The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) changed command during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Jan. 12. 

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Aaron Kia relieved U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jeremy DeBons during an airborne change of command ceremony officiated by Naval Test Wing Atlantic Commodore, Capt. Elizabeth Somerville. Kia is the third Army commander in the school’s history. 

U.S. Army Lt. Col. Aaron Kia, the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School commander, shakes hands with U.S. Navy Cmdr. Jeremy DeBons, the outgoing USNTPS commander, during a change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, Jan. 12, 2023. Kia is only the third Soldier to command in the 78 years of the school. Credit: Jonathan Bass / U.,S. Navy

“Kia is unquestionably the right person to take the reins,” Somerville said. “I have every bit of confidence in Aaron to lead this team and continue to evolve this schoolhouse – to deliver that incredibly crucial asset – the critically thinking tester – to our test commands within the Navy, Army, Air Force, and partner nations.” 

DeBons flew a U6-A Beaver with Somerville during the ceremony, while Kia flew a UH-72 Lakota. The aircraft conducted a pass as Kia relieved DeBons of command. 

Kia is the school’s 51st headmaster and is rated in several helicopters, including the UH-60 Blackhawk, UH-72, and the UH-64 Blackhawk. Before spending the last 18 months as the school’s executive officer, he tested aircraft at the Redstone Test Center, the Army’s dedicated test and evaluation command. The Class 145 alum now commands more than 300 personnel, including members from the U.S. Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, Department of Defense civilians, contractors, and foreign service members. 

“To the USNTPS staff and students, it has been an incredible 18 months serving as your executive officer,” Kia said. “There is no other command in all the military services as diverse, competent, and committed as you. I am confident in your ability to propel the aviation enterprise into the future and I look forward to serving as your commanding officer.” 

A U.S. Navy UH-72 Lakota and U-6A Beaver fly in formation over the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School during an airborne change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Maryland, Jan. 12, 2023 Credit: Jonathan Bass / U.S. Navy

DeBons, an F/A-18 Hornet pilot, took command of the school in 2021 and is credited with implementing an abbreviated course designed for civilian flight engineers among other achievements. 

“To the USNTPS staff and students: I admit it is strange standing before you now that I am no longer your commanding officer,” said DeBons. “It has been an incredible tour for me as you’ve far exceeded expectations at every turn. You – meaning admin, ops, maintenance, safety, simulator lab, instrumentation, facilities, support staff, academic and flight instructors, short course, military, civilian, and contractors. You have made this the most rewarding job and you made this the best squadron in the Navy… and the Army. Your professionalism, dedication, and enthusiasm are unmatched. It shows in all that you do.” 

Kia inherits a schoolhouse designed to train pilots and engineers to develop, test, and evaluate aircraft. The school is the only domestic source of rotary test pilots and serves as the Army’s dedicated test pilot school. It’s graduated nearly 100 American and European astronauts to date. USNTPS is a component of Naval Test Wing Atlantic, test wing under Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division in Patuxent River, Maryland. NAWCAD advances capability and operational readiness for naval aviation. 


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