But the academy’s directors, who include former top Navy aviators with decades of experience commanding and flying from aircraft carriers, stress that the project is not sponsored or endorsed by the Navy and that all of its simulated missions are noncombat.
“The Navy hasn’t put a dime into this building – the Navy authorizes this building to be here (on Pensacola Naval Air Station) but does not endorse or support it,” said retired Navy Capt. Kevin Miller, a former F-18 pilot and vice president of the National Flight Academy.
New campers are assigned to squadrons and then taken to a briefing room where they are given a mission such as providing post-earthquake relief to a hard-hit country. Instructors dressed in flight suits direct each pilot and co-pilot to a simulator and hand them a clipboard with a checklist of instructions.
The squadrons then compete against each other in their flight and communication skills and how effectively they use their resources to provide the relief in the limited time given. They have to calculate their fuel supply, weight of relief supplies, weather forecasts, aircraft abilities and other factors.
“And then we throw in something unexpected like survivors in the water, so that they have to deviate from their plan. They have to use geometry, geography, trigonometry – things pilots use all the time,” Miller said.
Recently, 30 teenagers put the Ambition through a two-day test run, competing in a simulated air race that took them over MacDill Air Force Base and Tampa Bay.
The instructors – many of them Navy and Air Force veterans – sometimes laughed at the furious flurry of communications as a co-pilot yelled at a pilot for causing the plane to spiral toward the ground or a team discovered they had miscalculated the fuel and didn’t have enough to return to the aircraft carrier.
“Hey, make sure we are going to the right airport,” one pilot said to his co-pilot.
One deck above the pilots, Will Griffin, 13, sat with his right hand clasped tightly over an earpiece and his eyes focused on a radar display. Griffin communicated with his Triad squadron members from the ship’s joint operation center. “All squadrons return to Ambition,” Griffin radioed from his front-row seat in a filled with rows of computers, maps and instructors in fight suits.
“I’ve flown simulators before but these are really cool,” Griffin said. “They have like six screens with all the graphics and having your own co-pilots and all of the other people flying the missions with you. I love this place.”
It is good fun, but also serious learning, said retired vice Adm. Gerald L. Hoewing, the Ambition’s commander and President of the National Flight Academy. He is a former Naval aviator who once commanded the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy and the fleet that included the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis.
“This is an opportunity to give back in an area that is important. High-tech and engineering are what have made this country different, and we need to regenerate that enthusiasm if we are going to lead the world like we have done for so many years,” he said.
The three-star admiral was more than a figurehead throughout Ambition’s trial cruise, sitting with the young aviators and monitoring the communications from the hangar bay as they flew their missions. Hoewing said he wanted to ensure that all the kinks were worked out before the commissioning ceremony.
A previous trial revealed that the simulators’ flight-control settings were a little too difficult for many of the young pilots, he said. Technicians had to change the settings to ensure the simulators were set at basic level.
“We have brought the ship to life in the same way the U.S. Navy would bring a ship on the line to life. We had our sea trials to see if all the equipment works,” he said.<< previous 1 2