By Melissa Nelson
PENSACOLA NAVAL AIR STATION, Fla. (AP) – The panicked voice came into Ambition’s air traffic control room – one of the aircraft carrier’s young pilots was in trouble.
“Dude, my nose is down,” the pilot shouted as he struggled to regain control over his X12 experimental Triad aircraft.
There was no real danger, however: The planes are imaginary and Ambition is a simulated aircraft carrier, the centerpiece of the new, $33 million National Flight Academy that supporters are calling space camp taken to the next level.
It officially opened at Pensacola Naval Air Station with appearances by former shuttle astronaut Mark Kelly, the husband of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, and Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan – the first and the last men to walk on the moon.
Campers from seventh to 12th grade will experience five days onboard Ambition at the National Flight Academy, surrounded by sights and sounds that recreate the feeling of being at sea and conducting noncombat missions.
Organizers say it’s not just for teens who might be interested in becoming a Navy pilot, but also for those who might have an unrealized aptitude for science or math.
“Unless kids get a spark somewhere and they get excited about math or science, they are not going to do it and that is what this is about. They may not find that they want to be an aviator, but they may be really good at meteorology or geometry and that helps them make decisions about a career,” said Pam Northrup, dean of the college of professional studies at the University of West Florida and consultant on the Flight Academy project since it was conceived 15 years ago.
It costs $1,250 to attend, but directors said scholarships are available, with sessions running each week from June through August.
Ambition, operated by a nonprofit with funding from Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and other aviation and defense industry leaders, was created with help from designers who have worked for Disney and Universal Studios theme parks. It has 30 networked aircraft simulators, the most in any non-Defense Department facility, and a high-tech control room. When planes take off, loud jet noises are piped into the building and rooms vibrate. The simulated hangar bays are dimly lit, just like in real life. Bells ring dignitaries aboard and crew members are alerted by an intercom system. When the mission gets under way, the windows are covered with pictures of ocean scenes and the campers sleep in berths and eat in a mess hall.1 2 next >>