The National Aeronautic Association has announced the finalists for the 2012 Collier Trophy, the industry’s highest honor, which recognizes the top achievement in aerospace during the previous year. While the committee has had some glaring misses in recent years, recognizing airplanes that would struggle to certification in at least two cases, the nominees this year are stronger than they’ve been in a long time.
While some of the finalists were easy to guess — space jumper Felix Baumgartner and the world-spanning Gulfstream G650, as examples — others were surprising and edgy.
One that caught the attention of Collier watchers was the inclusion of Lockheed Martin’s Cargon Unmanned Aerial System, a Kmax helicopter outfitted to be "optionally piloted," a term we love. The system would allow the military to move supplies from place to place in combat zones without endangering the pilots’ lives and with increased payload.
This year’s list was dominated by the space segment and by the team of NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which garnered three nominations, for the Dawn Asteroid probe, the Curiosity Mars rover and the deep space probes Discovery 1 and Discovery 2. It is the first time to our knowledge that a team has garnered two nominations in a single year, let alone three.
Any other year the clear favorite would be the Gulfstream G650, since general aviation has won a preponderance of the hardware over the years. The sentimental favorite this year, however, has to be Felix Baumgartner and the Red Bull team for Baumgartner's supersonic space jump. But the competition is fiercer, in our opinion, than it’s ever been.