By Karen Di Piazza
More than 1,300 people gathered in Washington D.C. in mid-May, as David L. Ivey, president and CEO of the National Aeronautic Association, presented Eclipse Aviation CEO Vern Raburn with the 2005 Robert J. Collier Trophy.
During the event, held at the Ronald Reagan Building & International Trade Center, Ivey presented the 95-year-old trophy to Raburn after pointing out the company’s perseverance in the face of industry skepticism.
“Don’t bet against Eclipse,” he said.
The Collier Trophy was established in 1911. It was named after publisher Robert J. Collier, the first person to purchase a private airplane from the Wright brothers. When it was decided that Eclipse would receive the trophy—considered by many in the aviation industry as the “Oscar of aviation”—the decision came into question, explained Ivey.
Collier believed that the “flying machine” should be developed for “America’s economic advancement and preservation.” While announcing Eclipse as the 2005 winner, Ivey said that the selection included recognition of the rich heritage of the Collier Trophy, and “the spirit of entrepreneurship, technical innovation and impact on American aviation,” which the Eclipse 500 has demonstrated. He said that the Albuquerque, N.M.-based very light jet start-up company was honored for “innovation in the advancement of general aviation.”
“Most of the industry’s skepticism—certainly not all that widespread, but vocal—centered on the difficulty of taking a start-up company to the level Eclipse has achieved so quickly,” Ivey pointed out. “It also has to do with controversy over the air-taxi concept, with many small jets feeding smaller airports. And, of course, some skepticism was heard from competitors, but nothing new about that!”
Ivey said they received a few comments and communications suggesting that the recognition of the Collier Trophy was premature, since none of the VLJs have been certified.
“Eclipse seems to be on schedule to become the first,” he said. “I countered that our selection committee, made up of very experienced aviation professionals, had taken all that into consideration.”
Ivey, an aviation enthusiast since childhood, said his comments really were aimed at the “usual suspects of naysayers!”
“Naysayers said, ‘You’ll never get it off the ground,’ ‘You’ll never raise the money,’ or ‘You’ll never get it certified,'” he said. “My theme was that Eclipse had proved those naysayers wrong so far—and that it would be a good bet that they’ll keep doing it.”
Raburn accepted the trophy by acknowledging the contributions to Eclipse’s success made by its employees, investors and partners.
Numerous government and political notables, including Senator Pete Domenici, Congressman Steve Pearce, Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne, Air Force Vice Chief of Staff John Corley and FAA Administrator Marion Blakey attended the ceremony.
While the Washington event was emceed by the NAA’s Collier dinner chair, Steve Callaghan of Lockheed Martin, several of Eclipse’s employees watched via satellite in Albuquerque.
Since 1911, the NAA has awarded the Collier Trophy each year for the greatest achievement in aeronautics and astronautics in America. Some past recipients include legends such as Orville Wright, Glenn Curtiss, Kelly Johnson, Scott Crossfield, Chuck Yeager, Neil Armstrong, John Glenn and Burt Rutan. But Ivey said this year, the NAA selection committee, comprised of the most respected and accomplished aviation professionals, chose Eclipse as the Collier Trophy recipient “for innovation in the advancement of GA through the design, development and manufacture of the Eclipse 500—the world’s first VLJ.”
Raburn said he was truly humbled to see Eclipse Aviation join the company of such an inspiring and historic group of aviation pioneers.
“As someone who has had a passion for aviation since I was a very young boy, this is an unforgettable moment that I’m proud to share with the amazing team of employees, customers and partners who’ve made this company’s dream and this airplane a reality,” Raburn said.
Ivey noted that Eclipse has proven repeatedly that what it’s doing is important and that getting it done safely, efficiently and successfully is the ultimate goal.
“In the meantime, the company may well be changing the face of American aviation,” he said.
Ivey said that for almost the entire history of powered flight, the NAA has been the caretaker of many of the world’s most prestigious aviation awards.
“Part of the NAA’s mission is identifying and recognizing those who have contributed to the art, sport and science of aviation and space flight,” he said.
Ivey was the former press secretary to Bill Clinton, during Clinton’s 1974 congressional campaign. He also worked in the Clinton presidential campaigns of 1992 and 1996. Additionally, he served on the congressional staffs of Senators David Pryor and J. William Fulbright. During Ivey’s tenure at the NAA since 2004, he’s launched the association’s new magazine, AERO, and has significantly increased the visibility of the organization’s awards programs.
For more information, visit [http://www.naa.aero].