Almost everyone loves to receive awards, and all the admiration, congratulations and smiles that are attendant to them. Today almost every kind of collective endeavor -- be it movie making, soccer playing or car selling -- has a shiny something that goes to the activity's best practitioner. Awards not only make the recipients feel good by recognizing excellence, they can be used to spur a particular type of activity as well.

Aviation has famous examples of both. Aviation enthusiast and hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 award for the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris, which Charles Lindbergh rushed, alone, to collect in 1927. More recently the X Prize Foundation's $10 million award for the first successful private space flight helped propel Burt Rutan's SpaceShip One team into the black abyss and back in 2004. During flying's formative years, speed competitions -- such as the Schneider Trophy Race (for the world's fastest seaplane), the Thompson Trophy Race (for the quickest aircraft around a closed course) and the Bendix Trophy Race (a U.S. transcontinental dash) -- also accelerated aeronautical advances.

However, the award for aviation excellence that is the oldest and, even absent a monetary payout, is arguably the most prestigious, is the Collier Trophy. Presented annually by the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the award recognizes "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." The list of Collier Trophy winners, which dates back to 1911, reads like a who's who of aviation. A selection committee of approximately 30 experts appointed by the NAA president reviews the Collier Trophy applications each year and decides who will receive the award.

Collier, the Man

First presented by the NAA's predecessor, the Aero Club of America, the Collier Trophy was the brainchild of club president Robert J. Collier, who was best known as the publisher of Collier's Weekly magazine. In establishing the trophy to encourage the U.S. aviation community to strive for excellence, Collier proclaimed, "The flying machine should be unselfishly and rapidly developed to its ultimate potential for America's economic advancement."

Collier was an avid pilot, not just an aviation booster. Educated at Georgetown, Harvard and Oxford, the well-heeled New Yorker, who enjoyed playing polo and hunting big game, was the first customer to buy an airplane from the Wright brothers for personal use. Soon after taking delivery, he loaned his aircraft to the U.S. Army for flight evaluations, which led to the first American military order for an airplane.

Collier utilized aircraft in his journalistic business, as well as for pleasure, flying over the Panama Canal in 1912 while reporting on the massive excavation project. The following year he soloed in a seaplane after being taught to operate the machine by noted aviator Walter Brookins. Brookins also helped Collier demonstrate the utility of the seaplane by flying from northern New Jersey to New York's Hudson River, where the aircraft landed abreast a U.S. Navy cruiser so Collier could personally deliver to the ship's admiral an invitation to an upcoming Aero Club luncheon. As early as 1918 Collier was a proponent of transatlantic flight.

In 1914, kidney disease nearly killed Collier, and he reportedly had several brushes with death as a pilot. Eventually, Collier succumbed at age 42 to a heart attack at his Fifth Avenue home in November 1918, just after returning from France, where he had been covering The Great War.

After Collier passed on, the 525-pound bronze statue, which originally was named the Aero Club of America Trophy, soon informally became known as the Collier Trophy. In 1922, when the Aero Club was dissolved, the award was taken over by the NAA. The trophy's name was officially changed in 1944, and it has been on permanent display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., since 1951 after it was decided that leaving the heavy award in one place was preferable to passing it from recipient to recipient each year.

A Cavalcade of Stars

Given Robert Collier's affinity for seaplanes, perhaps it is not surprising that Glenn Curtiss was the inaugural recipient of the trophy. One of only two back-to-back winners, Curtiss collected the award in 1911 for development of the seaplane, and he won it again in 1912 for his flying boat. Having Curtiss, their arch enemy, capture the first two trophies surely angered Wilbur and Orville Wright, who, although honorary members of the Aero Club of America since 1908, had to wait until 1913 to win the award, garnered for development of the automatic stabilizer. And then the award went to Orville alone since his brother died of typhoid the previous year.

The other Collier recipient that won the trophy in two straight years was the U.S. Air Mail Service, which claimed it in 1922 for 12 months of operation without a fatal accident and in 1923 for its pioneering of night flying in commercial operations. During the 95-year history of the award, only a handful of Collier winners -- such as W. Sterling Burgess, who was cited in 1915 for the Burgess-Dunne hydro-aeroplane -- would tax the memories of aviation aficionados. The names of most of the winners are familiar, even legendary.

