"This year’s winners show that the engines of innovation in aerospace and aviation continued to turn through one of the most punishing downturns this industry has ever seen," said Joe Anselmo, editorial director of the Aviation Week Network. "Our editors selected the winners after reviewing dozens of nominations made internally and externally."

2021 Winners


Boeing Airpower Teaming System
Stemming from Australia’s Loyal Wingman demonstration program, Boeing Australia’s Airpower Teaming System made its first flight in February 2021—just three years after the concept was unveiled. The turbofan-powered uncrewed vehicle is the first combat aircraft developed in Australia in more than 50 years. 

GE Aviation XA100
GE Aviation’s Edison Works opened a new chapter in military powerplants by completing initial tests of the XA100 three-stream, adaptive-cycle turbine engine. Developed under the U.S. Air Force’s Adaptive Engine Transition Program, the XA100 paves the way for a new generation of powerplants for future combat aircraft. 

U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory Golden Horde
Showing the potential to upend military thinking in a way not seen since the creation of precision-guided munitions, the Air Force Research Laboratory demonstrated swarming technology for networked munitions. Tests demonstrated how collaborating weapons could be redirected in flight, synchronized to impact simultaneously and hit two separate targets. 

U.S. Space Force Establishment
From a heavy legislative lift to a bureaucratic fight within the Pentagon, the creation of the first new U.S. military branch in more than 70 years proved to be as complicated as rocket science. But establishment of the Space Force is paying off, as the new service presents an integrated vision on investments the U.S. believes it must make.

Commercial Aviation

Michael Schoellhorn, Airbus
As chief operating officer, Schoellhorn led the initiative to drive digitalization and relaunch subsidiaries Stelia Aerospace and Premium Aerotec as key internal suppliers at Airbus. The fundamental changes will prepare Airbus for the next generation of aircraft, which will be much more integrated from a design perspective. 

Boeing 737 MAX Joint Authorities Technical Review
Commissioned by the FAA to look into its approval of the Boeing 737 MAX flight control system, the international Joint Authorities Technical Review was unprecedented in its breadth of representation—10 regulators and NASA—and its depth of analysis. The review’s recommendations are helping improve aircraft safety and the certification process. 

Boeing Sustainable Aviation Fuel Initiative 
Boeing has committed to certifying all of its commercial aircraft to operate on 100% sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) by 2030. Building on earlier SAF tests under its ecoDemonstrator series, the initiative marks a significant step toward energizing the global commercialization of low-carbon fuels. 

GE Aviation Junior Officer Leadership Program
This select group of young military veterans—the most diverse in the program’s history—works as engineers, shop supervisors, managers and human resource specialists in fields such as engineering, supersonic technology and autonomous-vehicle innovations. The program  collaborates with governments on ethical supply chains and partners with the United Nations to expand diversity in aerospace.


Dan Hart, President and CEO, Virgin Orbit
Under Hart’s leadership, Virgin Orbit rebounded from failing a test in May 2020 to deploying 10 NASA payloads on Jan. 17, 2021. The company followed with a second successful launch on June 30. Virgin Orbit has also lined up multiple customers and is in talks to become a publicly traded company. 

NASA/JPL Mars Ingenuity
On April 19, 2021, NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory proved that powered flight on another planet is possible with the 39.1-sec. flight of the 4-lb. Ingenuity helicopter on Mars. And the little rotorcraft kept going—beyond the planned five flights—to begin survey missions for its companion Perseverance rover. 

Northrop Grumman Mission Extension Vehicle
Intelsat 901 was just a defunct communication satellite struggling to maintain position in geostationary orbit after 19 years. But in a first, in February 2020, Northrop Grumman’s Mission Extension Vehicle (MEV-1) attached itself to the spacecraft and returned it to service for another five years. Northrop repeated the feat in April 2021. 

SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2
After an 11-year hiatus, crewed spaceflights from the U.S. resumed on May 20, 2020, when SpaceX launched a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying NASA astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken. The Demonstration Mission-2 ushered in a new era of NASA human spaceflight under its public-private Commercial Crew program. 

Business Aviation

In an initiative to provide people with disabilities an opportunity to fly aircraft, UK nonprofit Aerobility acquired a fleet of motor gliders formerly used to train cadets. As the organization expands its geographic reach, it will sell most of the gliders to raise funds to modify other aircraft with suitable controls. 

International Aircraft Dealers Association
Formerly the National Aircraft Resale Association, the International Aircraft Dealers Association (IADA) introduced an accreditation program for aircraft dealers and a certification process for their brokers to promote competence and integrity in aircraft transactions. IADA represents 45 accredited dealers plus 64 products, service companies and manufacturers. 

Pfizer Corporate Flight Department
To accelerate the emergency authorization of its COVID-19 vaccine, Pfizer used its flight department to fly dozens of trips to transport lab technicians and clinical trial products among various critical locations. This accelerated the vaccine rollout by at least two weeks and helped Pfizer and partner BioNTech become the first to gain U.S. approval. 

Pipistrel Velis Electro
Slovenia’s Pipistrel redefined general aviation by becoming the first company to certify an electrically powered aircraft—cutting emissions, noise and operating costs along the way. Pipistrel received European Union Aviation Safety Agency type certification for the battery-powered Velis Electro in July 2020, and the quiet aircraft has allowed the reintroduction of flight operations during weekends and holidays.


Lifetime Achievement

Marillyn Hewson
Marillyn Hewson joined Lockheed in 1983 as a senior industrial engineer and, after advancing through 20 management positions, she became the first female chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin in 2013. During nearly eight years at the helm, Hewson presided over the challenging ramp-up of the global F-35 program. Her emphasis on financial management led to robust earnings and record backlogs, earning her the reputation as one of the most accomplished U.S. chief executives. Hewson stepped down as CEO in mid-2020 but continues to serve on the company’s board.

Robert Leduc (2020 winner)
Bob Leduc came out of retirement to return to Pratt & Whitney as president. He used his leadership skills to shake up the corporate team and guide the PW1000G geared turbofan engine program through a challenging service introduction and production ramp-up, setting it on a path to success. Leduc was unable to accept his award in person last year because of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tomorrow’s Leaders

Aviation Week will honor the commitment of these four cadets and midshipmen from U.S. military academies. They will receive this award honoring young men and women who have chosen career paths in the armed forces.

Winners will be announced in September.