U.S. Navy X-47B Wins 2013 Collier Trophy

First carrier-borne UAV takes prize.

X-47B Collier Trophy

X-47B Collier Trophy

** X-47B**

For the second straight year the National Aeronautic Association has bestowed the prestigious Robert J. Collier Trophy on an unmanned program, leading to serious questions about whether the prize committee still views traditional aeronautic endeavors with the same high esteem as when aircraft and real pilots routinely claimed the award.

The 2013 Collier Trophy recipient is U.S. Navy's X-47B UAV, an aircraft that the NAA notes is the "first unmanned, autonomous air system operating from an aircraft carrier." It marks the second time a UAV has won the coveted prize after Northrup Grumman's Global Hawk was named the Collier recipient in 2000, and the second year in a row that a pilotless program won after the Mars Curiosity Rover took the prize last year.

The Collier Trophy recognizes the greatest achievements made in the United States in the areas of “aeronautics and astronautics” where improvements on performance, efficiency, and safety have been made to air or space vehicles and are demonstrated with actual use.

"The diversity of the nominations as well as the background and expertise of the selection committee really reflects the timeless value of the Collier Trophy," said Jonathan Gaffney, NAA president and CEO. "For 103 years it has marked the relentless advancement of the aviation and aerospace industry — and this year continues that history. I am extremely grateful for all the work put into this process by nominees and selection committee members."

That an unmanned program won this year's Collier Trophy comes as little surprise considering other notable frontrunners, like the Boeing X-51A hypersonic scramjet UAV, overshadowed manned projects, which included a human-powered helicopter.

The question is, does the NAA consider unmanned craft to be more important today than conventional piloted aircraft, or have we merely entered an era in which the majority of breakthroughs in aeronautics will come from the realm of UAVs?

The Collier Trophy will be presented at the annual Robert J. Collier Trophy Dinner on May 29 in Arlington, Virginia.

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