The aerospace world gathered in Arlington, Virginia, Thursday evening to celebrate Garmin’s receiving the 2020 Robert J. Collier Trophy for the development of its Autoland system. According to the National Aeronautic Association (NAA), the award was “for designing, developing, and fielding Garmin Autoland—the world’s first certified autonomous system that activates during an emergency situation to safely control and land an aircraft without human intervention.”
NAA awards the Collier Trophy each year “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.” Thursday's event was the 106th time the trophy was awarded.
Garmin Autoland was under development for 10 years and in 2020 it was certified in the Piper M600 SLS and Daher TBM 940 single-engine turboprops and Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet single-engine jet.
“I think the most important part of NAA’s mission is our role in advancing aviation,” said association president and CEO Greg Principato. “And with our records and awards programs, we’ve done just that for more than 100 years. The story of the advancement of aviation in the United States is the story of the Collier Trophy…Mr. Collier would want it to spur teamwork in aviation innovation, and many winners personify that.”
“Autoland…may be Garmin’s most inspiring and industry-leading product to date,” said NAA vice-chair Samantha Magill, “worthy of Robert J. Collier’s vision to unselfishly and rapidly develop the flying machine to its ultimate potential. Automation and autonomous systems confound and even frighten some, but as the transportation system’s complexity grows, such tools I believe will be a necessity, not a luxury, to maintain the safety standards that define our modern air travel.”
Phil Straub, Garmin executive v-p and managing director of the aviation business segment, accepted the Collier Trophy on behalf of the many Garmin employees at the event. The actual trophy, which was on the stage at the event and weighs 525 pounds, returns to its prominent display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C.
“It remains surreal to stand in the company of so many aerospace greats who forged their position ahead of us,” he said. “As I reflect on their achievements, I recognize how they expanded the reach of aviation, with speed, distance, and even into space. Autoland is not pushing any of those boundaries. Its impact is different and measurable in the hearts and minds of passengers and pilots. Autoland is making travel by air safer and more accessible. It finally answers that question that nobody wants to talk about: what if? What if the pilot is unable to fly the airplane? What happens then? What happens to the passengers? The answer to that question is no longer uncertain.
“To my fellow Garmin colleagues here, you have my greatest respect and admiration. This great technology was a decade in the making. You knew we had the ability to do this. But for you this was far more than another project—it became a sense of obligation, a calling, a duty.”