And the Trophy Goes To...
- By J.R. Dailey
- Air & Space magazine, April 2013
"Viewport," by National Air and Space Museum director J.R. Dailey, opens each issue of Air & Space magazine. The column highlights the Museum's ongoing efforts to preserve the history of aviation and spaceflight. This article appeared in the April/May issue.
If you were asked to name the giants of aviation, space, and planetary exploration from the latter half of the 20th century through today, your best source would be the National Air and Space Museum’s Trophy Awards. The award was established in 1985, and the recipients make up a Who’s Who of pioneers whose discoveries, inventions, insights, and acts of skill and courage stand out in the history of aerospace. There are two Trophy categories: Lifetime and Current Achievement.
Lifetime Award recipients cover a broad spectrum of specialties but have one thing in common: They have all been ahead of their time. This year, with a ceremony at the Museum on April 24, we will honor Joe Sutter, known as the father of the Boeing 747. The Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Landing Team will receive the Current Achievement award.
Joe Sutter, now 92, was the first in his family to earn a college degree. While studying aeronautical engineering, he spent summers as a mechanic at the Boeing Company. After World War II, he returned to Boeing as an aerodynamicist. His successes with the Boeing Stratocruiser, 707, 727, and 737 won Sutter the position of chief project engineer for the 747.
Designing the jumbo jet was full of challenges, not the least of which was that Boeing had bet the company on the aircraft. Sutter came up with the idea of twin aisles and a fuselage dimension based on the width of two standard shipping containers. Thus, the 747 captured not only the large-capacity passenger market but also the money-making freighter market.
Sutter joins a list of luminaries who have received the award for lifetime achievement, including astrophysicist James Van Allen, test pilot Scott Crossfield, and astronauts John Glenn and Neil Armstrong. Bob Hoover was recognized for the flying skills he perfected over six decades; entrepreneur Olive Ann Beech, for her manufacturing successes; and Robert Gilruth, for laying the groundwork for America’s space program.
The Current Achievement Award winners are just as impressive. John Mather received the Trophy 15 years before he won the Nobel Prize for his studies of the cosmic microwave background. Brothers Burt and Dick Rutan have both won the award, as have Shannon Lucid and Patty Wagstaff, who broke social barriers to achieve their goals. Many teams have won, including those responsible for the Boeing 777, Mars Pathfinder, Predator, and Breitling Orbiter.
Last August, this year’s winning team achieved the landing of Curiosity, a risky sequence known as the “seven minutes of terror,” made more suspenseful by the time it took the lander’s signal to reach Earth. (The rover looks back at us from Mars.) Lead mechanical engineer Adam Steltzner will accept the award on behalf of the team that delivered Curiosity safely and precisely to its destination inside the Red Planet’s Gale Crater.