US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR), April 15, 2020 - NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, MD - April marks the 45th anniversary of the founding of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 20, which has a long and proud history of providing full-spectrum flight test for the fleet.
The anniversary celebration was a low-key affair due to health and safety guidelines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but VX-20 Chief Test Pilot Jared “J-Rod” Goul and Command Senior Chief Nathan Hon presided over an informal cake-cutting ceremony in the squadron's maintenance control office – with attendees careful to maintain appropriate social distancing as they partook of the cake throughout the busy day.
"Our squadron has accomplished significant milestones over its history and will continue to achieve more in the future because of the hard work of people like you," Commanding Officer Cmdr. Matt "Cupcake" Tharp told his team. "Thank you again for all your hard work."
VX-20 can trace its roots to the earliest days of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, when the Naval Air Test Center (NATC) was established in 1945. Thirty years later, in April 1975, NATC reorganized into test directorates for antisubmarine, strike, and rotary wing aircraft, systems engineering test, and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. In 1986, the Antisubmarine Aircraft Test Directorate (ASATD) — the direct ancestor of today's VX-20 — was renamed the Force Warfare Aircraft Test Directorate, and nine years later reclassified as the Naval Force Aircraft Test Squadron. It received its current designation as VX-20 in May 2002.
"From the start, the Antisubmarine Aircraft Test Directorate was blessed with talent," recalled retired Capt. John Dunaway," the directorate's first commanding officer. "We had a sterling safety record, with no one killed or seriously injured and only a few dings while moving aircraft."
"The operational readiness rates for our aircraft usually exceeded those of the Atlantic Fleet squadrons," Dunaway added with pride.
On Dunaway's watch, the ASATD was designated the Lead Field Activity for the E-2 Hawkeye and helped ensure that the program received necessary funding at a critical period in its history. The directorate's command and control branch served as the Navy's in-house production facility for the P-3 Orion Tactical Support Center for many years, spanning the spectrum of weapons systems acquisition management and life cycle support for system hardware and software.
"The branch had the managerial and technical capability to do in six months what normally took two years or more," Dunaway recalled of those early years. "Failure was unacceptable."
Today, nearly a half-century later, that same philosophy guides the military, civilian, and contractor personnel who make up the VX-20 team. VX-20 executes developmental test and evaluation of a wide array of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft and their associated mission and weapons systems, including the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, P-8A Poseidon, MQ-4C Triton, KC-130T/J Hercules, E-6B Mercury, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk, among many others. VX-20 also provides aerial refueling for the F-35 Lightning II, MV-22 Osprey, and F/A-18E-F Super Hornet, and flies safety and chase support missions for other platforms within Naval Test Wing Atlantic.
Last year, VX-20 executed more than 140 test and evaluation projects on 12 different type/model/series aircraft, totaling more than 1,300 sorties and 3,660 flight hours.
As it embarks on its next 45 years, the squadron will continue providing cutting-edge test and evaluation services for aerial refueling, assault support, close air support, multi-sensor imagery reconnaissance, and upgrades to avionics and mission systems, as well as whatever new missions it is called on to protect the warfighter of today and tomorrow