NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER AIRCRAFT DIVISION, PATUXENT RIVER, Md. – Capt. Elizabeth “Lizard” Somerville took command of Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 23 from Lt. Col. Mark “Ammo” Amspacher during a change of command ceremony at NAS Patuxent River yesterday.

Capt. Elizabeth “Lizard” Somerville flies with Lt. Col. Mark “Ammo” Amspacher during an airborne change of command ceremony at Naval Air Station Patuxent River on July 1, 2021. Somerville took command from Amspacher and marks history as the first-ever female commander of the strike test squadron. (U.S. Navy photo)

Col. Richard E. Marigliano, Commodore of Naval Test Wing Atlantic, presided over the change of command ceremony.

“As commanding officer of the largest developmental test squadron, Lt. Col. Amspacher brought inspirational leadership to the command,” said Marigliano. “I have no doubt Capt. Somerville is up to challenge of continuing the great work here.”

This is not Somerville’s first time at the helm of a developmental test squadron. Before joining VX-23 as Chief Test Pilot in October 2019, Somerville led VX-31 in China Lake, California, where she oversaw developmental flight test on various fixed wing platforms’ weapons systems and software.

“I am incredibly fortunate to be taking the helm of such a great command,” said Somerville. “This is a really exciting time in flight test – we have big changes coming with unmanned systems and other important capabilities to deliver fleet squadrons.”

Somerville’s military career is peppered with firsts. She was the first female aviator at Electronic Attack Squadron (VAQ) 141. Somerville was also a department head in VAQ-141 during the maiden deployment of both the Navy’s Growlers and USS George H. W. Bush (CVN 77). Somerville was the first female commander of a Naval developmental test squadron at VX-31, and now the first female commanding officer of VX-23.

“Capt. Somerville will do a fantastic job carrying the mission of VX-23 forward,” said Amspacher. “She will benefit, as have I, from the incredible talent, ingenuity, and tenacity of the military, civilian, and contract personnel that make the Salty Dogs great. It’s not just about the people, it is ALL about the people!”

During his time as VX-23’s commanding officer, Amspacher oversaw the integration of the small diameter bomb II and the Joint Direct Attack Munition on the F-35, as well as the aircraft’s participation in the Italian aircraft carrier ITS Cavour (CVH 550) Sea Trials. The Next Generation Jammer on the EA-18G Growler took its first flight during his tenure, a significant milestone in future electronic warfare capability. Amspacher also played a key role in high-risk testing of the new electromagnetic launch system and advanced arresting gear recovery system aboard USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78).

During the ceremony, Marigliano awarded Amspacher the gold star in lieu of a second award to his Meritorious Service Medal.

Amspacher’s next orders are to the AV-8B Weapon Systems Program Office (PMA-257).

VX-23 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.

VX-23 is a component of Naval Test Wing Atlantic, under Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. With facilities in Patuxent River, Maryland; Lakehurst, New Jersey; and Orlando, Florida NAWCAD advances capability and operational readiness for naval aviation.

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