My Experience at the National Flight Academy by Kate Grealish
An Aviator is a person who is actively involved in the flight of an aircraft. For us as “Aviators of the Future” we spent the week linking Maths with fun using the STEM system (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The Aviator of the Future Programme gives students a chance to explore the world of education. Education is an adventure that we all discover during our lives. Many people receive a chill of excitement when calculating a maths problem, people get a thrill when creating new technology, others may enjoy experimenting with different chemicals, I for one feel quite ecstatic when reading a book based on natural history. So you see anything that involves learning or finding out something new always attracts a little something in the mind of an individual. It quite excites the brain to extract new information and when you read or write it, it sticks to the brain forever. We “Aviators of the Future” are fortunate enough to have already experienced this feeling of triumph, whether it be on your first day of school, or daily while reading your favourite book. I most certainly experienced it when in America and I am sure everyone returned home with more knowledge for their brain to absorb.
My journey began the moment I found out that I would be one of the twelve picked to journey to America to experience an opportunity of a lifetime and to have NFA (National Flight Academy) as a temporary home. When my parents told me, my whole family were thrilled to hear that I’d be following the family tradition of maths and science. I attended several meetings in which all the Aviators of the Future exchanged individual backgrounds and personal details. We learnt all about the Naval terms and acronyms and what the trip meant. I had looked up National Flight Academy on the internet and learned more of what we would be doing in the Pensacola. In preparation for the trip we were all vaccinated with the necessary vaccinations and made sure our passports would be valid for the next 6 months. We went on a trip to the Atlantic AirVenture in Shannon to try out the simulators, get used to flying and learn about the aerodynamic terms. As the day approached in which we’d be journeying to America, I became more and more excited and finally when the day arrived I couldn’t sleep a wink the night before.
As I stepped foot in Dublin Airport, 3rd of August, 2012. I was excited, actually come to that, ecstatic to be meeting my new friends and fellow AXPs before our flight to Atlanta. I am sure everyone was feeling slightly nervous as we gathered, chatting and wondering how our experience in America would go. We took a group photograph and the parents said their last goodbyes, perhaps wondering would their children miss them. I think I am right in saying that not one of us felt homesick, in fact I think we were all regretting leaving America and returning home to our normal lives.
As we checked in our baggage and were handed out our boarding cards, the sensation became real. We were travelling to AMERICA! It was an experience beyond our wildest dreams. As everyone milled about we handed our passports to Paddy and I was glad I didn’t have the responsibility of looking after my passport as my Father had told me earlier that morning; Your passport is your most important object you will have, so I was certainly most happy to hand it over! We walked in a group to a café in Terminal 2 and I’m sure we received many interested glances as our jackets read ‘Aviator of the Future’. I myself was talking to a woman who was very interested in what we would be doing in the States. We had a short snack, mainly a drink and croissant or muffin and headed out to board our flight DL177 to Atlanta.
The flight was 8 hours long to Atlanta and then a short hop to Pensacola. The weather couldn’t have been more different than the weather in Ireland. It changed from being cold, rainy and dreary to a sunny, humid climate. We were staying in the Naval Base located in Pensacola, Florida. We were settled in nicely and once the American AXPs (Ambition eXperimental Pilots) arrived, we were all set to take off from Ambition. My first impression on the American AXPs was that they were all extremely interested in their international comrades. They seemed to know so little about Ireland, but I am sure that at the end of the week, they must have learnt plenty about the country including some Irish lingo.
Ambition is a Naval aircraft carrier located in the Gulf of Mexico. Our mission was to fly the experimental aircraft, the Triad X12. The Triad X12s are configured to fly as fast as an FA-18, hover and set down like a helicopter and drive like an all-terrain vehicle.
On a typical day, we would wake up to a horn sound at around 06:30. We would have a shower in the fantastic bathroom facilities and get dressed and head down to the mess deck (food hall). Usually there would be some type of Americanised breakfast such as breakfast burritos or pancakes with bacon. It seemed like an American diner! The squadrons would eat with their chief, discussing the events of that day. Occasionally in the morning the AXPs would be brought on a trip; for example the Naval Aviation Museum, the Aircraft Control Tower or a chance to see the Blue Angels do aerobatic formations! We would then be briefed on the days’ action-packed mission and come together to create a master-plan, flight map and fly in the fantastic simulators. Each mission would text the AXP’s mental agility, preparedness and communication skills, including their ability to fly and ability to handle whatever comes unexpectedly. There would be lunch at 14:00 or earlier, depending on the events of the day. Each day would require a different mission and different requirements. Dinner would occur at around 18:00 and the line for the food would be decided according to each rooms’ cleanliness. AXPs who had lost their belongings would be required to entertain the entire audience of the mess deck in song or dance indicating a sense of fun. AXPs would be debriefed and allowed an hour of free-time before lights out. It would be an end to an extremely exciting and busy day!
Thinking back on the week, I realised that having Maths and Science applied to missions made me realise how exciting the subjects were and how they are used so regularly in everyday jobs. Also, thinking back on the start of the week, the Irish people were very conscious of how the Americans students were so different to us because they looked and sounded different. However, by the end of the week we discovered we had much more in common than we had realised before by the bonding we had during all of our adventures and we regretted leaving them and perhaps wondered would we ever meet again.
I feel very grateful for having had the opportunity to travel to Florida. It was a fantastic experience. Paddy Maeve and Kate, our mentors were terrific in organising the entire event and for minding us while we were so far from home and I really want to thank them for everything!