Vice Admiral Gerry Hoewing is finally realizing the dreams of retired Navy Rear Admiral Skip Furlong and retired Captain Robert Rasmussen by bringing the National Flight Academy to reality. Hoewing makes sure to mention the two men who started the program and refuses to take full credit.
“This program has been the vision of very key people,” said Hoewing who is also president of the National Flight Academy. “I might be in the picture, but it’s far more than me.”
Under the very large National Flight Academy umbrella are several programs such as Aviation Classroom Experiences (ACE), which are implemented in Escambia High School, Milton High School, Warrington Middle School and an advanced version at University of West Florida, Aviation Inspired Missions (AIM) to be located in science museums, Aviation Web Experience (AWE), and the grand finale, Aviation in Residence (AIR) also known as Ambition, located next to the National Naval Aviation Museum.
“Ambition is the capstone program,” Hoewing said. “All of the senses give you the feeling of being in a real aircraft.”
While the flight academy may inspire students to further their flying aspirations, the main goal of these programs is instilling STEM—science, technology, engineering and math principles.
“We don’t teach kids how to fly,” Hoewing said. “We teach them engineering, science, math, public speaking and leadership. Learning comes first.”
It doesn’t hurt that students in grades 7 through 12 are learning these skills in a modern way, using a program that seems more like a video game than actual work.
“It’s about keeping kids engaged in an academic setting,” Hoewing said. “Would you rather do something fun and engaging or would you rather listen to a lecture?”
As the museum continues to impress locals and tourists—Hoewing said attendance will reach 800,000 this year—with flight simulators, a new exhibit in the hangar and two brand new IMAX movies, the National Flight Academy will be yet another fun attraction for kids. And the benefits will make their way to the rest of the community.
“It will turn the National Aviation Museum into a destination. Families will bring their children, stay in our hotels and eat at our restaurants,” Hoewing said. “Where else can a student spend five and a half days at a day camp where they are the avatar? They live the story for five and half days.”
Right now, eight schools around the country are equipped with ACE and about eight more will hopefully have the program by the end of the year. Although it’s only been open since May, Ambition has seen a continuous increase in students. After 25 years of planning, National Flight Academy has finally taken off.
“Each class is growing,” Hoewing said. “First was 36, next was 45. We’re eventually going to grow to 108, which is 50 percent of capacity.”