by Mily Perez-Distel
As I arrived at the National Flight Academy (NFA) inPensacola, Florida, for my 16-year-old son’s graduation ceremony, the sight of aircrafts from different periods of our nation’s aviation history greeted me.
My son, along with other Collier County high school students, had been selected by the NAACP as a scholarship recipient for the “CVT-11 Summer Deployment” aboard Ambition, the aircraft carrier designed to teach aspiring aviators to plan and execute flights through state-of the-art simulators and cutting edge technology.
Upon entering the National Naval Air Museum, I attempted to take in the impressive display of countless aircrafts suspended from the ceiling as well as the Blue Angel Atrium, where the ceremony would be held.
I was fortunate to join the tour led by a decorated retired colonel, who discussed in great detail the engineering developments and unique attributes of the historical planes in the museum.
The second tour was conducted by my son, a Lely High School student, who described with great excitement and awe the high-tech simulators, models and the various instructional cabins in Ambition, which had empowered him and his team to plan, fly and simulate successful landings on the 200-foot airstrip of a moving aircraft carrier.
The students had a rigorous schedule beginning the instructional day at 6:30 am and retiring to their cabin at 10:30 pm.The learning was exponential throughout the day with countless, challenging STEM activities executed in collaborative groups.
“Mom, this week has been amazing, just incredible! My team and I felt like we were carrying out missions on an aircraft carrier while executing REAL flight missions!”
This sentiment was echoed by each and every student who I met as I toured the National Naval Air Museum, Ambition and the Blue Angel Atrium.
The students were as diverse and colorful as the planes suspended from the ceiling of the museum, each from different ethnic, cultural and geographical areas throughout the world. Yet, they were united by their aeronautical quest, hard-working spirit and their undeniable enthusiasm for the magic of aviation.
They delighted in demonstrating how the flight simulators, air traffic control towers and flight planning computers in the various rooms of Ambition worked.
When each received their “Aviator Wings” and diploma on stage, their smiles portrayed an undeniable pride and exuberance, which comes after being part of a life-changing experience.
Upon arriving at the NFA, the students were grouped into squadrons. In a sense, the creation of such squadrons inspired all students to work in collaborative teams in achieving the goals of the mission to the best of their abilities. Each of the flight planning missions included the objective of the flight, altitude and speed of the aircraft, calculating heading, radar communications, and many other mission related tasks. In this way, all squadrons were prepared for every scenario of the upcoming flight mission, authentically integrating the STEM disciplines.
The NFA’s summer deployment program allows students to use a combination of high tech systems such as the flight simulators, radar and mission planning projections to simulate real-life flight missions. Through Ambition’s design and technology, the NFA provides students with real world experiences of what a career in the aeronautical world would look like, as an aviator, an aeronautical engineer, an air traffic controller, a radar specialist or countless of other 21st century careers.
As a former DoDEA (Department of Defense Education Activity) STEAM Instructional Specialist, I was thrilled to seethe authentic hands-on integration of science, math, technology and mathematics within the context of aeronautical engineering.
The experiences from this remarkable week at the NFA sparked in students a desire to not only learn about aviation, but also gave them the confidence to engage in the STEM disciplines and explore related career pathways upon returning to their respective schools.
According to Airbus, there will be a shortage of 450,000 pilots by 2035. The NFA program is actively intervening to address this global crisis in aviation.
I applaud the NAACP’s commitment for their dedicated efforts in paving a brighter future for our nation’s children. It was through their noble efforts that Collier County students had an opportunity to engage in a once in a lifetime STEM opportunity unmatched by any other Collier County non-profit organization.
If you would like to donate to the NAACP to fund scholarships for next summer’s deployment of high school scholarship recipients, please contact:
Community Foundation of Collier County1110 Pine Ridge Road, Suite 200Naples, FL 34108 ATTN: NAACP Collier County Scholarship Fund National Flight Academy Deployment 2019 (Milagros (Mily) Perez-Distel, M.Ed. is a DoDEA and Florida Certified Educator who is an