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National Flight Academy—has to be seen to be believed!

9 June 2019

X-12B Triads designed in concert by Lockheed Martin and DARPA—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

There is a gem on Florida’s Emerald Coast and it is the National Flight Academy where Grade 5 through 12 students (>14,000 to date) get a hands on superb experience/education in the many aspects of aviation aboard the USS Ambition.  It is co-located with the National Naval Aircraft Museum near Pensacola FL.

CVT-11 USS Ambition is a building that has the interior of an aircraft carrier (though no bulkhead frames to step over with aisles set wide for wheelchair travel) complete with overhead piping and conduits. Heads and cabins with the passages are all painted all in US Navy motif. Students come “aboard” for either a day or several and experience training aboard ship at sea, there is no leaving as the students are fed, sleep and work entirely in the training simulation. Security monitors 24 hours each day and the infirmary administers any prescribed medications brought by the students. Impressively, the infirmary has several beds and a full time medical staff as well. The Naval Aviation Museum Foundation runs the National Flight Academy and run it exceptionally well.

Retired Navy Cape. Ed Ellis (a director in the foundation), toured me through the facility, is an expert on the program and his enthusiasm for it was constantly bubbling just beneath the surface as we moved through the ship. His first observation was that being aboard ship is in actuality living inside a vast machine—and with that we were off! Pilot ready rooms, joint information centers, drone flight control rooms and flight simulators—even functional tilt meters.

Students are placed into groups which rotate through the variety of training assignments as up to six missions are run per day. Rotation includes ATC, planning, flying drones and simulated flying of the X-12B Triad, The technology is spectacular! The Joint Intelligence Centers each have an iPad the size of ice hockey table (some of the largest in the world) which are used to visualize the information for the mission’s current environment. Computer systems receive real time information of weather as well as air traffic pertinent to the current mission (many missions are run concurrently as there can be several classes at a given time but the USS Ambition is a big ship, after all, so things aren’t too cozy). It is the X-12B Triads which are the icing on the cake with their purpose built, somewhat sinister stance, numbering about 30. Each Triad is crewed by two which are in real time communication with their peers in an operation center. Kudos for naming the Lockheed Martin/DARPA designed static simulators Triad—the name of the US Navy’s first aircraft which was named for the three environments it would operate in of land, sea and air.

Students get their mission objectives and learn to work as teams to accomplish objectives and complete missions. For example one scenario can be providing water to an isolated population due to a natural catastrophe. Load outs, fuel loads, routes, alternate routes, weather, comms, flying, air traffic, arrival scheduling…all initially handled chaotically at first but Ed Ellis notes the students learn quickly and are performing like pros within a day or so—and eager for increasingly complicated tasking.

Ed also notes, with earned satisfaction, that their STEM success rate is twice that of the  norm and the school has also been highly effective regarding attention challenged students. The National Flight Academy has the mission of teaching and doesn’t shy away from student challenges which is evidenced by its through preparation. Funding is through private donations as well as business entities (major as well as minor).

Bravo Zulu!

“Hangar Deck” aboard the USS Ambition where 30 X-12B Triad simulators reside—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

One of the ready rooms at the National Flight Academy where mission briefings take place, up to six taskings per day—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography

Capt. Ed Ellis (USN, ret.) (who kindly took me on a tour of the National Flight Academy) in the Joint Intelligence Center and he is resting agaisnt one of the largest iPads available. The JIC can interface with real time civil traffic (in a one-way direction) to enhance the training and realism of the current mission using the National Flight Academy’s IT system—©2019 Joseph May/SlipstreamPhotography



3 Comments leave one →
  1. shortfinals permalink
    9 June 2019 08:50

    Great stuff! An ambitious program, but it sounds like it is bearing fruit.

    • travelforaircraft permalink
      9 June 2019 10:14

      It truly is an amazing, and amazingly effective, operation.

  2. 9 June 2019 10:27

    Now THAT is seriously cool. I am putting it on my bucket list.

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