AIAA Announces 2024 Premier Award Winners Written 8 February 2024


February 8, 2024 – Reston, Va. – The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is pleased to announce the 2024 recipients of the AIAA Premier Awards, recognizing the most influential and inspiring individuals in aerospace whose outstanding contributions merit the highest accolades. 

AIAA will present the 2024 AIAA Premier Awards during the AIAA Awards Gala on Wednesday, 15 May, at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts*, Washington, DC. The Institute also will recognize its Class of 2024 Honorary Fellows and Fellows at the AIAA Awards Gala. Tickets are available now.

“Congratulations to our premier award winners,” said AIAA President Laura McGill. “We are inspired by their achievements. These prestigious awards celebrate their truly significant work that is shaping the future. AIAA is committed to recognizing aerospace professionals for their innovations and discoveries that advance aerospace capabilities and performance.”

The winners are:

AIAA Award for Aerospace Excellence – U.S. Air Force Combat Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology Demonstration Team

AIAA Public Service Award – Leland D. Melvin, Former NASA Astronaut, Leland Melvin LLC 

AIAA Reed Aeronautics Award – Mark S. Miller, Leidos, Dynetics Group

AIAA Distinguished Service Award – Paul D. Nielsen, Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University

AIAA International Cooperation Award – Jean-Yves Le Gall, CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), ESA Council (European Space Agency), Arianespace, IAF (International Astronautical Federation)

AIAA Engineer of the Year Award – Kurt Polzin, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award – W. Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin Space (retired)

AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award – Michelle N. Banchy, NASA Langley Research Center

Award Citations

AIAA Award for Aerospace Excellence
This award honors a unique achievement by a group or team in the aerospace community that is shaping the future of aerospace and inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in aerospace. The award is designed for timely recognition of a recent program or mission.

U.S. Air Force Combat Artificial Intelligence (AI) Technology Demonstration Team, honored “For demonstrating AI piloting the XQ-58A Valkyrie uncrewed jet aircraft, building on previous demonstrations with a crewed (F-16) VISTA X-62A, but taking it one step further to a full demonstration, and amplifying the importance of military government partnerships with industry and academia.”

AIAA Public Service Award
The award honors a person who has demonstrated sustained and visible support for aviation and space goals.

Leland D. Melvin, Former NASA Astronaut, Leland Melvin LLC, honored “For tirelessly promoting STEAM and aerospace to young people of all demographics by word and personal example.”

AIAA Reed Aeronautics Award
The highest honor AIAA bestows for notable achievements in the field of aeronautics. The award is named after Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed, aeronautical engineer, designer, and founding member of the Institute of the Aeronautical Sciences in 1932.

Mark S. Miller, Leidos, Dynetics Group, honored “In recognition of contributions to engineering advancement of grid-fin aerodynamic control technology from seminal research through pervasive technology adoption into flight systems including reusable launch vehicles.”

AIAA Distinguished Service Award
AIAA recognizes an individual member who has provided distinguished service to the Institute over a period of years.

Paul D. Nielsen, Software Engineering Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, honored “For outstanding and distinguished leadership and service to AIAA and to the aerospace profession over the past four decades.”

AIAA International Cooperation Award
The award is presented to a member who has made a recent individual contribution in the application of scientific and mathematical principles leading to a significant accomplishment or event worthy of AIAA’s national or international recognition.

Jean-Yves Le Gall, CNES, ESA Council, Arianespace, IAF, honored “For extraordinary contributions and leadership, and for major collaborations with the international community in the development and operation of space missions for scientific and civil applications.”

AIAA Engineer of the Year Award
The award is presented to a member of the Institute who has made a recent individual technical contribution in the application of scientific and mathematical principles leading to a significant technical accomplishment.

Kurt Polzin, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, honored “For inspired technical leadership as Chief Engineer of NASA’s Space Nuclear Propulsion Project, positioning the nation to rapidly mature, demonstrate, and use nuclear propulsion systems.”

AIAA Goddard Astronautics Award
The highest honor AIAA bestows for notable achievement in the field of astronautics. It was endowed by Mrs. Goddard in the 1940s as the ARS Goddard Memorial Award to commemorate her husband, Robert H. Goddard—rocket visionary, pioneer, bold experimentalist, and superb engineer whose early liquid rocket engine launches set the stage for the development of astronautics.

W. Michael Hawes, Lockheed Martin Space (retired), honored “For a lifetime of contributions to the design, manufacturing, and operations of human space flight programs including the Space Shuttle, International Space Station, and Orion.”

AIAA Lawrence Sperry Award
The award is presented for a notable contribution made by a young person, age 35 or under, to the advancement of aeronautics or astronautics. This award honors Lawrence B. Sperry, pioneer aviator and inventor, who died in 1923 in a forced landing while attempting a flight across the English Channel.

Michelle N. Banchy, NASA Langley Research Center, honored “For exceptional technical contributions in the field of aerodynamic design toward the development and application of natural laminar flow systems.”

In addition, the Institute will present the 2024 Daniel Guggenheim Medal during the 2024 AIAA Awards Gala to Michimasa Fujino for technical innovation and leadership in conceiving, designing, and bringing HondaJet to a leading position in the business jet market. This award is jointly sponsored by AIAA, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), SAE International, and the Vertical Flight Society (VFS).

*Note: This event is an external rental presented in coordination with the Kennedy Center Campus Rentals Office and is not produced by the Kennedy Center.

Contact: Rebecca Gray,, 804-397-5270

About AIAA 
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 91 countries, and 100 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information, visit, and follow AIAA on TwitterFacebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.