The Harmon National Trophy for Australia

The Harmon Trophies

In 1926, wealthy American real estate developer and early balloonist Clifford B. Harmon (1866-1945) established a series of trophies to be awarded annually to the most outstanding aviator, aviatrix (female aviator) and aeronaut (balloon or dirigible pilot) in that year. Harmon also created a 'National Trophy', to be awarded to the outstanding aviator in each of twenty-one countries that were members of the pre-War League of Nations.

Harmon had two great obsessions: firstly world peace and friendship; and secondly, swift world communications. Harmon believed that both objectives would be furthered and brought about through the medium of aviation. In furtherance of these objectives, after the Great War Harmon formed the Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs (International League of Aviators) and it was this organisation that originally administered the award of the Harmon Trophies.

The Second World War was a great disappointment to Harmon and Trophies were not awarded during this period. Before his death in 1945, Harmon also amended the Trust Deed under which the Trophies were administered to delete the National Trophies. The subsequent history of the remaining three Trophies, and an additional Trophy created in 1969 for spaceflight, is convoluted and, it appears, despite research there is no definitive, consolidated list of Trophy winners available.

Description of the National Trophy for Australia

The National Trophy for Australia consists of a bronze statue by Belgian sculptor Godefroid (or Godefroy) Devreese (1861-1941), cast in six pieces. The largest part includes an octagonal base, a globe of the world and the bodies of two winged human figures. The other five parts are the four wings and the legs of the upper figure. See the image below for an indication of the size of the statue.

Engraved on one of the base sides is "Harmon Trophy / American Pilot No 6 / F.A.I." - a reference to Clifford Harmon being the holder of Federation Aeronautique Internationale licence number 6 (in the early days of aviation, before national licensing of pilots, licensing on a sporting basis was done by the FAI). Another side of the base is inscribed "L.I.A.", a reference to the Ligue Internationale des Aviateurs.

Three of the remaining sides are inscribed with the years 1926 to 1939, but only two years have names against them:

  • 1928 - C.E. Kingsford-Smith (sic)
  • 1929 Hon. Hugh Grosvenor

The Trophy also carries a white plaque affixed to the base reading "Dept. of Civil Aviation / Serial No. 3129 / Type (blank)".

The Australian Harmon Trophy Winners

As noted above, the National Trophy for Australia lists Charles Kingsford Smith as the winner of the Trophy for the year 1928, which was the year in which he made the historic first flight across the Pacific but also the year of his first flight across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand and back.

However, a New York Times report of 25 February 1931 reported that the Aviator's Harmon Trophy for the previous year was won by French pilot Dieudonne Costes, but that "Coste's only rival at the committee session was "Wing Commander Charles Kingsford-Smith, the Australian" [sic]. It further stated that Kingsford Smith had been awarded the National Trophy for Australia. On 5 March 1932, and again on 11 March 1935, the New York Times reported Kingsford Smith as the winner of the National Trophy for Australia for the preceding years. It is not known why Smithy's name was not engraved on the Trophy for the years 1930, '31 and '34.


It seems that the winner for 1929, Captain the Honourable Hugh 'Puck' Grosvenor, was posthumously awarded the National Trophy for Australia in recognition of his solo around-Australia flight in that year. This was the first such solo flight, made in DH60X Moth G-AUGS.

Grosvenor, son of Lord Stalbridge, was an old Etonian and an officer on the reserve of the Seventh Hussars. He came to Australia as Aide de Camp to the Governor of South Australia, Sir Alexander Hore-Ruthven. Soon after his arrival in Australia, Grosvenor purchased the Moth and learned to fly with the Aero Club of South Australia at Adelaide/Parafield. There he became popular and a keen amateur aviator, being known as a capable and reliable pilot.

Hugh Grosvenor was killed on 6 January 1930 when the Wackett Widgeon II that he was a passenger in suddenly and inexplicably dived steeply into Port Phillip Bay, just off RAAF Point Cook. Later, in 1934, Horrie Miller would name his Lockheed Vega Puck in memory of his friend Hugh Grosvenor.

History of the National Trophy for Australia

As a member of the League of Nations, and having a good proportion of outstanding pioneer aviators, Australia received its own Harmon National Trophy. Just who administered the award of the Trophy is not clear, but the Trophy was certainly in the possession of the Department of Civil Aviation by the late 1930s. Neither is its location from this time until 1953 clear, but in that year it was loaned to the State Museum of Victoria in connection with an Exhibition on the Jubilee of Flight.

Following the Exhibition, the Trustees of the Museum wrote to all the exhibitors inviting them to either arrange for the return of exhibits or consider their loan or permanent transfer to the Museum. On 16 February 1954 the Director-General of Civil Aviation, Donald Anderson, wrote to the Museum offering to leave the Trophy at the Museum on extended loan provided the Trophy could be made available if "required for inclusion in any aviation display which we should organise." These terms were accepted enthusiastically by the Museum and the Harmon Trophy was placed on permanent display in the Museum's Aviation Hall.

In 1990 the Museum of Victoria's Division of Science and Technology wrote to the then Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to formalise loan arrangements for the Harmon Trophy pending their move to a new campus at Spotswood the following year. The letter stated that the Trophy would be required for the period 1991-1997 at the 'Scienceworks' campus and offered three possibilities:

  1. CAA renews the loan of the Trophy for a specific period;
  2. CAA requests the return of the Trophy; or
  3. CAA donates the Trophy to the Museum.

In reply, the CAA offered to donate the Trophy to the Museum. However, as the original loan agreement was not clear (the file having to be recalled from Archives), it was proposed that a fixed term loan be concluded in the interim. The follow-up paperwork did not arrive from Scienceworks until July 1992 and this proposed only a fixed term loan. In response, the CAA acceded to a five-year loan with the proviso that the Museum of Victoria maintained $10,000 insurance cover over the Trophy.

In May 1991 the embryo National Air and Space Museum of Australia (NASMA) wrote to the CAA to request permission to use the Harmon Trophy in an Exhibition in conjunction with the International Aerospace Congress being held in Melbourne that month. Permission was granted and the imposing Harmon Trophy formed the centrepiece of the NASMA exhibition.

In August 1996, Scienceworks once again wrote to now Airservices Australia's Historical Officer, Roger Meyer, stating that the exhibition featuring the Harmon Trophy was being dismantled in October and that they were giving notice that the Trophy would be returned by the end of the year. Unable to find a Division within Airservices Australia that would accept receipt and custody of the Trophy, the concensus was that the Civil Aviation Historical Society (CAHS) should negotiate the return of the Trophy and should then be its custodian, consistent with Airservices Australia's approach to the receipt of all historical artefacts and records.

The CAHS received the Harmon Trophy from the Museum of Victoria in 1997 and it was decided to place the Trophy on display in the foyer of the Airservices Australia's headquarters in the Alan Woods Building in Constitution Avenue, Canberra. The Trophy remained on display there until the foyer was renovated in late 2007. The Harmon Trophy was then removed to the Airways Museum, Essendon Airport, Melbourne, where it was placed on display in January 2008.

(Photos: CAHS collection)

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