Gephart takes command of VX-31

Gephart takes  command  of VX-31Cmdr. Andrew “Lurch” Gephart takes over command of VX-31 on Jan. 10 at China Lake — U.S. Navy photo by Paul Kakert

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NAVAL AIR WARFARE CENTER WEAPONS DIVISION — Cmdr. Andrew “Lurch” Gephart relieved Cmdr. Elizabeth “Lizard” Somerville as commanding officer of the Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 31 during an airborne change of command ceremony over NAWCWD China Lake on Jan. 10.

“This is a big day,” said Rear Adm. Scott Dillon, NAWCWD commander. “The accomplishments that we’re here to recognize and celebrate today are not accomplishments that come easy. Test squadrons like VX-31 really are the epitome of a professional organization, and there are few like this squadron across the entire Navy.”

“If there is something that works, we will continue it; if there’s something that needs improvement, we’re not afraid to try something new. That’s what this squadron has always done,” Gephart said.

“Liz, you looked out for all of us. I’m going to miss you; we’ll all miss you. It’s going to take a lot of hard work to fill your shoes...VX-31 is no stranger to [that]. I welcome your insight, your guidance, hard work and your direction.”

Gephart has been serving as VX-31’s chief test pilot since June 2017. A native of Dayton, Ohio, he graduated from Boston University with a bachelor’s degree in physics and a master’s in mechanical engineering before earning his wings as a naval aviator in 2001. He began his career flying the F-14A with Fighter Squadron (VF) 211. He deployed aboard USS Enterprise (CVN 65) in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom prior to transitioning to the F/A-18F in 2005.

Gephart attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School before conducting test and evaluation at VX-23, during which time he was deployed with the 1-28th Infantry Battalion to Falcon, Iraq. He also served as a flight instructor at VFA-106 and a department head with VFA-15, where he deployed aboard USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) on her maiden deployment, chief test pilot and director of the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Directorate at Webster Outlying Field in St. Inigoes, Md., and finally as an instructor at USNTPS before reporting to VX-31.

Somerville reported to VX-31 in January 2016, serving as chief test pilot until July 2017, when she assumed command of the Dust Devils. As commanding officer of VX-31, Somerville was responsible for the oversight of aircraft, test pilots, project officers and flight test planning for research, development, test, and evaluation of current and future manned aircraft, weapons and weapons systems.

During her term as commanding officer, Somerville oversaw the successful development of numerous programs including AIM-9X, Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, BLU-129, Joint Direct Attack Munition, Joint Standoff Weapon, Standoff Land Attack Missile Expanded Response, High-Speed Anti-Radiation, Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile and Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile among others.

She will take over as CTP of VX-23 in Patuxent River, Md., for her follow-on orders.

“Serving each of you has been one of the most tremendous honors of my life,” Somerville said. “I truly thank you for your dedicated professionalism in everything that you do. I cannot wait to see where you take the Dust Devils team next.”

Story First Published: 2019-01-25