National Flight Academy by Kate Kelly
National Flight Academy
When I first found out about the project in Pensacola and the fact I had a chance to go there – I couldn’t believe it. But when I was told that I was one of the people going – I almost didn’t believe it. It seemed too good to be true! I now have been there and back and it still seems like a dream.
Waking up early in the morning is usually a big problem for me, but when we were told that the day started at 6:30 am, surprisingly, I didn’t really mind. The morning we were leaving, I was up before the rest of the house (excitement hadn’t let me sleep anyway!) It never really hit me – (how far away I was going and how amazing it would be) – until I was over American soil.
When we reached Pensacola airport we got a lovely welcome from the people who ran Ambition. The humidity was unbelievable, I never really got used to it but thankfully every building had great air conditioning.
When we arrived at the NFA, they gave us cards to unlock the door to our rooms – like in a hotel. We all had our own card with our names on it. Then we had a chance to shower and unpack. The girls were divided into two rooms and the boys were all in the one room. Once we did all of that we were called down to the main hall – the food hall, which they called the mess deck, and we had a feed of pizza. When we finished eating pizza we went to the game room. There, you could play air hockey, Xbox, Playstation or cards. Soon after, we all were more than willing to go to bed.
On Saturday we went to the Holiday Inn Resort. There was an outdoor swimming pool there and then a little wooden bridge leading to the beach. The bridge was so hot from the sun, when you were going back and forth between the two, you would have to run across or else you would burn your feet! The sand was hot as well so you needed to find a spot of shade quickly! The ocean was perfect – 28 degrees! We spent most of the day at the beach and then they brought us shopping for around two hours and afterwards we went back to Ambition.
The next day was when all of the Americans started to arrive. Once everyone had settled in the Captain called us all down to the mess deck to tell us the rules that applied while we were staying there. One of the things we had to do was to make sure our beds were made and our rooms were clean and tidy because that decided theb order of who would eat first of all the 108 AXPs. An untidy room meant bringing up the rear. Our room got us to second in the queue on one occasion and we never ended up last!
The days from Monday – Thursday were great. We were brought to a museum, where we saw lots of different models of planes, a Rescue Swimmer School, where we saw how the future rescue swimmers train and they brought us to the IMax theatre where we saw a 40-minute-documentary about the Blue Angels and the day after we were brought to see them perform a practice show! They were really good!
When we were on Ambition, flying the triads we were invited to take part in the Tampa Air Rally to do missions and sometimes we were given a case like a ship collision and we would have to do certain things like pick up people in the water and, if there was a fire, drop water. Whatever we did on the Triads would be about 40 minutes long. But before we flew, we planned.
In order to plan our flights we had to go to the JIC, (Joint Intelligence Centre). There, we used Google Earth to measure the distance we had to travel. Then we had to decide how fast we would travel so we could calculate the fuel requirement, how much we would burn per minute and how much we would need overall.
When we were controlling the planes we went to the JOC (Joint Operations Centre) where we had to wear a headset in order to be in contact with the people in the Triads and make sure among other they were heading in the right direction.
So the week was brilliant! On Friday we graduated in the museum at 10:00 in the morning. The American students were all gone by noon. We made lots of new friends there. The Americans were very amused by our Irish accents!
At around 01:30 in the afternoon we went shopping again for a few hours and then we went to a baseball game and watched Pensacola’s local team, The Blue Wahoo’s, play. The game was about three hours long and it was really good.
The day after that was our last day in Pensacola, Florida.
Pensacola Airport was really quiet and we passed through security easily enough and thankfully our stop over in Atlanta wasn’t as long as it was coming over. Before I knew, I was on the plane home.
No words could explain the tiredness I felt in Dublin airport – I slept the rest of the day and was awake for the rest of the night!
But jet lag or not, I’m still incredibly grateful for my experience. After all, it’s not everyday you get to go to Florida to such an amazing facility where we had so many fantastic experiences! Thanks to everyone for making it a reality!
By Kate Kelly.