Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of the First Nats

How did Nats begin, and how did it get us to where we are today?

The National Aeromodeling Championships, commonly referred to as the Nats, is defined as the one or more annual model aircraft competitions conducted by or sanctioned by AMA for the purpose of determining the champion or champions in each category. In 1923, there was only one event: the Mulvihill Trophy event. Throughout the years, many more events have been added to the competition, encompassing several weeks in two or more locations every summer, the Mulvihill contest remains an important and coveted perpetual trophy for rubber-powered Free Flight aircraft.

The Beginning of Nats: The 1923 Mulvihill Trophy Race

Poster for the 1923 St. Louis Air Races, where
the first Nats event was held.
The original winning design of the Mulvihill trophy depicted a boy holding a model airplane.

When you visit the National Model Aviation Museum, you might notice the large number of trophies on display. These are perpetual trophies, meaning they are still awarded every year to the best competitor in each event. After the winner’s name is emblazoned on the trophy, it is returned to the exhibit case until the following year.

The Mulvihill, in particular, is one of the most important Nats trophies. Not only was it the first trophy awarded, but it also has a fascinating history. Before the 1923 Nats, Bernard H. Mulvihill, vice president of the newly incorporated National Aeronautics Association (NAA), decided to establish a national model airplane event. Many modelers had been clamoring for national competition for years and Mulvihill saw the 1923 St. Louis Air Races as the perfect occasion to introduce the event. He announced a sculpture contest to promote the design of a model aircraft trophy for the new contest, It was open to any student at an accredited art school with a specialization in sculpture. The three best designs were to be awarded cash prizes totaling more than $150 with the judging taking place at the NAA headquarters in late summer. Initially, the design that gained the most popularity and publicity was not what we recognize today as the Mulvihill trophy, but a design depicting a young boy holding a model airplane; however, that particular design, along with the identity of the winning artist, have both been lost.

Contestants line up at the 1923 Mulvihill Trophy Contest. Mid right flier Ed Lange set a free flight record of 262.6 seconds.

The Mulvihill trophy we recognize today depicts Icarus, a figure from Greek mythology. The story of Icarus is a familiar one. In an attempt to escape from imprisonment on the island of Crete, Icarus was overconfident and flew too close to the sun, which resulted in his plummet into the sea. The casting of Icarus for a flying trophy reminds us not to be too arrogant in our abilities as aeromodelers.

In 1923, the singular event in the Nats was an outdoor rubber-powered model contest. In addition to winning the Mulvihill, there were cash prizes totaling $300. The winner was Edward G. Lange, a 16-year-old from Chicago, who won with a 4 minute, 22.6 second flight with his twin pusher. His name is clearly engraved on the base of the Mulvihill, and can be seen alongside all of the subsequent winners of the contest, which is still held today.

For the Nats centennial anniversary, the logo needed to be representative of the history and the people who make our sport one of the longest-lived traditions in Aviation.

Inspiration for the logo was taken from that first competition in 1923. The font treatment for Nats was inspired by the bold letters in the 1923 St. Louis Air Races poster, and the figure presented inside the emblem is the silhouette of Icarus from the sculpture on the Mulvihill trophy. Secondary text uses an art-deco style, as the trophy was also created during the use of this artistic expression in history. We let Icarus’s wing break the emblem and accent its ends with the shape of Icarus’ feathers.

We hope that you will help us celebrate the 100th anniversary of this long-lived tradition starting June 19th.


  1. A very nice history lesson for the NATS. My NATS was 60 years ago and I remember it vividly. It was held at the Naval Air Station near Chicago. My friend Neal White and I convinced his Dad to take us all the way from Evansville, IN. to Chicago. The Navy did a great job of housing and feeding us. The large hangers were used for the contestants to prep and repair the planes so you can imagine how many there were. Very eye opening for a 15 year old. I just rejoined AMA and hope to make it to Muncie this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *