Collier Irrelevance?

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When Carl Bellinger, a Republic test pilot, dropped by Chuck Yeager's house early one Sunday morning to borrow some tools, he was startled to see that Yeager was using the Collier Trophy—the most prestigious award in aviation—to store scrap nuts and bolts on his workbench. But say this about Yeager: He was at least getting some practical use out of the thing, and he actually did something to earn it. He won the Collier in 1947 for flying the Bell X-1 to Mach 1. He didn't just talk about it, or plan it—he won the cup for actually doing something.

That's apparently not a requirement anymore. Now you're a Collier candidate on the strength of an idea. We first noticed this in 2005 when we caught some heat from Eclipse CEO Vern Raburn for wondering why Eclipse won the Collier before it ever delivered an airplane. Not that we thought Eclipse didn't deserve the award, mind you, we simply noted that National Aeronautic Association awarded the Collier to Eclipse for innovation in the production of light jets long before the company had actually produced any for delivery.

Now, according to the folks at NAA, incomplete and untested technology is worthy of aviation's holy grail as witnessed by this year's selection of ADS-B. The criteria for selection of the Collier Trophy is very clear, to me, anyway. It goes, according to NAA, to "the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency, and safety of air or space vehicles, the value of which has been thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year." (My emphasis.)

It's that last part that gnawed at me when the Eclipse 500 won the award three years ago. At the time, the airplane wasn't certified, none were in customers' hands and yet the NAA was crediting the company with starting a revolution in air travel. Eclipse may have in fact done this, for all we know. And although there are some promising signs, it really hasn't happened yet. The whole idea of a revolution could tank, in my opinion.

That same is true of ADS-B. It looks like great technology and it may very well be the leading edge of a bright new future. But for all the talk, it still doesn't exist in a form that "demonstrates actual use." It could still end its days as just another line item cut from the FAA budget.

Certainly, if I was the blood, sweat and tears behind the Dassault 7X, the A380 or even the Epic jet, which all lost out to ADS-B this year, I'd be grateful for the nice lunch, but wondering why else I was in the room. The Collier is for people and technologies that have been proven as game changers in aviation. That's not to say there shouldn't be an award for the hopeful and optimistic projects out there that might just make it. But the Collier shouldn't be it.

Comments (8)

Russ: You are quite right.

The Collier principals are rendering the once-notable award irrelevant by giving it to aircraft and even concepts that have not been proven. Much like the municipality who names a new elementary school after a sitting politician who is later convicted as a child molester, giving the Collier to programs in their early stages of development may just see these projects overtaken by events, such as cancellation, bankruptcy or simply bigger crises that cause the project dollars to be spent elsewhere instead.

The Collier should return to being awarded for actual, proven achievements, not unfulfilled hopes or dreams.

If a potential aircraft manufacturer who won it went bust before building any planes, would the trophy go to the bankruptcy trustees, along with the jigs and type certificates?

Posted by: Adam Hunt | March 10, 2008 6:17 AM    Report this comment

I very much agree... The NAA did not get it right. They have hurt their creditability and the value of the award. Sadly the NAA seems to be going down the same path as many other similar organizations such as Nobel, etc. They seem to be determined to make their self irrelevant.

Posted by: Rick Bennett | March 10, 2008 9:36 AM    Report this comment

Sorry gentlemen...I couldn't disagree more. ADS-B has resulted in the highest percentages of reduction in fatal and non-fatal accidents than any known aviation technology before it. The technology has been certified and in use in the U.S. National Airspace System for more than 8 years. Equipped aircraft have amassed millions of flight hours from commercial operators and have sustained better than a 47% reduction in accidents and very nearly a 100% reduction in fatal accidents, compared to unequipped aircraft, during those 8 years. Those are actual achievements, not unfulfilled hopes and dreams. ADS-B may very well be slow to develop in the U.S., but the delays are political, not technological. The rest of the world is implementing ADS-B at an ever increasing rate. Africa, South America, Asia, Australia, Japan, Canada and others, all have ADS-B programs underway. Last week, another ADS-B Ground station was turned up in central China. China has already equipped hundreds of aircraft, and with the addition of their newest ground station, their service volume now exceeds the combined certified coverage area in the U.S.

Posted by: Elmer Webster | March 10, 2008 12:39 PM    Report this comment

Not now, nor ever have been an FAA employee. But I am a pilot and have been flying ADS-B equipment for almost 8 years.

Posted by: Elmer Webster | March 10, 2008 4:05 PM    Report this comment

If you want to know about the real world use of ADS-B check out the Capstone project in Alaska.

http://www.faa.gov/capstone/

Posted by: David Werth | March 10, 2008 4:54 PM    Report this comment

Sorry TRICO, not my intention to convert anyone. The discussion is if ADS-B qualifies for the Collier. I've read the nomination and the citation. I believe it meets the criteria. As for the safety statistics, they are from a Safety Analysis conducted jointly by the MITRE Center for Advanced Aviation Systems Development and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. The Safety Report can be found on line at the Capstone website. Lastly, with overlapping radar and voice communications coverage from sea to shining sea, ADS-B will not have the safety impact in the U.S. that it is providing the rest of the world, but the Collier is not limited to saving American lives. In fact, by what I’ve read in the NPRM, ADS-B, as currently planned, brings little incentive for transition by the average U.S. pilot and the primary benefit will be an infrastructure cost reduction by the government.

Posted by: Elmer Webster | March 10, 2008 5:12 PM    Report this comment

This is really nothing new - there have been a number of controversial collier selections over the years, but for me the award lost its relevance when the GV was effectively selected twice (GV & G550).

Posted by: Alex Youngs | March 21, 2008 2:45 PM    Report this comment

OK - apparently the NAA has recognized certain concepts in aircraft prematurely. How does this render their many other awards irrelevant and lacking in credibility? Unless of course the observer is himself infallible...

Posted by: G Webster | March 23, 2008 7:08 PM    Report this comment

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