Speirs Takes Mentor of the Year at Point Mugu
Pursuing knowledge and growth has been a journey as ancient as humanity. This quest traces its roots back to ancient Greece, where the concept of "mentor" originated in Homer's epic tales. Mentor, the wise guide for Odysseus' son, stands as a symbol of enduring mentorship that has echoed through the ages.
Edward Speirs, lead test engineer in the Range Support Aircraft Department at VX-30, continues this timeless tradition of nurturing potential and guiding the next generation.
Naval Air Systems Command recognized his outstanding achievements during the annual Mentor of the Year Award ceremony on Jan. 30. This year's ceremony was a unique hybrid event, incorporating both virtual and in-person elements. Point Mugu honored Speirs as their nominee, acknowledging his valuable mentorship to Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division.
Strong guidance to progress professionals is especially integral for the test and evaluation community, which has an imperative mission reliant on complex engineering capabilities, so they can deliver decisive combat power to the warfighter.
"As a recent Test Pilot School graduate at the time, test and evaluation was a new world for me," Lt. Christopher Padgett, the RSA project officer who nominated Speirs, explained. "Mr. Speirs was instrumental in my development as a project officer from the beginning."
Yet, the foundation for their mentoring relationship began in an unusual setting: a production of "Newsies" at the High Street Arts Center in Ventura County. There, Speirs took on the role of Wiesel, the character portrayed as a mean and grumpy Scotsman who works as a newspaper distributor, often in conflict with the newsboys."
Despite having met Padgett briefly only three weeks before, Speirs remembered his name after the show.
"I was impressed by how such minimal previous introduction resonated with him," Padgett said. "That personal touch left an impression on me."
This simple yet profound encounter laid the groundwork for a mentoring relationship. Seventeen months later, Speirs' outstanding mentorship within the RSA department inspired Padgett to nominate him for Mentor of the Year.
"I felt surprised. I didn't realize Lt. Padgett thought of me that way," Speirs admitted. "It's the highest form of respect when somebody nominates you for an award."
As a military lead, Padgett must coordinate closely with civilian project engineers like Speirs, who handles technical analytics. Together, they spearhead planning for major test operations.
"Great testing comes from great teamwork. It takes great people, and Mr. Speirs is one of them," Padgett said. "To see Mr. Speirs recognized with this award is extremely gratifying. It's well-deserved.”
Speirs, whose father was a horse jockey and trainer, spent his early years in Denver, Colorado, before relocating to Scotland in 1985 when he was six years old. After graduating from the University of Glasgow, he returned to the United States in 2000, motivated by a deep-rooted interest in fighter jets and military aircraft.
Since 2004, Speirs has entrenched himself in test and evaluation, with 14 years at Edwards Air Force Base and eight years at Point Mugu. From 2016 to 2020, while at the Joint Electronic Attack Compatibility Office, he contributed to Intrepid Tiger, a program developing electronic warfare technology for the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 2020, Speirs joined the RSA Department at VX-30. RSA is responsible for providing testing and test support for all major test activities on the Point Mugu Sea Range. RSA also leads the charge in NP-3C, P-3C, KC-130T, and NC-20G aircraft modifications.
Speirs has mentored five project officers and four flight test engineers.
Part of the mentorship process takes place in one big room known as the Wolves' Den, where the team's close-knit, family-like approach fuels a collaborative environment for tackling challenges and allows Speirs to devote time to listening, energy to guiding, and effort to inspiring.
Yet, for Speirs, effective mentorship relies less on formal titles like "mentee" and assigned roles and more on daily interactions and support.
"I don't think of mentoring that way. I never thought those methods worked," Speirs said. "It's about caring for people, helping them, and building connections."
Speirs' mentorship approach mirrors his leadership philosophy: leading by example, fostering growth, and empowering others.
Off the flight test school runway, Padgett found in Speirs a co-pilot guiding his early test and evaluation journey.
Just 30 days into his VX-30 tenure, Padgett received a boost from Speirs, who encouraged him to take on a project officer role. This plunged Padgett into the support planning process for a high-profile Missile Defense Agency program.
"Speirs is a powerhouse at writing test plans and analyzing data," Padgett said. "He's great at breaking down seemingly daunting projects into manageable tasks for new test and evaluation personnel to comprehend and understand."
Collaborating in tandem, civilian lead Speirs and military lead Padgett wrote plans and supported range missions. Speirs guided Padgett, empowering him to gain the expertise to take charge.
Speirs also played a vital role in fast-tracking Padgett's introductions to key stakeholders among program partners. Transforming names on paper into face-to-face relationships, Speirs did more than share technical know-how — he played a pivotal role in steering Padgett's growth, equipping him to navigate and lead confidently in a high-stakes, multi-dimensional environment, raising his organizational awareness.
"His efforts in teaching me the process and making those connections were invaluable to how I led projects from then on," Padgett noted. "His mentorship is always welcome and appreciated."
Currently, Padgett is the project officer leading the critical NP-3C Cast Glance and P-3C telemetry sensor integration for the NC-20G Gulfstream test support missions. As the P-3C Orion aircraft retires, the 20G will replace its infrared and electro-optical imaging capabilities, ensuring continuous flight test support. As a project engineer, Speirs collaborates closely, focusing on system integration, event coordination, and addressing challenges. Their professional partnership and technical prowess ensure seamless support for naval forces dependent on this advanced airborne imagery intelligence and test item sensor data.
So, what makes Speirs such a great mentor?
"The biggest thing for me is his personality," Padgett pointed out. "He's transparent but also light-hearted about everything, which makes others receptive to learning from him."
So, what advice would Speirs give to up-and-coming engineers aspiring to soar in the Test and Evaluation community?
Speirs emphasized, "Treat this like your own business. Put in the same effort you would if it were your own business."
It's the same advice he gave years ago at Edwards Air Force Base. Three of the engineers he mentored early on are now chief engineers, and one is a director at Los Angeles Air Force Base.
"They're in higher positions than me now," Speirs laughed. "It gives me satisfaction that I planted those seeds early in their careers, they ran with it, and now they're achieving their success and goals."
Speirs' journey is not confined to the technical realms of flight test engineering. His recent venture into stand-up comedy and musical theater, influenced by his daughter, adds an intriguing dimension to his professional persona.
"Doing stand-up comedy and theater has helped with confidence in performing in front of crowds and having the nerve to go out there," Speirs shared. "It also helps with my job. Being able to brief high-ranking officers comfortably is nothing compared to doing stand-up."
Speirs brings a unique energy and commitment wherever he goes, whether planning a test mission or captivating an audience on stage.
This blend exemplifies Speirs' ability to connect with and inspire those he works with. For the last two decades, it has set him apart as a respected test and evaluation leader and now a Mentor of the Year Award winner at NAWCWD Point Mugu.