In 1926, Clifford B Harmon, a wealthy real estate investor, balloonist and aviator, set up the International League of Aviators and instituted a set of three annual trophies to be awarded to outstanding achievers in aviation in three different domains in the previous year. These were the Harmon Trophies. This is how the Harmon Trophy Story
began. The Harmon Trust describes the awards to be - "American awards for the most outstanding international achievements in the arts and/or science of aeronautics for the preceding year, with the art of flying receiving first consideration." When Harmon died in 1945, he left behind $55,000 of his estate to be used in perpetuity for the awards. The awards were initially mired in litigations and are subjected to court orders on their governance. There has also been some controversy about the selection of awardees. However during the golden age of American Aviation, the Harmon Trophy was awarded to some of the brightest names in aviation.
This short article covers two such names. Both of these are synonymous with the growth of aviation and became the stuff of folklore within their own lifetimes. Jimmy Doolittle
– Chronicles of Jimmy Doolittle would fill several volumes in any language. But the act for which he won the Harmon Trophy is particularly important in the annals of aviation. On 24 September 1929 he carried out the first completely blind flight from take off to landing – on instruments alone. He was accompanied on his short flight by an onboard observer and check pilot. Doolittle was also ‘instrumental’ in developing the artificial horizon and the directional gyroscope and contributed considerably to the development off all weather flight. For these accomplishments, Jimmy Doolittle was awarded the Harmon Trophy, a fitting award for an ace pilot. To learn more about his part in the Harmon Trophy Story get Calculated Risk: The Extraordinary Life of Jimmy Doolittle-Aviation Pioneer and World War II Hero. Maj Gen Chuck Yeager
- Retired as Brig General and was promoted to Major General 20 years after his retirement. Chuck Yeager – the first man to break the sound barrier had achieved almost everything that could be done in aviation. His contribution to test flying was so immense that the Harmon Trophy story
would be incomplete without him. Two days before his flight in the experimental X-1 where he was to attempt breaking the sound barrier, Chuck Yeager broke two ribs taking a fall while riding. Nothing would persuade him to report to the medics and put his flight in jeopardy. It is reported that Chuck went to a nearby city and consulted a veterinary doctor who patched him up temporarily. On the day of the flight, he was in so much pain that he could not close the hatch of his X-1. He used a broom handle to give himself the extra leverage to close and seal the hatch. This was the commitment and pride that motivated Chuck Yeager to experiment and try anything new in Aviation. Like Jimmy Doolittle, Chuck Yeager’s exploit would fill many a volume.
For a lifetime of achievements and in advancing aviation for his test flying work in the post war era, Chuck Yeager was honored with the Harmon Trophy in 1954. You can read more about his part in the Harmon Trophy Story in The Quest for Mach One: A First-Person Account of Breaking the Sound Barrier.
Such examples abound in a reading of the Harmon Trophy citations. In the early years of aviation, the trophy singled out some of the best aviators for recognition. In recent years, when aviation grew extremely complex and research became more dependent on government money and large teams the trophy’s charms began to diminish. In recent years, there have been several years’ gaps in the awards. Not that there have not been deserving events, but since individuals are hard to isolate in large teams, selection of awardees has become difficult. Nevertheless, when aviation was in its infancy, the awards fulfilled their designated functions and highlighted deserving aviators. For an aviation enthusiast, there is no better reading than the Harmon Trophy Story
. Until next time keep your wings straight and level Hersch! JetAviator7
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picture of Harmon Trophy - Trophy Image
Pictures of James Doolittle and his instrument panel - PACAF/HO News Brochure Picture of Maj Gen Chuck Yeager – Wikipedia.org