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Ingenuity Mars Helicopter - Unimaginable to Reality

Congratulations to NASA/JPL Team – Awarded the 2021 Robert J. Collier Trophy.

Mars Colier Trophy FAA

Did you know that something extraordinary and previously unimaginable occurred in April 2021 on the surface of Mars?   The answer is that a helicopter was flowncollier trophy 2022 verijet completely autonomously over the surface of Mars. Since then, it has flown more than 28 times, perfectly!  It has accumulated invaluable data and achieved a record total of 54 minutes in flight over a total distance of more than 4 miles on another planet.  Today, the Collier Trophy Award is awarded to NASA/JPL for this near-miraculous feat, previously considered an impossibility.  NASA/JPL and a vast team of contributors and collaborators enabled “… the first powered, controlled flight of an aircraft on another planet, thereby opening the skies of Mars and other worlds for future scientific discovery and exploration.”

Do you know what is even more astonishing?  The flight on Mars came one hundred and seventeen years after the Wright brothers succeeded in making the first powered flight on our own planet Earth.  Image that!  In just over one century, man has progressed from flying the first powered, heavier-than-air vehicle to landing on the Moon, landing on Mars; and recently flying an aircraft over the surface of mars.  Sound like science fiction?  Nope, it’s reality – it really happened!  The U.S. spent $2.75 billion over ten years to make it happen.  And more importantly, a large team of professionals and others dedicated a significant portion of their lives to see the endeavor through to success!

FAA Colier TrophyHow did they do it?  First, the unimaginable was imagined.  Then a lot of creativity, perseverance, and dedication went into making it happen.  A large team of multiple agencies, engineers, and contractors worked together to make it happen.  The amount of cooperation, collaboration, and coordination were incredible. More importantly, the team had to overcome multiple, complex challenges like:

  • Traveling over 140 million miles from the earth with 24 minutes of communications delay.  Ingenuity had to be completely autonomous on Mars.
  • Needed to learn how to fly in Mars’s atmosphere or the equivalent of flight at 100,000 feet above Earth.  A great deal of creativity went into designing and installing test environments, platforms, and procedures that simulated the Mars environment.
  • Designing a vehicle that would fly in an extra-terrestrial atmosphere but had to be light enough yet robust enough to survive spaceflight and atmospheric conditions.
  • Introduction of working and collaboration solutions due to COVID starting in 2020 forced the team to learn how to work and test remotely and efficiently.
  • Designing and creating an aircraft weighing 1.8 kilograms (4.0 lb) to accommodate multiple competing requirements.  Many micro components like chips and sensors were borrowed from the cell phone and mini-drone aircraft industries.

Mr. Richard Kane, Verijet’s Founder and CEO was proud to be involved in the selection of NASA/JPL and Ingenuity for the 2021 Collier Trophy.  An aeronautics enthusiast from an early age, Mr. Kane himself holds multiple aviation records. Richard’s view about the award:

“I love that the  Ingenuity helicopter carried a piece of the fabric of the Wright flyer to Mars. I love they created a new first flight moment while honoring the history of aviation.  What carried my vote were the recommendation letters describing the tenacity of this team in achieving this unimaginably difficult accomplishment - first flight on a new world!”   

Mr. Kane will be attending the award diner with other committee members, recipients, and dignitaries in Washington, DC, on June 9.

If you’d like to learn more, we recommend these resources:

FAA Collier Trophy Verijet

Attribution:  By NASA -, Public Domain,