Embarking on a career change can be daunting, but for one senior aviation expert, it is much anticipated.
Layne Merritt, Combat Capabilities Development Command Aviation & Missile Center Aviation Development Directorate former deputy and acting director, is departing from government service after three decades of dedicated duty. His new endeavor: industry.
“I really look forward to learning more about the business side of things and to take on a new challenge to help my new employer get, strategically, where they want to be,” he said.
Merritt will become chief technology officer at Elbit Systems of America in Fort Worth, Texas, later this month. This position aims to help the organization meet its long-term technical goals.
“It’s a new position that doesn’t exist right now, so it’s fairly undefined, and I can shape it the way that I think is necessary to help them do what they want to get done,” he said.
Among his many assignments, Merritt fondly remembers his time as an experimental test pilot with the Redstone Test Center, saying it was the hardest, but most fun, job he’d done.
“We were writing the technical manuals and the operators manuals – not following the operators manuals – so it was really fun and exciting … to learn a system, how it works, and how it might fail … to put together a test plan in order to go out and fly safely in these things that haven’t been flown before,” he said.
Merritt played a key role in standing up ADD at the Aviation & Missile Center when he came on board in 2012. This effort integrated several aviation portfolios across various research, development, and engineering centers, making the directorate the Army’s go-to for aviation development.
“We were able to bring this organization together, and now the Army has one aviation portfolio that’s synchronized throughout the technology life cycle, (helping) us support the (Army’s) move into the future in a more synchronized and efficient way,” Merritt said. “That was a lot of hard work. It was excellent study in change and cultural management.”
Merritt, who retired in 2006 after 21 years of active duty as a pilot, was qualified to fly every aircraft in the Army’s fleet, save for the Apache. “Having flown some very old and simple aircraft all the way through some of the newest, more advanced aircraft was pretty fun,” he said.
As a government civilian, he coined the term “degraded visual environment” for use when referring to conditions of decreased visibility where situational awareness can be negatively affected. A source of pride for the retired aviator, he said, “I feel very happy that I was in on that on the ground floor and actually penned the term for this use, and set the strategy ahead for that program.”
A leading expert in the field, Merritt is commended for the advances he’s facilitated in the aviation community.
“I’ve worked with Layne off and on for the past 14 years,” Dan Bailey, ADD program manager, said. “He epitomizes what is great about the Army aviation community and has been a driving force behind enabling a next generation vertical lift fleet and capability for our future warfighters.”
Having worked with Merritt for over a decade, Rusty Graves, ADD acting deputy director, said he has been critical to the advancement of Army aviation. “He has been a valuable influence, setting strategic technical directions, making major investment decisions, influencing organizational makeup and (being) a leader the entire time,” Graves said.
Merritt is an active member of the Redstone skeet team and a retired Army skeet team, and was a member of the Army skeet team for the last five years of his active duty. “I carried that through in my personal life and still have some of the same friends that (I shoot with today),” he said.
With a combined 34 years of active duty and civilian service under his belt, Merritt leaves a piece of advice for the next generation of aviators and aviation engineers. “Don’t be afraid to open your mind and think of new concepts, propose those and push them (to) try to get the resources necessary to achieve them,” he said.
“You have to be very good at your core mission,” Merritt said. “All of the extra-credit projects that actually bring you more attention are good, but they’re not sufficient if you can’t do your core mission.”