what often is a rough return to the ground.
“This is so much fun,” said 16-year-old Michael Jenson from Midvale, who was attending his third academy. “I’m thinking of getting a kit like this so I can launch one of these myself.”
Jenson said that he has always played pilot games on his computer and has been interested in aviation for as long as he can remember. “Then, my mom saw the announcement for ACE in the paper, and I applied,” he said, adding that he helped promote it to other students by hanging posters in his school.
At 6 foot 2 inches, Jenson thinks he might want to join the Air National Guard, but would be too tall to fly a fighter jet, “so I want to fly a helicopter,” he said.
The ACE participants measured, weighed, cut and taped BalloonSats together under the instruction of Paul Verhage, a teacher in the Boise School District who has launched 48 BalloonSats since 1996. Verhage said that the 6-foot-wide helium-filled balloons climb at a rate of about 1,200 feet per minute and take about 90 minutes to reach the target altitude of 85,000 to 100,000 feet.
Verhage said he is “addicted” to building and launching the BalloonSats, but readily admits he doesn’t care for flying himself. “I’m fascinated by the challenge and collecting the information,” he said. “Doing this keeps me on the ground.”
Fourteen-year-old Kylee Granden, Middleton, participated in her second ACE academy and said she always has been fascinated by flying.
“My uncle flies recreationally, and he let me fly once. I pushed the joy stick forward and we did a nose dive,” she said.
Granden said her favorite part of the ACE experience is going to the Warhawk Museum in Nampa and seeing the Apache helicopters at the National Guard.
All of the participants qualified by writing an essay explaining why they hoped to be selected for the ACE program. Most said they wanted to be a part of the experience because they were fascinated by flying. Some wanted to eventually become aeronautical engineers; others expressed a desire to join the Air Force or fly as an Air-Med pilot for a hospital.
“Most people dream of becoming president or a superstar basketball player. I dream of the day that I get my pilot’s license,” wrote Weston Bovey.
“I would run around the house with a pencil sharpener in the shape of an F-15 making the obligatory noises and occasionally land on someone,” Andrew Pfalzer wrote, describing his childhood dream of flying.
“I would like to be a pilot to carry on a family tradition,” wrote Kyndel Sterling. “I would be the fifth generation of women pilots on my dad’s side.”
Joining ITD in sponsoring the academy were the Federal Aviation Administration, the Idaho Aviation Hall of Fame, Inc., the Idaho Ninety-Nines and the Boise Airport.