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News Release, NAVAIR News

NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– The recipients of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23’s year-end awards for 2019 have been announced. The recipients are:

  • Flight Test Engineer of the Year Susan Thompson
  • Maintenance Chief of the Year Aviation Machinist’s Mate Senior Chief Petty Officer Markisaac Bugarin
  • Naval Flying Officer of the Year Lt. Cmdr. Alan “Beezel” Helm
  • Test Pilot of the Year Lt. Cmdr. Sean “Crush” Delaney

“Our winners are an outstanding group of individuals,” said Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mark Amspacher, VX-23’s commanding officer. “Susan, Crush, Beezel, and ADCS Bugarin were able to take full advantage of the recently introduced Mission Aligned Organization restructuring efforts, making significant and far-reaching contributions to the squadron’s ability to safely test and evaluate tactical naval aircraft. They used their exceptional talent, superior leadership, and good use of Capabilities Based Test and Evaluation to leverage advanced technologies, rapidly eclipsing capabilities gaps to ensure our warfare dominance into the future. I congratulate them all and commend them for a job well done!”

Susan Thompson, right, VX-23’s Flight Test Engineer of the Year for 2019, receives her letter of commendation as Naval Test Wing Atlantic’s Flight Test Engineer of the Year for 2019 from NTWL commander Col. Richard E. Marigliano.

In addition to their squadron honors, Thompson, Bugarin, and Delaney all received Naval Test Wing Atlantic (NTWL) awards as well.

Squadron leadership and supervisors evaluated the awardees on the depth and breadth of their responsibilities, their leadership skills, job performance, educational accomplishments, participation in civic and community affairs, and their physical readiness, among other criteria.

Last year was a busy one for the squadron, as the awardees’ accomplishments reflect. For example, Thompson, the lead project engineer for the MK-15 Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) flight test team, led a cross-disciplinary team of engineers, maintenance personnel, landing signal officers, and test aircrew to complete the performance testing on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, E/A-18G Growler, C-2 Greyhound, E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, and T-45C Goshawk. During the year that Thompson and her team spent at Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst, they completed 916 individual test events.

“It’s just such an honor to be recognized for all the hard work, for all of the team effort and travel, for all the folks who have been making me look good,” said Thompson. “In addition, I think it’s really great how female engineers are being recognized.”

Aviation Machinist’s Mate Senior Chief Petty Officer Markisaac Bugarin, VX-23’s Maintenance Chief of the Year for 2019

Last year, Bugarin, the squadron’s Quality Assurance Officer, and his team of six chief petty officers, 38 sailors, and two government ground representatives accomplished just under 21,000 maintenance actions, 60 audits, 15 special audits, and 130 spot checks. Bugarin’s team received a grade of 91 percent for its review of processes and audits with zero off-tracks during the year.

“It’s not really a milestone for me; it’s a milestone my team and the whole command,” Bugarin said. “It’s a way of showing that we do make a lot of things happen over here, and it creates an impact fleet-wide, not just here at Pax River.”

Helm was nominated for his willingness to serve as a primary project officer on 10 programs during 2019, as well as for being the squadron’s most active mission systems tester during that time. Among his accomplishments, Helm conducted multiple Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LSRAM) carriage and carrier suitability test flights and supported multiple detachments at sea to test the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) and the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System (JPALS).

LCDR Alan Helm, VX-23’s Naval Flying Officer of the Year for 2019

“It felt great to receive the award, but it hasn’t been just my own work that got me this award,” Helm said. “I’ve had some really outstanding project engineers working with me, and all of them have done an incredible job. It’s not like any of us do this to get an award; we do it because it’s our job and we have to be the best that we possibly can. There’s a bunch of naval flight officers at the squadron that all do as much work, if not more than I’ve done that’s as important, if not more important.”

A first-tour test pilot, Delaney was named VX-23’s Airborne Electronic Attack (AEA) department head – a position more typically held by senior aviators who have completed their operational careers. Delaney jumped right in, coordinating developmental test efforts for over 20 AEA projects that included the Next Generation Jammer (NGJ) Low Band system, and he also oversaw the pioneering use of innovative 3-D printing and metallization technologies to rapidly fabricate prototype components for the ALQ-99 Tactical Jamming System (TJS) pod installed on the EA-18G.

“It’s humbling and definitely an honor to be named Test Pilot of the Year, but that being said, I am one of many people on the team,” Delaney said. “You don’t do any of the work on your own.”

LCDR Sean Delaney, VX-23’s Test Pilot of the Year for 2019

“Here at VX-23, you have a real opportunity to get exposed to just about everything,” added Delaney, who will be returning to the fleet in May to deploy with Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 140, the “Patriots.” “I think that, ideally, what flight test does is bring expertise back to the fleet. Going through flight school, you learn how the aircraft works and how to employ it, but the detailed knowledge of the systems that you get in-flight test really rounds you out as an aviator.”

Known as the “Salty Dogs,” VX-23 is NAVAIR’s largest flight test organization. The squadron supports the research, development, test, and evaluation (RDT&E) of 11 different types, models, and series of fixed-wing strike, electronic attack, and strike training aircraft, including the F/A-18A-D Hornet, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, EA-18G Growler, T-45A/C Goshawk, F-35B/C Lighting II, and the MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone.


David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...