NFA Florida by Eve Sheridan
One day at the end of June my mum was reading the newspaper and she showed me an article which she thought would interest me. It was entitled “Aviator of the Future Programme” and it said that the Galway Education Centre was seeking 12 school children to take part in the programme. I decided that I would enter because it sounded very exciting and because STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) skills are used. I was absolutely delighted when my dad received a phone call from the Galway Education Centre to tell him that I had been picked to go to Florida to take part in the “Aviator of the Future Programme”. At the first meeting we had together I met all of the other students who were chosen to take part and they were all really kind and they seemed to be just like me! That evening we learnt all about the National Flight Academy and what we would be doing when we went to Pensacola. A few weeks later we went on a trip to Shannon airport where we learnt the basics of flight and we practiced flying on a simulator and got a tour of the museum there. I felt that I got to know the other students very well that day.
The night before we left to go to the airport I was feeling nervous and excited I woke up at 4 am that morning so I could make it to Dublin airport at 6 am.I met with all the other students at Dublin airport. We were all dressed in our matching tracksuits and we took some pictures and said a quick goodbye to our parents there. It took a long time to check in and go through security and customs but we eventually made it and we had breakfast in the airport before we took off. The flight was 8 hours long and when we reached Atlanta everyone was tired and hungry. We had a 6 hour layover there and our next flight to Pensacola was only forty minutes long. We got a huge welcome from some of the members of the National Flight Academy when we arrived in Pensacola. They had a banner with ” Welcome to Pensacola Irish Ambassadors” written in green writing and an Irish and American flag. They gave each of us pink, gold and green beads which are worn by people in Pensacola. We got our luggage off the carousel and went outside to the minibus where we met Kathy who drove us to the National Flight Academy. She showed us that on the front of the building it said “Inter-National Flight Academy ” and that they had changed it in our honour! We felt very special! Chiefs Cody and Melody showed us to our rooms and then we headed to the mess deck for a pizza party. After that everyone felt very tired so we went to our staterooms for a well earned rest.
We awoke the next morning and went to breakfast in this nice diner near the National Flight Academy. All the food was really nice especially the pancakes! After our breakfast , back at the Flight Academy , everyone covered themselves in sun cream and we each received a blue wristband with an American flag on it so we would not get lost at the beach. We got into the van and drove to the beach which took about 20 minutes and when we arrived there we jumped straight into the pool. There was a large pool and a lazy river and a board walk down to the beach. On the beach the members from the Flight Academy had set up a tent and cooler boxes filled with nice cold drinks and cookies! We spent all day swimming in the sea and in the pool until we had to leave. When we got back in the van we drove to a gift shop on Pensacola beach where we spent some dollars and bought our families and friends some souvenirs. After this we went to the shopping mall! We had a great time looking through all the cool American shops and we had some lunch there also. We headed back to the Flight Academy in the afternoon and we had a barbecue on the mess deck. Every one enjoyed it. That night the 12 of us plus Chief Chrissy and Chief Lonex spent some time in the games room. We played cards and air hockey and we got to know the two Chiefs better. Every one was having such a great time that we didn’t even notice that it was 23:30 by the time we got to bed.
The next morning breakfast was at 09:30 and after that it was a very busy day! Children from around the States were arriving at different stages throughout the day and we all came together for lunch and a meeting in the mess deck with all the Chiefs. Chip ( the Captain ) talked to us about all the rules aboard Ambition and about what would be happening over the week. It all sounded very exciting and I could hardly wait to get started. We headed to the JIC (Joint Intelligence Centre) for the first time where we met IO Laton. She was very nice and she explained to us that she would be teaching us the theory of flight. She showed us how to find headings on a map, to find out how long it would take you to reach your destination and how much fuel you would need for your journey. You needed to have a lot of maths skills to be able to complete these tasks. Next we headed to Hangar bay 1 where we practised flying, landing and taking off from Ambition. After this we went to the JOC (Joint Operations Centre). Here we met OPSO O’Rear who we discovered is of Irish descent. He would be helping us to plan missions and to guide other pilots on headsets from the JOC. We helped the Raiders to fly by giving them headings and telling them to lower/higher their speed and altitude. After this every body was very hungry and we really enjoyed the dinner which was beef tips and rice. After dinner all 108 of us AXPs (Aviation Experiment Pilots) split up into our squadrons and spent some time with our chiefs. After a long tiring day everybody was ready for bed.
