We watched the moon landing on July 21, 1969 with some British friends. After the landing, one Brit, who worked on elements of the space program, said, “You must be proud to be an American.” I was and still am thanks to the fact that I have shared and still share this great country with some wonderful and exceptional people. This brings me to Neil Armstrong, Gone West on August 25 at 82.
The person who arranged seating at a dinner at the Reading Air Show in June, 1970, knew me pretty well. He said he was seating me next to Neil Armstrong and had a request that he knew I would honor. I could talk to Neil about anything except the moon and space flight. Those were strictly off limits.
We had a pleasant conversation about general aviation and learning to fly at a young age. He was flying sailplanes a lot at the time and really enjoyed talking about soaring. At the conclusion of the evening I knew I had been in the company of a truly great man, laid back and modest to a fault. I had a few more contacts with him after that and all were great experiences.
As pilots we have to look at his career and consider that he took and managed more risks than a whole squadron of pilots will ever see in a lifetime. He was completely calm and relaxed through events that would have rattled the best. He did all this without wanting any praise or recognition. Neil always said that he was just doing his job.
Some compared Neil Armstrong with Charles Lindbergh. He wouldn’t accept that, saying something to the effect that he was extensively trained and had a support team of many thousands where Lindbergh was truly The Lone Eagle. Still, it was a bit farther to the moon than to Paris.
There would only be one first man to land on and set foot on the moon. America’s choice of a person to do that was nothing short of perfect. The next time you gaze at a full moon, think back to 1969 and Neil Armstrong hand flying that lunar lander through a risky visual landing that was full of unknowns. Thank you, Neil, for stepping out on the moon on our behalf. To say nothing of all the NASA test flying, the other space adventures, and for the combat missions as a Naval aviator during the Korean War. His is a truly remarkable record.