Defense Media Network

Interview With Vice Adm. David A. Dunaway, USN (Ret.)




Vice Adm. David A. Dunaway was born in El Paso, Texas. After receiving his wings in April 1984, he served as a graduate flight instructor then went on to complete flight training in the F/A-18 Hornet. From 1986 to 1989, he flew with the “Vigilantes” of Strike Fighter Squadron 151 aboard the carrier USS Midway (CV 41) homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, and was then selected for Class 96 at the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Dunaway’s test assignments include: A-12 operational test director with Air and Test Evaluation Squadron (VX) 5; F/A-18 branch head; deputy for Test and Evaluation at the F/A-18 Weapon System Support Activity; and F/A-18E/F operational test director with VX-9, where he flew more than 200 developmental test missions and was the test pilot of the year.

His program management assignments include: F/A-18 Radar Integrated Product Team lead for Program Manager Air (PMA) 265, responsible for the development of the APG-79 Active Electronically Scanned Array radar; program manager for the Precision Strike Weapons program office (PMA-201); and deputy program executive officer for Air Anti-Submarine Warfare, Assault, and Special Mission Programs.

From September 2007 to January 2009, Dunaway served as the commander of the Naval Air Warfare Center (Weapons Division) at China Lake and Point Mugu, California, and as U.S. Navy’s Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) assistant commander for Test and Evaluation. His next flag assignment was as commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force in Norfolk, Virginia, where he served from January 2009 to August 2012. In September 2012, he assumed command of the Naval Air Systems Command in Patuxent River, Maryland.

Dunaway is a class of 1982 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering, a Master of Science in Aviation Systems Management from the University of Tennessee, and a Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. His personal decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. He has accrued more than 2,900 flight hours and 290 arrested carrier landings. Dunaway retired in October 2015 and is now an independent civilian consultant at Dunaway Integrated Solutions LLC.


For those who aren’t familiar with NAVAIR already, what does NAVAIR do for the Navy?

Vice Adm. David A. Dunaway : In short, NAVAIR helps with the design – we don’t do the design but we help with the design – the development, the verification, the validation, and the sustainment of all things naval aviation. And in that process, the position of NAVAIR holds technical authority for airworthiness and is the head contract agent for all things naval aviation.


And that includes a certain number of weapons as well?

Absolutely. All naval aviation weapons. We also do Tomahawk, for instance, which is a surface and sub-launched weapon, but NAVAIR does the work because it flies. It, in fact, was probably one of the first unmanned vehicles that they used extensively in the world. It’s just a one-way unmanned vehicle.

Vice Adm. David A. Dunaway Pax River

Naval Aircrewman 1st Class Broady Hairston, assigned to Air Test and Evaluation Squadron (VX) 1, left, briefs Vice Adm. David A. Dunaway, then-commander of Naval Air Systems Command, on the airborne mine neutralization systems capabilities in the VX-1 hangar. Dunaway visited VX-1 to greet Adm. Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff for the Royal Navy, during his visit at Naval Air Station Patuxent River. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth Abbate

How would you say NAVAIR has changed over its history with respect to the balance of aircraft versus weapons programs?

In the beginning when we were the Bureau of Aeronautics for naval aviation, it was all about making airplanes fly safely, because aerodynamics is truly a non-deterministic field. The technical community does not really understand the full details of aviation. We solve most of the problems of flying empirically. That’s why you have test pilots. That’s why you have flight test, because we get into regimes where we just really don’t understand how the complicated flows over a wing can make an airplane fly. And in the beginning, that was killing a lot of people. So that’s where it started, and then as we got to be smarter on what worked and what didn’t work empirically, NAVAIR evolved into having radars, radar weapons, EO/IR [electro-optical/infrared]  sensors, and we became a good organization to conduct more complicated and comprehensive missions. And I would tell you that now as we step forward into this day and age, we’re becoming very much more a system of systems organization. Really it’s kind of like every aviation product is a node in a network and it’s becoming much less important what is carrying that node as to what that node can do. So, this is why you hear the CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] talk about payloads over platforms. A lot of times I don’t care what’s carrying the stuff that we’re designing. You can put it on a blimp, you can put it on a balloon. You could put it on a big, heavy airplane or you could put it in a fighter as long as it’s connecting to the network. And, so, the system of systems is really becoming a key business for us now.

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