My Experience by Eoin Shimizu
“Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don’t.” – Peter Seeger. (Musician, songwriter)
Over the last week I have had the privilege to learn what that actually means and it is very true.
The National Flight Academy (NFA) is an amazing journey of learning from start to finish at such an accelerated rate. Every day there’s something new to learn and new skills to master. There’s never a dull moment, never a time to be bored, always a new mission to be planned and executed. So let me share with you some of the highlights and experiences I had as an Irish AXP (Ambition eXperimental Pilot) participating in NFA’s incredible program.
One of the things that will always stand out in my mind is definitely the welcome we received from everyone. After almost 24 hours of travel from Galway to Pensacola it was wonderful to see some of the staff from the NFA standing outside the arrival doors of Pensacola International Airport waving flags and holding a huge banner welcoming us. When we arrived at the NFA there was nothing but awe from the whole group at the sheer size but to top it all there was a sign that had proudly been changed to read “INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT ACADEMY”! The team had really pulled out all the stops and gone out of their way to make sure that we got a memorable arrival to Pensacola and they certainly succeeded!
Once we had settled into our quarters on board Ambition I quickly forgot about the outside world as we set sail and were immersed into life as it would be on an aircraft carrier. It was amazing how realistic it was, every detail carefully designed to perfection from the grey narrow corridors and the sleeping quarters down to the water under the gangway and the sounds of aircraft taking off and landing all day long. Everything was as imagined and better, exceeding all hopes and expectations.
We started to carry out missions pretty soon after we got underway. First we needed to learn how to plan our mission flight plans, how to use the radars and radios in the Joint Operations Centre and finally we needed to learn how to fly the X-12 Triad aircraft. The amount we learnt in that first day was incredible! We had progressed from knowing almost nothing to being able plan, control, take off, fly a mission and land back on an aircraft carrier. Multiply that amount of information in a half day, by a week’s worth of time and you start to realise the sheer volume of new information we learnt! We got through things that would take a few weeks or even months in school, in a matter of days or hours! But that was just the theoretical side of things. During that week we learnt some of the most important skills that we’ll ever learn and use in our lives: skills like teamwork, leadership, delegating, assigning and sharing work, clear and concise communications, quick and innovative thinking, initiative, networking and most importantly friendship.
Over the course of the week I had the opportunity to work and become friends with so many amazing, talented and intelligent people. Each person had his or her own story to tell, each person bringing something unique to the squadrons. I’m sure that my fellow AXPs from both sides of the Atlantic will also agree that the friendships that were formed are the thing that I’ll never forget and cherish the most out of this experience. In a world where networking is so important, spending time with probably over 120 new total strangers gave us a chance to build up connections with people we may never have met otherwise. With each new friendship formed, another potential opportunity arises, an opportunity that mightn’t or couldn’t be possible without the support and friendship of these people. I know that I’ll definitely stay in touch with every one of my new friends and see where that friendship might lead me. Who knows, it might be that I was talking to the future President of a nation, a future General or Admiral or possibly the next Bill Gates this week! Whatever the future holds for these people, the friendships that have just started will never be forgotten.
On the subject of friendships and great people, of all the impressive things on board, the people were the most amazing. Every squadron of 12 AXPs was assigned a chief or rather the other way around. These chiefs are the most incredible people ever. Every one of them was always in a good mood, always patient while we learnt and worked, always there to help us. They were all great fun and kept all our spirits up all week long. I admire what they do and I hope that someday I’ll return and spend time as a chief for another group of young aviators. I also need to say that it wasn’t only the chiefs that were on the excellent team. There was also the Vice Admiral, the Captains, the Master Chief, Admin staff, the Intelligence and Operations officers, the technicians, the nurses, the catering staff and so many others that were working incredibly hard behind the scenes to make this experience possible. All of the wonderful team really pulled out all of the stops to make the experience one to remember. From the welcome to the emotional farewell, their hospitality and kindness was really incomparable to anything I’ve experienced before and was greatly appreciated by all.
I’d like to take the opportunity to thank everyone we met (and also to those we didn’t) on this trip and to everyone who worked so hard to make this experience happen. Special thanks to VADM Hoewing, VADM Architzel, Kathy Denkler, Teresa Gurka, CAPT Chip, CAPT Miller, Master Chief Curley, all the Intelligence officers and all the Operations Officer, all the chiefs, and of course to Kate Murray, Paddy Clancy and Maeve Clancy for all of the work they put in to make the experience a reality for all the Irish AXPs. I know I’ll have left someone out but know that I thank those people equally; you know who you are yourself! It has been the experience of a lifetime.