National Flight Academy uses technology to spur STEM learning

By Louis Coper, Special to Innovation Coast

Pensacola – The National Flight Academy, a state-of-the-art educational institution located at Naval Air Station Pensacola, is using technology to get students ready for futures in STEM – science, technology, engineering and math.

“Technology plays a significant role in a student’s overall experience at the National Flight Academy,” said Malerie Shelton, marketing director for the academy. “Approximately 90 percent of the curriculum is focused on STEM, and the remaining 10 percent is focused on team building activities.”

The National Flight Academy opened in the summer of 2012. More than 4,900 students ages 11-17 have participated in its programs to date.

Technology plays a vital role in the four spaces that students at the National Flight Academy rotate through. Those spaces are the Joint Intelligence Center, the Joint Operations Center, the Ready Room and the Hangar Bay.

“Students have to research and plan their squadron’s solution for each ‘mission’ using computer-driven touchscreens,” Shelton said. “Additionally, students have the opportunity to practice the flying skills they will need to complete the mission they just planned using task trainers, which can simulate flying an aircraft and/or an underwater remotely operated vehicle.”

Earlier this year, the National Flight Academy joined Innovation Coast. Innovation Coast is an alliance of companies and institutions of higher learning in Northwest Florida that works to promote and grow technology and knowledge-based companies in the region.

“The National Flight Academy’s goal is to inspire youth in STEM, and Innovation Coast offers us the opportunity to network with high-tech companies and technology-savvy individuals in the area,” Shelton said.

“Additionally, the members of Innovation Coast represent great role models for NFA’s students to emulate and by NFA’s active membership, we can share those examples with our students.”

Innovation Coast Executive Director Donovan Chau said the National Flight Academy is a great asset to the Northwest Florida community.

“Since Pensacola is the birthplace and home of naval aviation, it makes perfect sense to leverage and promote these assets in our tech community,” Chau said.

“The technologies at the Flight Academy are something to behold, and they are suitable for all ages. As Escambia and Santa Rosa counties continue to grow and nurture the STEM disciplines, the Flight Academy will play a more prominent role as a regional education tool and forum.”

In the future, Innovation Coast will partner with the National Flight Academy to host member-exclusive events, he said.

Although the program is relatively new, Shelton said participants are already going on to use the skills in their everyday lives.

“The National Flight Academy is about to start our fifth summer season, and we have begun contacting previous attendees to determine what impact NFA has had on their life choices,” she said. “In the limited data that has been collected – via phone interviews – many alumni have stated that NFA did positively influence them in either pursuing a STEM career or STEM-related education.”

While 72 percent of students at the National Flight Academy have been from Northwest Florida, Shelton said students have come from all over, including 45 states and Puerto Rico, as well as Ireland, Germany, Canada, China, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The academy, which is funded through tuition, offers programs that last one day, three days and six days.

The National Flight Academy is a subsidiary of the National Naval Aviation Museum Foundation. Its activities are authorized by the Navy, but the Navy does not endorse or fund the program. The National Flight Academy does not recruit for the military, and all of its simulated missions are humanitarian in nature.

For more information about the National Flight Academy, go to

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