Ingenuity Project Team Wins Prestigious Award

By Rachelle Haughn, AMA Staff Writer/Copy Editor

Robert J. Collier Trophy. Photo courtesy of Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

The NASA/JPL Ingenuity Mars Helicopter Team has been selected as the recipient of the 2021 Robert J. Collier Trophy. Among the award recipients is AMA member Matt Keennon and his coworkers at AeroVironment, Inc., who helped design and test the helicopter that has successfully flown on Mars several times. Cindy Jacobson, Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications for AeroVironment, confirmed April 20 that the company and its employees who worked on the project were selected for the honor. “Our company is extremely thrilled and honored to be selected,” she stated.

The National Aeronautic Association (NAA) announced that the team won the trophy for “… the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet, thereby opening the skies of Mars and other worlds for future scientific discovery and exploration.” The trophy will be formally presented to the Mars Ingenuity team during an award ceremony June 9, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Cindy said that AeroVironment employees, including Matt, plan to attend the award ceremony. AeroVironment, Inc. was notified by the NAA in writing that it had been named a recipient of the trophy, which is one of the most prestigious awards in aeronautics.

Matt, in addition to some former AMA members and/or model builders, used some of what they learned through the hobby to design and test the helicopter. AeroVironment, Inc. was hired by NASA/JPL at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) to develop the helicopter.

AMA member Matt Keennon poses in his office with one of the Mars helicopter engineering models. It is the same size and design as the helicopter that is currently on Mars. Photo provided by Keennon.

The Robert J. Collier Trophy, the highest aeronautics and astronautics honor, has been presented since 1911. It is awarded for “… 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.” Robert, who established the award, was a publisher and early president of the Aero Club of America. The trophy is administered by the NAA and is on permanent display at the Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia.

Ingenuity, a model helicopter, lifted off the surface of Mars on April 19, 2021. It climbed to an altitude of 10 feet, maintained a stable hover for 30 seconds, then descended back to the planet’s surface. Its maiden flight lasted 39.1 seconds—making it the first aircraft in history to complete a powered-controlled flight on another planet. Since its first flight, Ingenuity has accomplished all of its technology demonstration goals and has successfully flown 25 times.

The Robert J. Collier Trophy has been awarded to a handful of AMA members throughout the years. Other past recipients have included Elbert “Burt” Rutan, Dr. Paul MacCready, and astronaut Neil Armstrong.

AMA congratulates the Ingenuity team and employees of AeroVironment on this monumental achievement. Watch for more on this award in an upcoming issue of Model Aviation.

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