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Airplane Versus Airplane: The Aviation Race Trophies of Old

October 2, 2012 at 10:03 AM | by | ()

Perhaps you've heard of the Blue Riband—the trophy awarded to the fastest ocean liner to cross the Atlantic? The Titanic was famously trying for the trophy (and the record) when she hit the iceberg and saw those hopes dashed, but the fever over such trophies wasn't limited to the seas. Indeed, the skies really ruled the trophy race with a slew of prizes created in the "golden age" of aviation.

We recently came across a book describing six such trophies, and we did a little looking into their past (and present):

The old trophies

Each is explained above and blow, though most are now inactive. The Harmon Trophy branched off to form four separate trophies (including one just for female aviators), but even those have lapsed. The most active of the trophies are the Collier Trophy (oldest of all having been first awarded in 1911) and the Air Force-awarded Mackay Trophy.

For the Collier, its purpose has altered a bit to recognize the "greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America." Recent winners have included Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipOne, the Eclipse 500 private jet, the International Space Station and—for the 100th anniversary of the award in 2011—the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Other old trophies

In our bit of research on these trophies, we also came across information on two more trophies of the time: the Schneider Trophy for seaplanes and the Pulitzer Trophy, designed to drive American companies to build faster airplanes.

A new trophy

The era of the air races may be over, but at least one new trophy has been established after the beginning of the jet age. It's the "Rolls-Royce Aviation Heritage Trophy," just renamed to be the "Neil A. Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy." Each year, the recipient is the "aircraft judged [by the National Aviation Hall of Fame] to be the most authentic example of a vintage aircraft restored to airworthy condition." Check out the 2012 winner list right here.

Where they are now

Curious to see these trophies in person? The Collier, Mackay, Harmon, Thompson and Bendix trophies are all housed within glass cases at the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. Even the modern Rolls-Royce/Neil Armstrong Aviation Heritage Trophy resides full-time in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

[Scans: Jaunted]

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