NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, Md.– Cmdr. Daniel Kitts took command of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 from Capt. Elizabeth Somerville during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, June 16.
Col. Richard Marigliano, Commodore of VX-23 parent command Naval Test Wing Atlantic, presided over the ceremony.
“When leadership changes, the shoes to fill are always big,” said Marigliano. “But the leaders who step up to stand at the helm are more than capable and willing.”
Kitts served as VX-23 Chief Test Pilot (CTP) during Somerville’s tour as commanding officer. Prior to his tour as CTP, Kitts served as the F-35C requirements officer. He also served VX-23 as a developmental test pilot and carrier suitability lead for the F-35C test program. He previously served at Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 147 where he successfully transitioned the first Navy operational squadron from the F/A-18E to the F-35C.
“The capabilities that our naval aviators need tomorrow are coming through our doors at VX-23 today,” said Kitts. “As I humbly assume command, I want our team to know that I am here to serve you in our relentless pursuit of excellence in flight tests.”
Kitts is a 2008 graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. His personal awards include the Meritorious Service Medal, Strike Flight Air Medal, four Navy Commendation Medal awards, three Navy Achievement Medal awards, and various campaign and unit awards.
“Salty Dogs: It has truly been one of my greatest honors to have had the privilege of serving as your commanding officer,” said outgoing Somerville. “You represent the absolute finest in the profession of aviation – you are all true experts at what you do.”
Prior to leading VX-23 in 2021, Somerville served as the squadron’s CTP. Somerville also served as the commanding officer of VX-31 in China Lake, California where she oversaw developmental flight test on electronic components of various fixed-wing platforms. She was also the first female aviator at Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141 and served as a department head when Growlers deployed for the first time aboard USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77).
Somerville is a 2006 graduate of the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School as part of the cooperative program with the Air Force Institute of Technology. Her personal awards include the three Air Medal awards, two Meritorious Service Medal awards, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal awards, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal awards, and various campaign and unit awards.
During the ceremony, Marigliano awarded Somerville a gold star in lieu of her third award of the Meritorious Service Medal.
VX-23 is a component of Naval Test Wing Atlantic, a test wing under the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. Nicknamed the “Salty Dogs,” the squadron supports the research and development, test, and evaluation of fixed-wing tactical aircraft. As Naval Air Systems Command’s largest flight test organization it provides pilots, maintenance services, safety oversight, and facility support. The squadron conducts more than 3,000 flight operations each year, both shore-based and shipboard.