You won’t believe the lineup of aviation achievement represented by this year's nominees. Here’s who’s going to win and who’s going to lose and why.
And the winner is . . .?
When the Collier Trophy committee meets to pick a 2017 winner of its annual award, which recognizes the top real-life aviation (or space) achievement of the past year, its challenge won’t be in finding a deserving winner but in figuring out how to break the bad news to the other nominees, because this year there are several deserving nominees, including a light GA aircraft.
The nominees are:
- Boeing 737 Max
- Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet
- US Marine Corps Autonomous Helicopter System
- The Perlan Glider Project
- Zee Aero for a cool VTOL flying car project
- Vanilla Aircraft for its amazing sailplane drone
- The Air Forces F-35 testing program
- NASA/JPL for the Cassini Probe
- The TSA and its Partners for its Known Traveler program
Only one will win the prize. Here’s who that’s going to be. Our pick might just surprise you.
But first, the non-winners…sorry guys.
- The TSA Known Traveler Program. I had to look twice to make sure this item hadn’t been dropped in by mistake…Hmmm…is this even aviation? So let’s see, cool planes or spaceships or the TSA? Maybe it’s just me, but I’m going with the cool planes.
- The Zee Aero Flying Car Project: Zee Aero isn’t really talking about its admittedly cool-looking VTOL car project, so how did the committee even know enough about the project to nominate it? Mysteries abound on this one, like what is it doing in this group?
- The Vanilla Aero Drone Program. Okay, this one is cool. A super-high-efficiency drone sailplane that has a tailcone-mounted pusher diesel engine with a huge prop, and…get this, a 10-day max endurance. Oh, it’s not going to win, though. It’s a glider AND a drone. Get real. But it is cool.
- The Air Force’s F-35 Integrated Test Force…yeah, this is a nod to the really smart and highly skilled people who’ve been assigned to push the F-35 to its limits before it hits the streets. The team has developed cool new accessories, including a $200,000 helmet and an airbag for the pilots neck to protect them when they eject. It’s really important work, but not quite the stuff of an action flick. Next.
- The NASA Cassini spacecraft is no longer. It gave its life to science, frantically snapping pictures as it descended on its final approach to Saturn, where its molecules now rest. The pictures were fantastic, but the committee won’t vote for a third space achievement in a row after NASA won it for the Dawn Satellite in 2015 and Blue Origins took the honors last year for its reusable rocket boosters. Everybody needs a break from space. Sorry, Houston, we have a loser.
- The Marine Corps Autonomous Helicopter program. Important work that could have longterm global defense implications. Not a chance it’s going to win though. It’s a helicopter without a pilot.
- The Perlan Glider Project: For those who aren’t familiar, Perlan is a glider that set the soaring altitude record of 52,172 feet last year. The team hopes to get the ship to 90,000 feet one day soon. Maybe then it’ll get a shot at the Collier. Not this year.
- The Cirrus Vision Jet. This one stands a shot (and, as a side note, it’s the only one of the bunch that I’ve flown, though the F-35 is on my aspirational bucket list.) The jet is the culmination of a decades-long quest by dozens of GA companies to build a truly practical, single-engine personal jet, and Cirrus did it. It’s an enormous accomplishment, but sorry friends. I think GA gets shut out again this year.
- And the winner is, the Boeing 737 Max. In terms of its practical impact on the world, the Max deserves to win. It’s also a deeply American product, a next-gen update of the most popular commercial aircraft in history, one that’s more efficient and safer than just about anything in the sky. It’s not a spaceship, but it is really cool, with space-age avionics, the most advanced wingtip lift devices on any Boeing, and it made its debut on the 50th anniversary of the original 737. Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2017 Collier Trophy will be, the Boeing 737 Max.
That’s my prediction anyway. The actual award will be presented later this spring at the annual Collier Awards Dinner.