Following from its individual awards which were announced earlier this week, The Vertical Flight Society has confirmed this year’s group recipients of its prestigious awards programme – paying tribute to the teams in industry, government and academia working on VTOL aircraft.

Similar to the individual recipients, this year’s group winners will be recognised virtually during the 77th Annual VFS Awards Ceremony. It is open to the public and will premiere on May 5th, 2021 at 2pm EDT.

Mike Hirschberg, the Vertical Flight Society’s Executive Director, said: “Since the first VTOL aircraft – the helicopter – began taking off in the 1940s, VFS has been the organisation that has supported vertical flight advancements. This year’s group awards highlight the incredible technological advances and capabilities of vertical flight aircraft, and those who develop and operate them.”

The Society’s Captain William J. Kossler, USCG Award is given for the greatest achievement in the practical application or operation of vertical flight aircraft, the value of which has been demonstrated by actual service during the preceding 18 months.

This year, the award is being presented to the California Army National Guard 40th Combat Aviation Brigade, which battled the raging fires that engulfed the Sierra National Forest in central California in September 2020. The CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Black Hawk crews rescued more than 240 Mammoth Pool Reservoir campers trapped by the fires, flying in thick smoke, intense embers and 20–30 kt (37–56 km/h) winds.

The Grover E. Bell Award is given for an outstanding research and experimentation contribution to the field of vertical flight development. This year’s recipient is Bell’s Electrically Distributed Anti-Torque (EDAT) Development Program. It uses an array of electric fans with fixed-pitch blades and the concept offers greater simplicity than conventional designs and has the potential to reduce helicopter noise.

Using a mix of custom-designed and commercial-off-the-shelf equipment, an international team developed and flew a Bell 429 demonstrator, providing valuable data on the practical use of hybrid-electric technology.

Survival Systems International (SSI) is this year’s recipient of the VFS Supplier Excellence Award. This award is given to a supplier who, through the quality, innovativeness and cost-effective technology of its products, has made a notable contribution to improving the state of the art of vertical flight aircraft.

The Robert L. Pinckney Award is given in recognition of notable achievement in manufacturing research and development for vertical flight aircraft or components brought to fruition in recent years. This year’s award is given to Sikorsky’s Raider X Main Rotor Blade (MRB) Spar Team, Eric Dunn and Keith Schenone.

The pair developed novel tooling strategies, leveraging additive manufacturing and the digital thread, to rapidly implement robust manufacturing methods for a complex high-performance rigid main rotor blade spar to meet the demands of US Army’s Future Vertical Lift (FVL) programme. 

The Harry T. Jensen Award is given for an outstanding contribution to the improvement of reliability, maintainability, safety or logistics support through improved design or technical achievement.

This year, the joint US Army/Sikorsky H-60 Flight Safety Parts Program is being recognised. Initiated in the 1980s, the H-60 FSPP reached a major milestone this year: 20 million flight hours with no fatal accidents related to OEM flight safety parts.

This year’s recipient of the Howard Hughes Award, given in recognition of an outstanding improvement in fundamental helicopter technology brought to fruition in the previous 18 months, is the SB>1 Defiant Main Rotor Gearbox Team, including team members from Sikorsky, a Lockheed Martin Company, and the Boeing Company.

For the US Army’s Joint Multirole (JMR) Technology Development programme, the team developed an advanced coaxial main rotor gearbox that breaks performance barriers for medium lift rotorcraft through the strategic incorporation and maturation of low technology readiness level (TRL) technologies, and advanced analytical tools and/ methods.

The Frederick L. Feinberg Award is presented to the pilot or crew of a vertical flight aircraft who demonstrated outstanding skills or achievement during the preceding 18 months.

This year’s award is given to US Air Force Special Operations Command’s 7th Special Operations Squadron CV-22 Osprey crew. In October 2020, this special operations wing executed a short-notice, long-range clandestine mission throughout the night to a target 2,000 miles away, which required multiple refueling over some of the harshest African terrain.

Leveraging the speed and range of the CV-22, the crew successfully performed an exfiltration mission from a remote location — totaling 11 hours and required a 17-hour crew day — showing significant self-sacrifice and courageous conduct.

The Vertical Flight Heritage Sites Program is intended to recognize and help preserve locations with the most noteworthy and significant contributions made in both the theory and practice of helicopter and other VTOL aircraft technology.

This year, the former Hughes Helicopter Culver City Plant — the site of all Hughes Helicopter research, development and production from 1948 to 1983 — was selected for its historic significance.

Descriptions of the awards and past recipients are available at To watch the ceremony on May 5th, visit