From the beginning, the Collier Trophy has recognized record flights and the industry and government teams that have made them possible. Howard Hughes won the Collier in 1938 for his round-the-world flight. Chuck Yeager was selected to receive the award in 1947 for breaking the sound barrier in the Bell X-1. And another Yeager -- Jeana -- won the Collier in 1986, along with Dick Rutan, for piloting the Voyager (designed by Dick's brother Burt) on the first nonstop, unrefueled flight around the world.

Naturally, many other unique and groundbreaking aircraft have won the Collier Trophy, ranging from landmark commercial transports such as the Douglas DC-2/-3 (1935) and Boeing 747 (1970) to Dr. Paul B. MacCready's human-powered Gossamer Albatross (1979).

Also, a wide variety of military aircraft and the people and organizations that have produced them have garnered the award, including the Boeing B-52 (1955), Lockheed F-117 stealth fighter (1989) and North American F-100 Super Sabre (1953), the U.S. Air Force's first operational supersonic combat aircraft. Speaking of speed, the 1961 Collier went to the North American X-15 team, which included the rocket-powered research aircraft's legendary pilot Scott Crossfield, the first human to fly at Mach 2.

The vertical-lift segment of the industry has won its share of Colliers, too. Pitcairn was recognized in 1930 for the autogiro, and the entire helicopter industry was feted in 1950 for performing air rescues. In 1983, the Hughes Apache attack helicopter won the award, the Bell Boeing V-22 was recognized in 1990, and the Sikorsky S-92 claimed the trophy in 2002.

The engines that have powered many of these notable aircraft also have been singled out for Collier recognition. Following Lindbergh's conquest of the Atlantic in his Wright Whirlwind-powered Ryan monoplane, it was notable that the 1927 Collier went not to the Lone Eagle, but rather to Charles L. Lawrance, president of Wright Aeronautical Corp., the company that developed the air-cooled radial that powered the world's most famous pilot from New York to Paris. It's also worth noting that Lindbergh never did receive the award.

In 1953, the Pratt & Whitney division of United Aircraft won the trophy for its J57 jet engine, the world's first production jet engine to develop 10,000 pounds-thrust. The J57 and its commercial equivalent -- the JT3 -- powered a series of milestone aircraft, including the Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8, as well as the B-52 and F-100. In 1978, Sam Williams claimed the Collier for developing the world's smallest, high-efficiency turbofan powerplant, the F-107 cruise missile engine. At 145 pounds, the Williams engine weighs nearly 400 pounds less than the trophy itself. In 1987, NASA's advanced turboprop team received the award for a variety of innovative inducted-fan systems. Finally, in 2001 the Collier went to the group that developed the lift fan that propels the VTOL version of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

While the U.S. Air Force has won the trophy many times, the Army, Navy and Coast Guard also have been recognized for their contributions to aviation. Surprisingly, only one airline has been cited -- Pan American -- which deservedly received the award in 1936 for its pioneering of transpacific air routes. However, the entire airline industry was recognized in 1939 for its markedly improved safety record.

Recognition of safety enhancement efforts also has been a factor in a number of companies and individuals receiving the Collier, such as the 1946 award that went to Lewis A. Rodert, chief of the flight research branch at the Cleveland laboratory of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NASA's predecessor). Rodert won the award for his groundbreaking research and guidance in the development and practical application of a thermal ice-prevention system for aircraft.

Business Aviation Winners

Business aviation is well represented on the list of Collier luminaries. In fact, Cessna Aircraft and Gulfstream Aerospace each have won the award twice.

Cessna first captured the Collier in 1985 for the Citation's "unparalleled passenger safety record" during the light jet's first 14 years of service. That year was the second in a row in which no Citation passengers perished, a feat that was accomplished during nearly a quarter million hours of flying by almost 1,400 aircraft in more than 40 countries. In fact, Citations were only involved in four fatal passenger accidents during the type's first 3.5 million hours of flying.

Cessna received the Collier again in 1996, when the Citation X was feted for being the fastest U.S. civil aircraft. Arnold Palmer, the first Citation X customer, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) were the keynote speakers at the award ceremony. Throughout the years, many top government leaders have been an integral part of the festivities. For instance, in 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt personally congratulated Hamilton Standard's chief engineer, Frank Caldwell, for the firm's development of the controllable pitch propeller.

