Wees assumes command of AEDC 704th Test Group

  • Published
  • By Bradley Hicks

Col. Darren P. Wees was already quite familiar with Holloman Air Force Base.

He spent perhaps more time at the New Mexico installation than any of his other temporary assignments. Wees, however, had never been stationed at Holloman – until now.

On July 1, Wees officially assumed command of the 704th Test Group at Holloman.

“I am looking forward to mentoring and coaching my incredible cast of squadron commanders, to equip them with the tools and lessons learned from my various leadership and command experiences,” he said. “They and their squadrons are the ones leading the charge and worthy of all credit of 704th Test Group successes. I’m looking forward to mentoring them and equipping them with the resources and infrastructure to do their mission.”

The mission of the 704 TG, which is a unit of the Arnold Engineering Development Complex headquartered at Arnold Air Force Base, Tennessee, is to operate world-class test facilities for high-speed sled track testing, navigation and guidance system testing, radar signature measurements, weapon systems flight testing and to act as Air Force liaison for all Air Force programs tested at White Sands Missile Range, also located in New Mexico.

“The work that AEDC and the 704th Test Group are performing are critical to maintaining a competitive advantage over our near peer threats,” Wees said. “Some of the fifth- and sixth-generation technologies we are working on such as hypersonics, directed energy and low observable capabilities, just to name a few, are critical to maintaining our edge. These widely differing and unique technologies being developed and tested in the 704th that often come together to create synergistic effects are what attracted me to the 704th Test Group. There is truly some fascinating and awe-inspiring work being done here.”

Wees brings approximately 20 years of Air Force experience to the role of 704th Test Group commander. During that time, he served in test flying, command and program office positions which Wees said have been “instrumental” in preparing him for the role of 704 TG commander. His experience includes prior assignments at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia; Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi; Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina; Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Edwards Air Force Base, California; Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Maryland; and several previous assignments in Washington, D.C.

He flew combat missions over Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom and over Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

It was during his time flying F-15s in the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin AFB from 2009 to 2011 that Wees made frequent visits to Holloman for temporary assignments.

“The base is outstanding with great support from the local community,” Wees said of Holloman. “We have a very good relationship with the 49th Wing stationed at Holloman and the White Sands Missile Range. I am involved in the 49th Wing Staff as if I was one of their own group commanders.”

Prior to assuming the post of 704 TG commander, Wees served as director of Capability Verification for the F-35 Joint Program Office located in the nation’s capital. There, he was responsible for all flight, lab, ground and simulation test and verification activities for the Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps and eight partner nations. In that capacity, he led a team of more than 1,400 government, foreign and defense contractors and managed a budget of more than $3 billion in aircraft, test resources and manpower.

Wees said his work for the F-35 Lightning II Program helped prepare him for his new role as 704 TG commander.

“Managing the integration of all verification programs and resources was great preparation for the 704th considering many tests come to the 704th and need to use resources from more than one test squadron during their test,” he said. “Additionally, the F-35 is going through a recapitalization of its older test fleet from the System Demonstration and Design days, which is a huge ‘all-hands’ effort in order to continue flight testing with the appropriate amount of rigor. As I step in to the 704th Test Group, I am learning of the similar and various recapitalization and modernization initiatives that will benefit from my experience with the F-35 Program as we go forward.”

These initiatives specifically include investments to maintain the viability of the High Speed Test Track in the group’s 846th Test Squadron and the modernization of the National Radar Cross Section Test Facility to move into Dynamic Radar Cross Section testing. Like the F-35 recapitalization, Wees said these efforts will require an “all-hands” approach.

“I am looking forward to teaming with the AEDC, Holloman and 704th leadership and our various Test and Evaluation customers to make these and other initiatives a reality,” he said.

Wees earned a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering from Penn State University and his Master of Science in aeronautics from Embry Riddle University in Florida. Among other educational highlights, Wees is a Distinguished Graduate of the U.S. Navy Test Pilot School, Squadron Officer School, Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training, and the Reserve Officer Training School.

His awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, Air Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Aerial Achievement Medal with three oak clusters, Air Force Commendation Medal with one oak leaf cluster, Air Force Achievement Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with three oak leaf clusters, Combat Readiness Medal, National Defense Service Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service medals.

Wees said his primary goals as 704 TG commander are to provide world-class Test and Evaluation capabilities and support for programs coming to the test group; to develop Airmen as future leaders and Test and Evaluation experts; and to recapitalize, modernize and innovate the 704 TG test resources and infrastructure to maintain a niche and cutting-edge Test and Evaluation capability to counter air superiority threats that could arise by 2030 and beyond.

“I am really looking forward to working with Team Holloman,” Wees said. “The leadership team here is a great group of professionals.”

Wees relocated to Holloman with his wife Cory, a teacher who previously served as an active-duty weather officer, and their two sons.