To earn one of aviation’s most coveted awards, one must push the limits. Nine nominees for the 2015 Robert J. Collier Trophy did just that, and in a variety of amazing ways. Driven by ion propulsion to the far reaches of the solar system, lifted by helium to cross the Pacific Ocean, or flown by no human pilot at all to pick up fuel in midair—this year’s group has already marked significant milestones in the advancement of technology.
There’s also a strong general aviation presence in the field vying for the honor bestowed each year by the National Aeronautic Association, with HondaJet earning a nomination for its team led by Michimasa Fujino, president and CEO of Honda Aircraft, who accepted the type certificate in December for the revolutionary business jet. On the piston side, Icon Aircraft impressed the aviation world including AOPA Editor at Large Dave Hirschman, who was among the first members of the aviation press to fly the light sport amphibian with folding wings.
Awarded for 104 years “… for the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America,” the Collier Trophy selection committee has some tough choices to make this year. AOPA President Mark Baker is a member of that committee, which is led by National Aeronautic Association Chairman Jim Albaugh, who will convene the committee March 8 to decide the honoree for 2015.
“I’m honored to be part of this year’s Collier Selection Committee,” Baker said. “Collier nominees are luminaries in aviation and aerospace, and all of this year’s contenders have made truly impressive contributions in their fields. It won’t be an easy choice.”
The committee will have three innovative space missions to consider, including Blue Origin’s New Shepherd team, which marked a space travel first in 2015 with a rocket launch from Texas that reached space, then returned to land at the launch site. More distant voyages were launched years ago, and one captured the best images of Pluto to date: the New Horizons mission. Another, NASA's Dawn mission, has traveled to not one but two distant planets, a journey of immense distance made possible by ion propulsion.
A pair of heavies with a more earthly mission also made this year’s list. Airbus earned a nomination for the A350 XWB, now entering service after one of the most extensive certification testing programs conducted yet. Lockheed Martin earned its own nomination with the modernization of the legendary C-5, a two-phase program that produced the C-5M Super Galaxy.
Not every aircraft recognized had a powerplant. The Two Eagles balloon team set two world records when pilots Leonid Tiukhtyaev and Troy Bradley splashed down just off the Mexican coast after a Pacific Ocean crossing that was ratified as the longest flight ever made by a gas balloon, both in terms of distance and duration.
And not every aircraft had a pilot, either. Northrop Grumman produced an aviation first when the U.S. Navy flew the X-47B Unmanned Combat Air System in formation for a midair refueling. The 2013 Collier winner accomplished this particular feat sans pilot, the first autonomous aerial refueling of an unmanned aircraft, demonstrating that manned and unmanned military aircraft can integrate “seamlessly,” the company notes.
“The Collier is the Super Bowl of the world’s aerospace industry, and this list of nominees certainly reflects it,” Albaugh said in the announcement. “These are all extremely worthy nominations, and they each demonstrate the vitality of our industry.”