Our second day aboard Ambition started with and early alarm bell at 06:30. We all showered and got ready for the day and were down in the mess deck for breakfast at 07:30. It was great. We went to the Naval Aviation Museum and we received a brilliant tour of the whole building. We learnt about the ‘Blue Angels’ which is the Navy Flying Squad from Pensacola who would be doing a practice air show for us in two days time. We went to see a forty five minute movie about the ‘ Magic of Flight ‘ in an iMax theatre in the museum. It was a great experience to be able to feel and sound like you are in an aeroplane when you are sitting down in a cinema theatre! When we got back to the Flight Academy we had our lunch which was baked ziti which is a pasta bake in a red sauce. We all really enjoyed it. We arrived at the JIC after this where we were greeted by IO Laton who gave us a flight briefing , and after that we were in the Hangar Bay 1 flying our mission. We then went to the JOC and guided the Lancers on their flight and then it was time for dinner. After dinner we headed to the JIC where we went through another flight briefing and then we commanded another flight before bed. Altogether it was quite an exciting day and that was only day 2!
The next two days on Ambition were very busy and eventful. We went to Air Traffic Control and climbed to the top of the tower which has 177 steps in total and we learned all about the ATC , we also went to the Rescue Swimmer School. The following day we were lucky enough to see the Blue Angels perform. They were absolutely brilliant and everyone got lots of pictures of them. We had more JIC, JOC and flying also at the Flight Academy which was getting more difficult as the days went by but that just made everything more exciting. We even did some of our own formation flying and we also did a Tampa Bay Air Rally. We made lots of new friends in our staterooms and in our squadrons and they are all so nice and kind to us. We are all trying not to think about our final day aboard Ambition but it was coming closer and closer and we knew we would be so sad when it was all over.
Our final full day in the National Flight Academy started off early and as we were eating breakfast the screens in the mess deck showed us a news report saying that the cruise liner ‘Tropicale’ had crashed into an oil tanker named ‘Gulf Sunset’. Under the guidance of OPSO O’Rear and IO Laton we helped to put out fires on the cruise ship. Everything became more serious when we found out that OPSO O’Rear’s parents were aboard the cruise ship. Even though it was a simulation everything felt so real as we were flying our mission. After a full day of hard work saving critical patients and putting out fires finally, all of the 2317 passengers that were on the ship were saved and successfully brought back to land. There was great celebrations on Ambition that night and as a treat we had burgers and chips for dinner with brownies for dessert. We went to bed early that night so we would all be ready for Graduation the next day….
We had a bit of a sleep in on our Graduation morning the next day and breakfast was an hour later than usual. We all got dressed into our squadron T-shirts and we went over to the Naval Aviation Museum where we met Kate , Paddy and Maeve. We thank them so much for their hard work over the week. Without them we would not have had this brilliant opportunity. The graduation ceremony was very enjoyable , we each received a badge , a brooch , a photo of our squadron and a certificate. Congratulations to Ruadhri who won AXP of the week. He gave a speech and he did a wonderful job. After the ceremony we met the Vice Admiral Gerald Hoewing and he presented each of us with a medal. It was a great honour to receive this. We said goodbye to all of our new friends who have been so nice to us this past week. I know that I will keep in touch with them for a long time. After all the other AXPs had left we went back to the shopping mall to get some last minute shopping finished. We spent two hours there and then we went to a local baseball game. It was the Blue Wahoos from Pensacola against the Chatanooga Lookouts. Even though the Wahoos lost we had a great time looking through the gift shop and we even got to go on the stand and we were shown to the rest of the crowd on the big screen. It was so exciting. After the game had finished we went out onto the pitch and took some pictures before we went back to the Flight Academy to have our last sleep aboard Ambition.
The next morning we had Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast which is a type of American doughnut brand. Everyone really enjoyed it. We also tried almond milk which is Chief Lonex’s favourite treat. We played ninja and air hockey with Chief Chrissy all morning until we had to leave to go to the airport. We said goodbye to Kathy, Treasa, Chip and our Chiefs outside of the airport. We thanked them for making our week so special. We arrived back home in Dublin early on Sunday morning and we got a great welcome back from all of our parents and brothers and sisters. It was good to be home but I wished that we were still in sunny Pensacola!