Advancing Capability, Operational Readiness for Naval Aviation

By Rear Adm. John Lemmon, Commander, Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division

A test pilot from Air Test & Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, Md., conducts flight test in an F/A-18 over the eastern seaboard at sunrise. (U.S. Navy photo by Erik Hildebrandt)

We operate under this mantra at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD): the acquisition and sustainment of capability is a weapon of war. As a combat support command, we conduct the research, development, test and evaluation, and life cycle sustainment for all of Naval Aviation. Our diverse command of talented military, civilian and contractor workforce advances capability and operational readiness for Naval Aviation every day. We bring our talent to bear on both fielded and not-yet-fielded Navy and Marine Corps platforms, systems and technologies to revolutionize readiness and increase lethality.

Headquartered at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, NAWCAD is one of two warfare centers supporting the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR). With sites at St. Inigoes, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida, NAWCAD is comprised of more than 10,000 aviators, engineers, scientists, logisticians, testers, artisans and other acquisition professionals.

Engineers at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division’s (NAWCAD) Atlantic Test Ranges monitor airspace over the Chesapeake Bay and other range assets during developmental flight testing. (U.S. Navy photo)

We are the busiest flight test center in the world with a unique portfolio of more than 300 labs, test assets, a developmental test air wing and protected open air ranges with more than 27,000 square miles of air space over the Chesapeake Bay, and more than 50,000 square miles of air space over the Atlantic—all available to support anything from small unit-level events to large-scale joint exercises. Over a series of base realignments, NAWCAD became the Navy’s largest warfare center by accumulating facilities so advanced we have the organic capability to usher requirements and ideas from concept through development and then deployment completely in-house.

Engineering design? Let’s get to work. Modeling and simulation? Coming right up. Prototyping and manufacturing? We’ve got it. Human systems research? Definitely—we provide the research, development, test and evaluation for everything that touches the human or that the human touches in Naval Aviation. Air vehicle modification? Yes again. We cut metal on aircraft to enable enhanced capabilities. Ready for ground and flight test? Our very own Naval Test Wing Atlantic has that covered—from fixed-wing, rotary-wing and even unmanned platforms of all sizes and types—our squadrons are ready to execute. For many projects, we also work directly with the fleet.

In addition to cradle-to-grave capability, NAWCAD provides training tools for Sailors and Marines at every stage of their career—including the next generation of test pilots coming out of our U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. And our highly patented workforce is world class in every discipline from biochemistry to human systems engineering to advanced undersea sensing. Collaborating both in and out of the DOD, we support technology advancement with industry, academia and other agencies. In fact, the Navy recently named NAWCAD leader of Southern Maryland’s Tech Bridge charged with accelerating naval access to local innovation ecosystems and industry advancements by reducing barriers to non-traditional industry partners like small businesses, startups and nonprofits.

Following the Naval Helicopter Association symposium in May, Sailors with HSC-2 in Norfolk had an opportunity to try out the new seat, which includes improvements such as height adjustability, lumbar support, adjustable additional leg room, the ability to recline, a flip-up seat bottom, redesigned restraints, a redesigned headrest to accommodate the night-vision goggle battery, and tracks to allow the seat to move to and from the window. (U.S. Navy photo by Mikel Lauren Proulx)

Solving Naval Aviation’s Problems

I’ll give one example of NAWCAD’s problem-solving ability: our recent success supporting the Multi-Mission Helicopters program in redesigning, prototyping and manufacturing the MH-60’s Next-Generation Gunner Seat.

Not long ago, Naval Aviation named the MH-60 gunner seat the No. 2 safety priority because its configuration and ergonomics caused detrimental injury to fleet aircrew. The inflexible seat hindered the cabin mobility needed by gunners. Also, it was not adjustable for users of all sizes, which degraded aircrew reach and visibility—our Sailors deserved better.

The warfare center went to work in collaboration with the Multi-Mission Helicopters and Aircrew Systems program offices. Our engineers coordinated directly with fleet gunners to understand requirements for the new design. Our team modeled and simulated the new configuration digitally ahead of ground and flight test, saving time and money while fine-tuning first-article test assets. We brought the design to life by manufacturing the prototype right here at NAS Patuxent River. Leveraging years of flight and mishap data, the team conducted lab-based physical crash testing to ensure the new version was safe.

The new seat was integrated aboard an MH-60 at our very own rotary-wing Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (HX) 21 for ground and flight test. Following successful fleet fit checks, we facilitated the contract for full-rate production and fleet-wide retrofit—all of this in a single year from requirement identification. I am incredibly proud of the time and cost savings realized for the Navy, taxpayers and more importantly, the enhanced capability we provided the fleet—this is the kind of organic capability NAWCAD brings to the Navy and ultimately, to the fight.

A fuels and lubricants chemist at NAWCAD conducts jet and diesel fuel quality tests in a propulsion and power lab at NAS Patuxent River. (U.S. Navy photo by Adam Skyzolas)

We Are Naval Aviation

The United States boasts the most lethal and capable armed forces in the history of the world. Our brave warfighters—Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and Guardsmen—have proven their excellence and proficiency across the entire spectrum of conflict in myriad locations across the globe. Key to our military’s success is our Sailors’ and Marines’ toughness, training, superior equipment and ability to adapt to increasingly complex threats from peer and near-peer forces, as well as rogue and failed states, and the terrorists and non-state actors they often breed.

NAWCAD proudly continues to provide the talent, tools and technologies in support of Naval Aviation, other services, federal agencies, academia and industry partners that help ensure our warfighters maintain their edge and always go into a conflict with significant advantage.


U.S. Navy photo

Rear Adm. John Lemmon is a native of Champaign, Illinois, and a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Post Graduate School and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School.

After earning his wings as a naval aviator in 1990, he flew the E-2C Hawkeye in support of operations aboard USS Forrestal (CV 59), USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) and USS John F. Kennedy (CV 67). He also served as commander, Task Group 67.8, Horn of Africa. His flight test experience includes tours at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) where he worked on numerous upgrades to E-2 and C-2 Greyhound aircraft, and later as Commanding Officer of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20.