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More than 400 students will have the opportunity to attend the National Flight Academy program in Pensacola thanks to a new sponsorship from Delta Air Lines, officials said Thursday.

Located aboard Naval Air Station Pensacola, the National Flight Academy is an educational program focusing on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Using the virtual aircraft carrier Ambition, the academy provides an “interactive, fun-filled, aviation-themed experience” for middle and high school students.

Delta — the “official airline of the National Flight Academy” — has signed on as the sponsor of the academy’s Quarterdeck entrance for the next five years, and for the fourth consecutive year will sponsor the enrollment of a group of students in the Ambition program. This year, more than 400 students will attend the academy in June 2017, more than the previous three years combined.

A Delta pilot congratulates a National Flight Academy student. (National Flight Academy/Special to The Pulse)

Attendees will consist of the children and grandchildren of Delta employees as well as students from Delta’s community partners, including organizations like Junior Achievement, Aviation high schools and 100 Black Men of America chapters​, who select children to represent their respective organizations.

“Just like the NFA, Delta is committed to igniting an educational spark in students,” said Steve Dickson, senior vice president of flight operations for Delta Air Lines. “We know the importance of engaging more students in science, technology, engineering and math to generate tomorrow’s STEM-ready workforce in aviation.”

“We are very proud to share this common goal with the NFA as we invest in the next generation through this one-of-a-kind immersive program,” Dickson added.

This year, students ranging from 7th through 12th grades will come from all over the United States, Latin America and Mexico to participate in the academy’s renowned programs, officials said.

Attendees — called “Ambition Experimental Pilots” or AXPs — live aboard Ambition, a state-of-the art, 102,000-square-foot virtual aircraft carrier. The aviation-based adventure combines STEM learning objectives with important 21st century skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, leadership development, and effective communication.

Students will plan missions with ultramodern and advanced technology as well as learn to fly in networked aircraft, eat on mess decks, sleep in staterooms and receive mission briefings in six fully-electronic ready rooms, officials said. Additionally, they’ll experience different areas aboard the virtual carrier, including the Mess Deck, Joint Intelligence Center, Joint Operations Center, Berthing Spaces and Hangar Bay.

“Delta is a great example of a company investing in an innovative program that will positively affect the future of young people,” said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Duane Thiessen, president of the National Flight Academy. “Together, we are able to have a positive impact on a large group of students.”

Steve Hayes, president of Visit Pensacola, welcomed the first-time and returning visitors brought by Delta Air Lines to the Pensacola Bay Area.

“We applaud Delta and the NFA’s commitment to inspiring children’s interest in STEM, and we encourage these students and their families to take full advantage while here of everything else Pensacola has to offer — our history, culture, top-ranked beaches and, of course, the National Naval Aviation Museum, which brings in almost one million visitors per year,” said Hayes.

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