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|Location||Huntsville, Alabama, U.S.|
|Management||U.S. Space & Rocket Center|
Aviation Challenge is a military-style camp for youth between the ages of 9 to 18 years old located in Huntsville, Alabama and is part of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. Aviation Challenge is all about aircraft, survival, and being a pilot. Each Cadet is given a military uniform and must work together with the teams throughout the week to accomplish mission objectives. They also learn all about airplanes; how to fly them in the simulators, how to build shelter and fire, and many other team building activities.
Aviation Challenge offers several programs that are based on the cadet’s age group. With each program, the difficulty increases but the cadets are not required to complete the previous age group program. Each program lasts five days for the Mach I program (9-11 years old), Mach II program (12-14 years old), and the Mach III program (15-18 years old), and a single two week Mach III Elite program offered exclusively to the alumni of the regular Mach III program.
The Mach I program is meant for cadets from 9-11 years old which is the youngest age group at Aviation Challenge. “Aviation Challenge® MACH I is a fast-paced, military-style program that uses simulated, realistic combat scenarios. Trainees are immersed in the fascinating realms of flight while learning about the basics of the military lifestyle.”  This is the easiest program for the cadets. They learn about the basics of flight, how to fly, and survival on both land and sea. This entire week of activities and training lead to the most coveted event at Aviation Challenge: The Top Gun tournament. This tournament is bracket style and each round is pilot vs pilot and the winner of the Mach I program, at the end of the cadet’s week, will win the highest award at graduation.
The Mach II is designed for teenagers between the ages of 12-14 years old. “Aviation Challenge® MACH II is a military-style program for middle school students that uses simulated, realistic combat scenarios while teaching pride, professionalism and leadership.”  This age group is even more immersed in the military experience. These cadets have more challenging missions in the simulators and competition raises as well. The cadets also learn about survival training, water training, and patrolling. All of these culminate into a SEAL OPS mission at night and a Search and Rescue mission during the day. Same as the Mach I program, the Mach II program has their own Top Gun tournament where they see who is the best out of the best in the Mach II program. The cadet who comes out as the ultimate winner will receive the Top Gun medal.
The Mach III program is the highest level in the Aviation Challenge camp and is meant for teenagers on their way to adulthood from 15-18 years old. “High school trainees are challenged in the fields of aerodynamics, aeronautics, and jet propulsion when they experience our most advanced aviation program, MACH III.”  This is the most informative and learning experience offered at Aviation Challenge. The Mach III cadets leave at the end of graduation with a deep understanding of all things aviation. This highest program even counts towards a college credit once the cadets finish their week. The Mach III cadets also learn about water and land survival and will experience what it’s like to be in a simulated helicopter crash with a “helo-dunker” at the Aviation Challenge lake. Also at the lake is a zip line which is used to simulate parachute landings. Their week ends with an extensive SEAL OPS mission and a very challenging escape and evasion mission at night.
Mach III Elite
The Mach III Elite program is run only once per summer and is basically a boot camp where cadets must follow a strict military code of conduct and etiquette which tests their mental and physical abilities. The Elite’s challenges help them as young adults because it brings out the best in the cadets and helps them build upon their weaknesses as well which serves them well in life. The Mach III Elite program began in 2005, and is a 12-day intense program which is only available to alumni of the Mach III program. This is for die hard cadets only and will include Airsoft, MOUT, and a Crucible. This Mach III Elite program is not for the light hearted and will test each cadet’s ability to overcome physical and mental strain. At the end of the week, they are distinguished and will have learned invaluable information to help them become better young adults.
Mach I Activities
The Mach I program has the least challenging missions, activities, and simulators. Their simulators have the least amount of controls for simplicity and so they have the best opportunity to learn the basics of flight through experience. All of the Mach I’s activities are to build an understanding of how to survive in the wild and a basic understanding of flight and aviation.
Mach II Activities
The Mach II program builds upon the Mach I teachings and has bigger more complex simulators and more difficult missions. This is more of a military style program than Mach I. The Mach II’s also have more challenging FTX/ SEAL OPS and Search and Rescue mission.
Mach III Activities
The Mach III program has the most challenging activities where working as a team is needed the most. There are more complex simulators that include pull down glass canopies when flying, as well as the traditional pilot and RIO/WSO two-person cockpit seating. Mach III also features scored missions with Theater Ops military style briefings where the cadets are meticulously inspected before being allowed to enter briefing rooms. They also have a much more intense SEAL OPS. There are many other activities that are done in the camp such as rafting, g force simulators, wilderness survival skills, and flight equipment lectures.
The Aviation Challenge Campus houses a wide variety of aircraft such as:
- F-14A Tomcat Bu-No 160661
- F-16B Fighting Falcon Two seat training variant
- MiG-17 'Fresco'
- T-38 Talon
- F-111C Aardvark
- F-4C Phantom II 64-0838 (Operation BOLO survivor - 1 MiG Kill)
- AV-8B Harrier II
- Kaman SH-2F Seasprite Bu-No 162583 "Lamplighter 342"
- AH-1 Cobra
- UH-1 Iroquois
- Center, U.S. Space & Rocket. Aviation Challenge. n.d. 05 03 2017. <http://www.spacecamp.com/aviation>.