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News Release, Naval Air Systems Command
NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Lt. Neil Whitesell has been named Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (UX) 24’s test pilot of the year for 2019. Whitesell said that the award is a reflection of a team effort. “It’s an affirmation not just of the hard work that I did, but that everybody put into it,” he said.
For the past two years, Whitesell and his team have been focused on integrating a brand-new radar system into the MQ-8C Fire Scout, an unmanned helicopter that is designed to provide surveillance and targeting data to warfighters.
“It’s a big change for the platform,” Whitesell said. “It comes with a brand-new supporting software system that required a pretty substantial hardware modification to the airframe. There were several instances of change requirements during the test planning, which required a lot of change management for the team.”
Furthermore, the MQ-8C test planning had to incorporate the development of guidance for operating the aircraft’s new radar, in order to broaden the skill set of operators in the fleet who may not have experience using radar-equipped UAS.
Densing described Whitesell as “an exemplary test pilot and a model officer.” Last year, Whitesell managed five test and evaluation projects simultaneously, including shipboard testing of the first MQ-8C detachment aboard a Freedom Class littoral combat ship (LCS). Despite operating in extreme weather that cut the number of flying days in half and even affected the ship’s steering, Whitesell’s team still managed to execute nearly 18 flight hours over the course of 36 launch and recovery evolutions over a four-day period.
Whitesell said that he hoped that news of his team’s accomplishments will encourage other pilots and engineers in NAVAIR to consider pursuing careers in unmanned systems at UX-24, which is based at Webster Outlying Field in St. Inigoes.
“It’s the big story that you haven’t heard of,” Whitesell said. “It’s a small, quiet base, but there’s a lot of very important working happening down here. We’re at the birth of a new era in military aviation. It’s going to be huge, and this is where it starts.”