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Each year the Sawyer Award recognizes the achievements of glider pilots flying cross country. The award encourages participation and competition in cross country soaring, provides a standard of measurement, and honors the winner. The name of each recipient is engraved on the trophy, and the presentation is made annually at the PASCO Banquet. The pilot wins the award by accumulating the greatest number of points which are awarded for the number of flights, height gained, distance flown, duration of each flight, field of origin of the flight. The winner keeps the trophy for one year and administers the award for that year.
The award was born from an idea of Doctor (Doc) Sawyer, a passionate glider pilot of North California, and Earl O. Menefee, at the time the most successful cross country pilot of the area. In those years the soaring activity was based in Hummingbird Haven near Livermore. Earl did several firsts, like the exploratory flight from Livermore to Mount Diablo and back in his Super Albatross.
One day Doc approached Earl and asked him to organize a competition that encouraged cross country soaring. Earl was already toiling with the same idea and came out with a set of rules, which with occasional refinements during the course of years are essentially the same in use today. Doc offered an annual prize of $150.00. Understandably the first edition of the award was won by Earl, who as he said, was the most familiar with the rules, though they were published in the then red hot publication called "Hot Air".
The original purpose was to create an award that would stimulate the interest of gliding pilots in the Bay Area, especially in the total participation that absorbed Doc Sawyer. An accumulation of points awarded for many accomplishments in soaring activities was chosen as a basis for evaluation of each year's winner. Such things as contest participation, completion of FAA licenses or FAI badges, or noteworthy individual flights, were all counted in the scoring.
In 1958, Doc Sawyer had a mid air collision with Harner Selvedge over the White Mountains at the U.S. National Soaring Championships in Bishop, California. Harner Selvedge survived, Doc Sawyer died in the accident. As a memorial to the man and his soaring interests, the Sawyer Participation Award was maintained and came to us through the years.
Prior to 1966, the award was administered by the NCSA (North California Soaring Association) based at Hummingbird Haven Airport, in Livermore. Prizes were of $150.00, plus appropriately inscribed plaques. At that time the intention were that it be a participation award for the average Sunday pilot, not for the already motivated, all-out pilot. Most of the scoring was gained in local flights. The rules restricted the take off to a radius of 50 miles from Yerba Buena Island, in the middle of the Bay Area. Participants had to be members of NCSA. This limited the achievements to a very narrow area of the soaring country available and to an even narrower sample of the pilots available.
When PASCO was formed in 1964 and Carl Herold became its first President, he accepted custodianship of the award and made major changes to revitalize it. The award has been administered by PASCO since then. At the time the award provided a $500 prize and a barograph. Starting from 1966, eligibility was open to the entire Bay Area soaring fraternity.
In the year 1970, the rules were revised with the introduction of a factor dependent on the height of the field of origin of the flight. Eunice Newgard personally solicited the entries at the PASCO dinner, and 26 pilots entered the competition at $2 each. The Memorial first purpose was to increase participation, by bringing the pilots out of the woodwork, rather than provide exercise ground for the top echelon of contest pilots. Carl Herold, 1969 winner, said: "I would have flown cross country, Sawyer Award or not". He flew 6,000 miles that year, with a Ka-6CR. On the other side of the coin was Al Boehm, then the most active participant with 53 entries. He said: "If it had not been for the Soaring Memorial, I would not have started my cross country flights" - he had none before he made his first entry.
In 1989, Don Hurd developed the rules for the new breed of birds that had appeared on the soaring scene: the motorglider. He made an analysis of the motorglider advantages over the pure glider and gave a number to it. He evaluated that advantage in 1.2, for this was the handicap by which the motorglider pilot had to divide his achievements.
In 1999, the award underwent a renovation after Peter Kelly proposed a simplification and a revision of the rules to increase participation, which in the last ten years had been lagging. Sergio Colacevich, winner for that year and administrator, collected information with a survey, and made a statistical analysis of the flights and of the characteristics of the pilots. As a result, changes were done to the pilot factor which was not only based on the badge standings, as before, but also on the actual cross country experience of the pilots; the pilot factor itself was weighted more in favor of the beginner pilots; the points per duration were increased, again giving more chances to the beginners; the rules for motorgliders were simplified.
In 2005, the award has been renovated again as the Online Contest (OLC) becomes increasingly popular and provides an easy way for pilots to register, fly, and transmit their electronic flight data through the Internet.
The award itself is beautifully hand carved in wood, with a shiny canopy; it is kept in mid air by a delicate metal support designing the outline of a cumulus cloud. The original, hand carved by Hans Neumann, sported a "V " tail. It was substituted by a "T" tail around 1994.
Over 42 years of its existence, Sawyer recipients went on to become key figures in our sport in the region, the nation, and the world of soaring. This Award has certainly served its purpose. Many glider pilots have administered it over the years as well as competed for it.
In 2008 the Sawyer Rules were simplified to make it easy to administer and to use the OLC score with only a pilot factor to give more credit to newer pilots. The addition of a 0.7 pilot factor was added for pilots who had flwn 1000 km or more. See Sawyer Award page.