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Navy Test Pilot School Receives Army Commander

Only Helicopter Test Pilot School Promotes Executive Officer to Oversee Flight Testing Education

The U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS) changed command during a ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, installing U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Aaron Kia in place of U.S. Navy Commander Jeremy DeBons.

The school trains pilots and engineers to develop, test, and safely evaluate aircraft. It's the only domestic source of rotary-wing test pilots, and serves as the Army's dedicated test pilot school. Kia became the 3rd Army officer to oversee the school in its history. To commemorate the handover, an airborne ceremony was held, where outgoing Commander DeBons flew a U6-A Beaver, and incoming Commander Kia flew a UH-72 Lakota, 'handing off' the mantle of leadership as the aircraft conducted a pass.

“Kia is unquestionably the right person to take the reins,” said Naval Test Wing Atlantic Commodore, Captain Elizabeth Somerville. She oversaw the ceremony and affirmed her faith in Kia. “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.”

Kia is the school's 51st headmaster and rated in several helicopters in Army inventory, including the UH-60 Blackhawk, UH-72, and AH-64 Apache. 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.

“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.” 

DeBons, an F/A-18 Hornet man, took command of the school in 2021. During his tenure at the facility, he implemented an abbreviated course to bring civilian flight engineers up to speed, among other streamlining efforts to increase efficiency throughout the program.

“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.” 



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