EDWARDS AFB – Lt. Col. George Schwartz, who had been leading the “Deadly Jesters” since January 2012 handed the reins to Lt. Col. Andrew Allen, who took command of the 461st Flight Test Squadron during a ceremony held recently at the F-35 Integrated Test Force complex.
Col. Christopher Azzano, outgoing 412th Operations Group commander presided over the ceremony and recalled the ITF’s progress under Schwartz’s command.
“The workload has been intense, but the progress has been huge. Test production is up 40 percent in a year and a half and the addition of three more aircraft make this team that much more capable. This enabled an amazing string of firsts. First night flight. First air-to-air weapons launch. First air-to-ground weapons launch. First defensive countermeasures. First data link to share information with another aircraft. First high angle of attack testing and the list goes on,” said Azzano.
“[Schwartz’s] entire tenure was defined by the goal of turning a cool looking, great flying aircraft into a weapon system with unprecedented lethality and survivability,” he added.
Before departing for Washington state for his next assignment, Schwartz reflected on the significance of the F-35 ITF’s mission and commitment to the warfighter.
“The vision for this program is staggering when you look at it. Right now there’s over 2,500 aircraft planned for the Air Force, Marines, the Navy and eight partner countries. It will strengthen the bonds to our allies and be the backbone of U.S. air combat operations for generations. The road to achieving this vision runs directly through Edwards Air Force Base and directly through this ITF,” Schwartz said.
He also discussed the character and talent of those who work at the ITF and the lasting impacts of what their contributions mean to the future of our combat forces.
“Developing these aircraft requires the ingenuity, resourcefulness and hard work from all of you and we’re lucky these are hallmarks of our organization because we are pushing technology in ways it’s never been used,” said Schwartz. “When it arrives here and doesn’t work, you’re the ones who figure out how to make it work, create value, and a fifth generation fighter that will change the security environment forever.”
Under Schwartz’s command, the men and women began putting the teeth into the F-35 and it is Allen that will take the initial F-35 developmental test program further.
“Lt. Col. Andrew ‘Growler’ Allen is the kind of leader we need to take the F-35 down the home stretch to combat status. Growler has a background perfectly suited to the 461st,” said Azzano.
In addition to his F-15 combat experience, Allen is a seasoned test pilot who has extensive fifth generation fighter experience with the F-22 Raptor. He is a distinguished graduate of Squadron Officer School and four formal flying programs.
Allen returned to Edwards from his previous assignment at the Pentagon, where he served on The Joint Staff, J-8 as the lead for The Joint Staff Assessment Cell responsible for analysis of joint requirements for Department of Defense acquisition programs coming before the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.
“This experience and his hard charging leadership style make Growler the perfect choice to lead F-35 development into its final stages. And his family values will help the 461st balance a daunting test load with other equally important priorities at home,” said Azzano.
After assuming command of the 461st FLTS, Allen let the men and women of the F-35 ITF know that they have his full commitment to the mission and to their care.
He also emphasized the importance of teamwork, working together seemlessly to accomplish the mission.
“I firmly believe that the success or failure of our mission hinges on the integration and teamwork between the government and our contract partners. I know we all share the same goal of a team without division,” said Allen. We must continually foster an environment where one cannot easily notice differences between our military, government and contractor personnel.”
Allen reflected on his previous assignment, sharing his perspective on the critical role that the F-35 ITF has in shaping the stealth fighter for not only the Air Force, but sister services and allied nations.
“The longer I worked in the Joint Staff, the more I came to realize how important the F-35 is to the future of our joint force and to the acquisition of our future military capabilities. We will not get another chance to recapitalize and modernize our tactical aviation inventories in the Air Force, the Marine Corps and the Navy along with our partner nations for many, many decades,” said Allen.
It is the work of the F-35 ITF that will ensure air dominance in a wide variety of future combat scenarios.
“The capabilities that the F-35 will bring to the fight are critical to the joint force and to the future of the air dominance mission. Due to your efforts here, the F-35 will be as effective in highly denied and contested environments on day one of future wars as it will be in supporting troops in dense urban, close air support scenarios that we see in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Allen.
During his speech, Allen gave his commitment to the warfighter, as well as their friends and families that they have his full dedication to the development of the F-35 Lightning II.
Personalizing the warfighter and their family members, Allen shared the story of a family friend, Eleanor and her son Staff Sgt. Lee Eckert. Eckert is a Marine explosive ordinance disposal technician who has deployed five times to Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I can only imagine the horrors of war I know Lee has seen and witnessed and the days Eleanor has spent in prayer for the safety of her firstborn son. It is Eleanor, it is Staff Sgt. Eckert, it is all of our families and friends, and it is the American people like those in my home town of Owasso, Oklahoma, and others just like them who make up each and every one of our own personal stories,” said Allen.
“They are the reason we do what we do. What we do here will have a tangible and lasting effect on the safe return of our sons and daughters, ‘the warfighters,’ to the mothers and fathers of our great nation,” he added.