Internship program exposes naval academy midshipmen to NTWL

U.S. Naval Academy Midshipman Anna Shevchuk stands next to the photo of an MQ-8 Firescout unmanned autonomous helicopter during her internship with UX-24 at Webster Field.

Naval Test Wing Atlantic (NTWL) comprises four test and evaluation squadrons and the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School (USNTPS), and each summer, selected midshipmen from the U. S. Naval Academy (USNA) have the opportunity to spend four weeks interacting with squadron personnel.

Temporary assignment to the test wing offers midshipmen the opportunity to see, firsthand, almost every platform flown by the Navy and Marine Corps.

According to the Wing’s official summary statement on the internship program, while with NTWL, candidates are assigned directly to a squadron assisting in operations and maintenance activities, which provides exposure to these critical functions, and constructive on-the-job training for the future junior officers. Interaction with flight test teams affords the midshipmen the opportunity to observe test and evaluation through all phases of the process.

“We send three groups of six midshipmen over the course of the summer and the primary goal for this internship is to allow them to gain experience working with the various squadrons within NTWL,” said Cmdr. Michael Kauppert, internship coordinator for the Aerospace Engineering Department at USNA. “They’re able to work directly with teams of professional engineers, test pilots, and acquisition professionals while gaining exposure to the latest technology in the fields of flight simulation, material science, flight test, propulsion, electronic susceptibility, aircraft-ship integration, and unmanned aerial vehicles. They are also exposed to numerous platforms among the squadrons, which helps them make a more informed decision as they prepare for service selection in the fall of their 1/C (senior) year.”

USNA Midshipman Anna Shevchuk participated in this summer’s internship program assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (UX) 24, the Navy’s first Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) test and evaluation squadron, located at Webster Outlying Field.

Physically unable to fly in an aircraft due to recent knee surgery, the placement of Shevchuk within UX-24 was an optimal fit.

“The squadron said they were willing to support a midshipman, so I was fortunate to be able to come down here,” Shevchuk said. “I’ve been observing and learning because I haven’t been introduced to any of this before. Unmanned is becoming a huge part of warfare, so it’s been interesting to see how they conduct their testing, developing and evaluating, and what kinds of capabilities the unmanned aircraft have.”

Shevchuk was able to see both sides of unmanned operations, from the bigger MQ-8 Firescout to the smaller tactical unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Midshipman Shevchuk observed and participated in critical MQ-8 and Small Tactical UAS test events that ensure the UAS being delivered to the Navy and Marine Corps flight operators will meet operational needs,” explained Lt. James Stranges, UX-24 project officer and midshipmen coordinator. “This ranged from ground testing the new MQ-8 operating system to payload flight testing of new EO/IR (electro-optical and infrared) sensors on the MQ-21 Blackjack.”

With a desire to fly, Shevchuk was happy for the opportunity to see flight from a different perspective.

“I know for sure I want to fly, but I don’t know what yet,” she noted. “I may not have necessarily chosen to come to an unmanned squadron if I’d been fully capable of actually flying, but it has definitely been good to see a different side of aviation. These internships give us a chance to experience a possible career path, to see if it’s something we’re interested in or if we need to shift our focus to a different community. They let us experience what it’s like to be working at a Navy installation rather than just being at school.”

Stranges sees long-term benefits for the Navy as well.

“[UX-24] is a new squadron; we stood up in October 2018,” he said. “This is an excellent program for midshipmen to participate in as it gives them insight in to the latest technology that will be available to them when they arrive in the fleet. UAS is the way of the future, and the future leaders of the Navy and Marine Corps will benefit greatly from early exposure to the technology.”