The Development and Growth of Pensacola’s National Flight Academy

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History

The National Flight Academy was first pitched in 2001 by the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation leadership as a way to fulfill our commitment to sustainable education, and it took several years to raise the 34 million to build the facility. Disney Imagineers helped design the building, making sure it looks, sounds and feels exactly like a carrier. In fact, most of the elements in the building were taken directly from naval aircraft carriers.

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Since its inception in 2012, nearly 16,000 students from 50 states, 10 countries and four US territories have experienced the unparalleled learning adventure aboard AMBITION, a state-of-the-art program housed onboard a 100,000+ square foot virtual aircraft carrier. Attendees – known as AMBITION eXperimental Pilots or AXPs – plan humanitarian missions with ultramodern, advanced technology, learn to fly in 42 networked flight simulators, eat on a mess deck, sleep in staterooms and receive mission briefings in six fully electronic ready rooms.

Students are challenged on a wide range of topics from basic three-dimensional physics and motion to more advanced concepts of aeronautical engineering and propulsions systems. They encounter challenges that incorporate cybersecurity, remote underwater operated vehicles, and more. These missions play into enhancing the students’ education, enriching their understanding of STEM principles.

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In addition, by working in a team-training environment, leadership development, effective communication and critical thinking skills are emphasized and embedded into each mission. In all programs, curriculum is aligned to Florida State Education Standards and National Common Core Standards for Math and Science. Our flagship program is our 6-day Summer Deployments, in which we host 216 students per week for 12 weeks from May – August.

Curriculum for all programs is mapped to National Common Core Standards for Math and Science, and they meet Florida state educational standards. This allows teachers to use NFA as an extension of their classroom, and upon approval from their district, students who come during the academic year are able to receive classroom credit.

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The NFA is a 501(c)(3) and falls under the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. We are endorsed by the US Navy since we are located directly on NAS Pensacola, but we do not recruit for any military branch or receive any federal funding.

NFA provides insight into STEM based careers while developing skill sets that are necessary for success within all workforce industries. The NFA offers this program to both United States citizens and students abroad. The program offers career readiness and leadership competencies that translate through to all industries. Support from partners in the aviation industry such as Delta Air Lines, Fed Ex, Mississippi Department of Education and L3Harris Technologies help create a pipeline for investing in the workforce and leaders of tomorrow.

We have found that by placing students in a real-world scenario via immersion, simulation and virtual reality, they become far more skilled at scientific theorems, deciphering mathematical equations and finding self-confidence in their own ability to problem-solve. Participants show a measurable increase in knowledge of STEM principles after completing our program.

Being located on NAS Pensacola provides us with the unique opportunity to extend their learning into the real world. Students take “port calls” out to the NAS Air Traffic Control tower or over to the National Naval Aviation Museum. They also have the opportunity to watch the Blue Angels practice from the Museum’s flight line.

Growth at NFA

Summer 2019 marks the first steps toward incorporating a more formal structure surrounding career readiness in order to provide answers to the “what happens next” questions we receive. We see students who come out of the program extremely excited about what they’ve experienced, and we want to give them more information on how to continue, find a mentor, college or A&P tech school, etc.

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This summer also marks the debut of an exciting new initiative at the National Flight Academy: a Virtual Reality Module with a focus on Technical and Flight Operations. Through VR headsets and paddles, AXPs (students) will be able to teleport through a virtual hangar, evaluate aircraft, and prepare aircraft for the flight deck. They will also be able to replace an engine and work as a team to make repairs to the aircraft. The aviation industry estimates there will be a significant need for more power plant maintenance, airframe maintenance and flight operations professionals in upcoming years. This VR module will allow the NFA to continue to expose youth to these mechanical and engineer-oriented career paths.