Campus Life

National Flight Academy and UWF partner on learning adventure

After nearly 20 years of planning and preparation, the National Flight Academy (NFA) at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola hosted its grand opening Friday at 8:30 a.m. The NFA offers a unique setting for middle- and high-school students to live and work aboard the replica ship Ambition for a multi-day, aviation-inspired learning adventure.

The Ambition is the first fully-immersive learning lab in the country and boasts 100,000 square feet of technology. It features a galley with catered food, bunks, lockers, work desks and other amenities available on an actual ship. Sponsors of the program include Boeing, Conrad Hilton Foundation, Enterprise, FedEx, Lockheed Martin and Northrup Grumman.

Many famous aviators and astronauts, including Mark Kelly, Neil Armstrong and Gene Cernan, were present at the grand opening and expressed their excitement for the future of aviation education.

“We have the unique opportunity to host aviation-inspired experiences in an educational environment,” said Vice Adm. Gerry Hoewing, president and CEO of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation and head of the Flight Academy.

Other speakers included Congressman Jeff Miller; Judith Bense, president of the University of West Florida (UWF); Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida (UF); James Heavener, CEO of Full Sail University; and Mark Kelly, retired American astronaut.

“Today we are launching a revolution, one that captures children’s curiosity and their interest in science and math,” said Bense. “For UWF, this partnership is special, and the outcome is a highly-immersive, game-based education experience.”

UWF led the curriculum development for the facility, and has a similar classroom, the U.S.S. Argo, on campus. The purpose of U.S.S. Ambition is to better educate students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) disciplines.

The NFA is part of a STEM initiative of the Naval Aviation Museum Foundation, designed to address the serious concerns of declining STEM skills and standards in the U.S. UWF assumed the lead in developing curriculum for the entire National Flight Academy.

“NFA Classrooms provide an immersive, game-based learning opportunity for students,” said Pamela Northrup, UWF dean for the College of Professional Studies and team leader for NFA curriculum development. “Students will be engaged the moment they walk onto the Ambition. They will be presented with challenges throughout the week, from search-and-rescue missions to hurricane hunting. Through gaming and role play, participants will work together to plan, fly and debrief each mission, learning valuable teamwork and STEM skills, all in a fun, engaging activity.”

“What sets us apart from other nations in the world is ambition,” said Miller. “It takes a little bit more to do things that are special. These children are our future leaders, scientists and astronauts, and we are happy to help educate them.”

To see pictures of the U.S.S. Argo and Ambition, visit