Gulfstream won its first Collier in 1997 for development of the Gulfstream V, the world's first ultra-long-range business jet. During that year, the GV was certificated, initial deliveries were made and the airplane set more than 40 world and national records.

In 2003, Gulfstream was recognized again, this time for producing the even longer-legged G550, which the NAA called "an innovative aircraft" that incorporated "measurable safety enhancements and far-reaching advances in aerospace technology" that included its enhanced vision system and PlaneView cockpit. During 2003, the G550 set a nonstop record by flying from Savannah, Ga., to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, a distance of 7,546 miles. The jet also flew around the world twice in 2003, once in just three legs.

This year's Collier award winner -- Eclipse Aviation -- is a relative newcomer to aviation, having been founded just eight years ago, but is no less proud of being named the recipient of the American aviation industry's highest honor. "We are phenomenally and amazingly honored and humbled that we were selected to receive the Collier Trophy," declared Vern Raburn, Eclipse Aviation's president and CEO, who plans to accept the award at a ceremony on May 15 in Washington, D.C. "To imagine that our name is going to be on the same trophy as some of the truly greats in aviation -- I can't put that into words, I am so awed by this."

Eclipse won the 2005 Collier "for leadership, innovation and the advancement of general aviation," said the NAA. The organization's president and CEO, David Ivey, noted that the selection committee's criteria included "the spirit of entrepreneurship, technical innovation and the impact on American aviation" exemplified by the Eclipse 500 very light jet.

The Eclipse 500's innovations include use of friction stir welding, the PhostrEx fire-suppression system, electromechanical actuators and digital electronics with integrated software. With a price tag that is one-third that of most small jets, the NAA said, "Perhaps the company's greatest contribution is making jet technology available to a larger segment of the population."

Beyond Airframes and Engines

Over the years, the Collier Trophy also has been presented to developers of key aircraft systems. Elmer Sperry won the Collier in 1914 and 1916 for his gyroscopic control and drift indicator, respectively.

In 1925, Sylvanus Albert Reed won the award for developing the metal propeller. In 1940, Dr. Sanford A. Moss and the Army Air Corps won the trophy for developing the turbo-supercharger. Bill Lear was cited in 1949 for his F-5 automatic pilot and automatic control coupler system. (It is perhaps a little surprising that he did not win a second time for the aircraft that bears his name.)

The architects of the ATC system also have received their due. The Aeronautics Branch of the Department of Commerce won the Collier in 1928 for developing airways and air navigation facilities. Twenty years later, the Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics was recognized for development of a system of air navigation and traffic control to facilitate safe and unlimited aircraft operations under all weather conditions. In 1992, the team behind the global positioning system garnered the Collier.

Explorers of the final frontier also have been among the notable Collier recipients. In 1959, General Dynamics was given the Collier Trophy for the Atlas, America's first intercontinental ballistic missile that later was developed into an expendable launch vehicle. In 1962, 1968 and 1969, U.S. astronauts were feted for their space exploration achievements. In 1981, the Space Shuttle won the Collier. In 1993, the Hubble Space Telescope team was cited for "renewal of public faith in America's space program" by fixing the nearsighted optical system.

Indeed, vision has been a key element in determining whether a nominee is worthy of receiving the Collier Trophy. But not everyone sees candidates in the same light, in part because of the intense competition for the prize. In hindsight, some might question the V-22's selection in 1990 since the controversial tiltrotor is only now becoming operational. And this year critics questioned the statement that the Eclipse 500's significance has been "thoroughly demonstrated by actual use during the preceding year" since the first production aircraft has yet to be delivered.

Eclipse Aviation's Raburn has no reservations about the merit of his company's endeavors. "The award is for the technical work that has been done," he said. "It's not an award for [the new] air taxi [concept] or selling thousands of airplanes. It was an award for a lot of innovation, for proving that the innovation works." With FAA certification of the Eclipse 500 imminent, operational proof is a near-term promise.

The 2004 Collier went to Burt Rutan and his SpaceShip One team, and Raburn is hopeful that a new awards trend is emerging. "I find a lot of encouragement in the fact that for the last couple of decades the Collier has gone to large companies and organizations. But for two years in a row it has been the little guy that has won. I personally take a lot of comfort and enjoyment in that because I can't help but think that Robert Collier is looking down saying, "That's what I meant.'" B&CA