CUMBERLAND — The rocket streaked upward, arching high into the sky. A puff of smoke signaled that it had reached its apex and should deploy its orange parachute.

“The parachute did not deploy! The rocket’s coming down hot!” shouted Benjamin Ingraham, 20, of Cumberland. Several young campers laughed and took off across the field in search of the failed rocket.

The 10 students, ages 10 to 14, were attending the Aviation Career Exploration Academy, a city-run program based at the Maine Boy Scouts headquarters on Johnson Road in Portland.

As part of their final day at camp, the students were launching Estes rockets at the Twin Brook Recreation Area in Cumberland.

“The purpose of the camp is to take middle school kids with an interest in aviation and expose them to the various careers in the aviation industry,” said Marcia Wescott, 23, of Westbrook. Wescott and Ingraham are co-directors of ACE, avid fliers and graduates of the program.

The five-day camp gives students the opportunity to fly in several single-engine planes, as well as learn the ins and outs of aviation.

The ACE Academy program was established by the Federal Aviation Administration to generate interest in aviation among middle and high school students across the United States.

The first FAA-certified ACE Academy in Maine was established in 1993 at the University of New England. There are currently two certified ACE academies operating in Maine — one in Bangor for high school students and one in Portland for younger students.

The ACE Academy in Portland is run by the city through the Portland International Jetport. Several companies and organizations sponsor the program, including Pratt & Whitney, Maine Aviation and the FAA. These sponsors heavily subsidize the cost, $250 per student, and help facilitate many of the camp field trips.

“There is no way we could host this program at an affordable price without the people who have a real passion for flying and generously volunteer their aircraft and time,” said Gregory Hughes, a coordinator for ACE and marketing manager for the jetport.

Thanks to the sponsors, students gain access to all aspects of the aviation industry.

“We got to go in the cockpit of a Boeing 757 FedEx plane,” said Chris Purinton, 13, of Bowdoin. “That was pretty cool, and there were so many buttons.”

The students also flew in seaplanes in Naples; boarded an empty Jet Blue plane and talked with the pilots; visited the jetport control tower; and set off rockets.

“This camp is like one big field trip,” said Adam Godfrey, 11, of Yarmouth as he tried to fix his malfunctioned rocket. “My dad is in the Civil Air Patrol, so he got me interested in flying.”

Godfrey said that the week’s activities have reinforced his desire to become a Navy pilot. He also strongly recommended the camp to anyone interested in flying.

Hughes said the camp almost didn’t happen this year, since organizers needed to have at least 10 kids sign up. They only got the last few campers in recent weeks. They could have taken several more students, he said.

Ingraham helped lead the countdown to the next rocket launch: “Four, three, two, one! That one’s going high,” he said as the rocket rapidly propelled itself to over 1,000 feet. “Today is just about having fun and using rockets to teach the kids about thrust, stability and design.”

Godfrey said that he’s learned a lot during the past week, including the physics of flying.

“It was really interesting to learn how the ailerons steer the plane,” he said.

Hughes hopes that students leave the camp knowing that there are other careers in aviation just as important as being a pilot.

“For every one pilot there are 50 people on the ground enabling them to fly,” Hughes said.

For more information on the ACE Academy in Portland, visit

Staff Writer Max Monks can be contacted at 791-6345 or at:

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