VX-31 names Test Pilot, NFO of the Year for 2020
Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 31 named their Test Pilot and Naval Flight Officer of the year for 2020 in a ceremony Jan. 4 at Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, California.
Lt. Cmdr. Justin Stevens, a native of Boca Raton, Florida, served as the project officer for the F-18 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler H16 System Configuration Set (SCS) software updates. Stevens led the effort to develop and mature the software, which will improve the overall capability of the Super Hornet and Growler as strike-fighter and electronic attack platforms.
Col. Tom Fields, VX-31’s commanding officer, credited Stevens’ work with setting the “standard for test efficiency and effectiveness. And although Stevens said he is truly honored to receive this award, he stresses that it is not his alone.
“I am always learning that success in the test world is a product of multitudes of personnel working smartly to overcome challenges,” he explained. “The teams I’ve worked with are all exceptional at what they do. They should be proud of what they’ve achieved and their innovative solutions to keep the ball moving down the field.”
Stevens is the currently Military Deputy for Test and Evaluation, facilitating the safe and effective planning, execution, and reporting of developmental test events at Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division’s Advanced Weapons Laboratory.
Lt. Scott Nieman, a native of Willis Michigan, was awarded the 2020 Test Naval Flight Officer of the Year for his work as a project officer for the Small Diameter Bomb Second Increment (SDB-II) and Tomahawk , both of which experienced challenges ranging schedule slips to COVID-19.
In conferring the award, Fields noted that Nieman “established himself as a top-line test NFO and a strong leader within the squadron and test community. His efforts directly supported major capability developments for SDB II, AMRAAM, AIM-9X, LRASM, JSOW, and MALD-N.”
He helped develop the technical project officer live fire test plan for the SDB-II project in collaboration with VX-23 of Patuxent River, Maryland, combining developmental test points with flight science test points. He also working closely with VX-9 in China Lake to develop integrated test and operational test events, with a goal of providing an all-weather, Net-enabled, low collateral standoff weapon for the fleet.
Nieman worked with the Tomahawk team to prepare for two shots that required a F-18 chase aircraft. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, coordination proved to be more challenging, as the entire first event had to be coordinated virtually.
“It was a massive learning experience for all parties involved,” Nieman said. “I really had to lean on the expertise of some previous China Lake testers in [Patuxent River] to execute the mission.”
The second event consisted of three shots from the Point Mugu Sea Range, the success of which helped qualify fleet assets for use of the Tomahawk and aided in developing the weapon’s capabilities, Nieman said.
In addition to his regular projects, Nieman took on the position of lead for Weapons Integrated Product Team, managing a department of 12 Technical Project Offices supporting more than 20 weapons programs. Since June 2020, the Weapons department executed 17 live fire events and conducted over 200 weapon-related developmental flights.
“To me the award is a testament of everyone else’s hard work,” Nieman said. “The Weapons Department came together to cover [critical needs] in unprecedented times. The flight test engineers have continued to impress me with their ability to think creatively to find alternate paths to success.”