Parachute-Protected Jet Wins ‘Aviation’s Oscar Award’ – the Collier Trophy

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University faculty member Snorri Gudmundsson served as chief aerodynamicist on a team that jointly designed the Cirrus SF50 Vision® Jet, which received the 2017 Robert J. Collier Trophy.

The annual Collier Trophy, administered by the U.S. National Aeronautic Association (NAA), recognizes “the greatest achievement in aeronautics or astronautics in America, with respect to improving the performance, efficiency and safety of air or space vehicles” during the prior year.

The NAA described the Cirrus SF50 Vision® Jet as “the world’s first single-engine general aviation personal jet aircraft with a whole airframe parachute system.” A low-wing seven-seater with a parachute capable of lowering the airplane to the ground in an emergency, the jet entered service in December 2016.

Gudmundsson, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering at Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach, Fla., campus since spring 2010, previously worked for Cirrus Aircraft for 15 years. With Cirrus, he served as a flight test engineer, structural engineer and chief aerodynamicist. He was involved in design and analysis for the Cirrus SR20 and SR22 single-engine, high-performance aircraft, and he served as chief aerodynamicist for the SF50.

Like most engineering efforts, the SF50 project was a true team effort involving about a half-dozen individuals, Gudmundsson emphasized.

“No person ever designs an aircraft alone,” Gudmundsson said. “Aircraft designer Mike Van Staagen was the instigator of the SF50 design. He penned the original concept. The rest of us on the team made sure it would be the safest possible aircraft.”

Beginning with the original design, Gudmundsson said, the team “took the airplane from a blank sheet of paper to a flying prototype with significant flight time.”

Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Gudmundsson moved to Florida to attend Embry-Riddle and pursue his childhood dream of becoming an aircraft designer. He earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and his Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering.

He teaches preliminary aircraft design and other subjects within Embry-Riddle’s Florida-based College of Engineering, and in his spare time, he plays multiple musical instruments.

As news of this year’s Collier Trophy spread, Gudmundsson received congratulations from some of his former students such as Joseph Murphy, now a flight test engineer with Lockheed Martin Corporation, and Sumit Shibib, a systems engineer at Rockwell Collins.

“I cannot express how happy and excited I am to have been in a class with someone who was the chief aerodynamicist of a Collier Trophy-winning aircraft,” said Shibib. “I think about your teachings every day at work and try to apply your principles to plan and solve problems.”  

Cirrus Aircraft was founded by brothers Alan and Dale Klapmeier, who are aircraft designers, aviation businessmen and entrepreneurs.

Honoring Robert J. Collier, an aviator, humanitarian, sportsman and publisher, the Collier Trophy has been awarded since 1911 to recipients including Orville Wright, Howard Hughes, Chuck Yeager, Kelly Johnson and the first astronauts to land on the moon in 1969, to name a few.

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Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University is the world’s largest, oldest and most comprehensive institution specializing in aviation, aerospace, engineering and related degree programs. A fully accredited university, Embry-Riddle is also a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. A nonprofit, independent institution, Embry-Riddle offers more than 100 associate, baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. The university educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through its Worldwide Campus with more than 135 locations in the United States, Europe and Asia, and through online programs. For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and, and find expert videos at