Neil Armstrong: the ultimate aviator

Neil Armstrong
Neil Armstrong, calm under pressure, as always.

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.

16 Comments

  • Richard – a wonderful story about an incredible person whose life touched many and will never be forgotten.

    I too had the incredible fortune to meet Commander Armstrong at a 2009 National Aviation Hall of Fame event honoring all the Apollo Astronauts. Although it was only for a few minutes, I was introduced as owning an Aerostar. We talked about flying and Armstrong mentioned how the Aerostar must handle similarly to other Ted Smith designs. A truly cherished moment.

  • Here in Denmark the whole nation followed the flight of Apollo 11 closely. I sat and watched the landing on my parents very small black and white TV. It was on my 16th birthday and when I saw Mr Armstrong step down on the moon, then I knew that I wanted to be a pilot, and perhaps one day fly to the moon.

    My dream of flying to the moon didn’t come true, but I often thought of Mr. Armstrong.

    When it was tough in UPT, I remember thinking of the man on the moon. When I later on flew Air Defence Missions at night over the Baltic Sea in my F104 and later F16 and saw the moon in the pitch black sky, I often thought of Mr. Armstrong with a smile on my face.

    I truly believe that seeing Mr. Armstrong that evening, and understanding what an accomplishment it was, to “put a man on the moon within this decade” as said by my other great American hero, helped me several times when things got tough!

    I got 34 great years in aviation, before being partly paralyzed from the waist down by an unknown disease.

    On that day in 1969 you became my inspiration and hero Mr Armstrong, and I’m still thinking of you!

    I salute You Mr. Armstrong. A great hero that came from a great nation. The United States of America

    • Thanks for the story Mr Soerensen, very moving! My folks also bought the family’s first TV just to be able to watch the moon landing with my grandparents who were visiting from Eastern Europe at the time.

  • Thanks, Richard, for telling us that story. With all the inflated egos we have suffered in aviation and elsewhere, Neil was an inspiration in his talents and accomplishments, but perhaps even more so for the man that he was. Anyone who can go overnight from relative obscurity to one of the most famous persons on earth and still retain his humility, dignity, and balance is unflappable, indeed. He never forgot who he was nor his values. What a admirable human being.

  • Neil flew from the Warren County Airport I68 and kept his plane here. He was most helpful in getting improvements while he served on the airport authority board. He attended the memorial service for John Lane who started I68 and interacted with Neil.He will always be remembered.

  • Thank you Richard. Neil inspired a generation. In 1969, I was nine years old and flew many “missions” in our Ford Galaxy 500. The window handle was my thruster and I steered with the ashtray on many trips in the backseat. I can’t tell you how many moon landings I made that year after watching what is still mankind’s most astounding achievement.

    We used to eat at the Apollo Burger stand in Lake County, Ca. and every playground had a jungle jim in the conical shape of a space capsule. I built the Revel Mercury and Apollo models and swore one day I’d fly. I’m 52 now and as Neil passed from the scene I have 17 hours in my logbook. One small step…

  • I should also say that you, Richard, have inspired me to dig deep into weather study. From my first flight your books came to life in the air and have inspired me to study and to respect only one reliable forecast- The one out the windshield.

    Thanks old man, though we’ve never met, I just know you’ve already saved my life.

    John

  • I never met Neil. (Wish it was possible, but never happened.
    I was a young Marine Helicopter Crew Chief on that day in July of 1969.
    I had just come off flying a mission when some one yelled “their landing on the moon”…..We all ran and gathered around a TV and watched the great event. Made you proud to be a American. I still love the memory of that space flight.
    I first started flying in 1965 as a teen. Still fly as a professional pilot.
    But Neil ranks as the best. I was sorry to read of his passing. RIP Neil, you will never be forgotten.

  • I heard on the news that we should pray for the loss of Neil Armstrong. Pray? As an ATP rated pilot with tons of experience flying in numerous countries, situations, and aircraft, I will never have the chance to stand on another surface and look back at “Big Blue Earth”!. Nah, I think ole Neil said a prayer for the rest of us pilots to possibly one day experience the ultimate long cross country! What do you do to top that sortie? God’s Speed!

  • Terrific tribute….it gave us all the opportunity to reflect back on where we were and with whom we were watching that historic event

  • I was a grad student in July 1969. I stayed glued to the B&W TV and watched the entire landing and stay on the lunar surface. I started working for NASA that fall.

    I never met Neil Armstrong but I certainly remember a day in the fall of 1969. I was eating lunch in the NASA cafeteria in Houston when he sat down at the same table. I was speechless and didn’t say a word. I was 2 seats away from the first man on the moon and the thing that impressed me the most that day was he was carrying his own tray. I guess I expected that the first man on the moon would have an entourage with girls throwing flowers in his path.

    A truly great American, along with his crewmate Buzz Aldrin.

  • Thanks Richard. No doubt Neil was a great man. If I may pay you a compliment, I think of you as the Neil Armstrong of GA pilots.

  • I had the honor and privilege of working with Neil at NASA down in Houston. Neil and I frequently jumped aboard my old 172 or a rented TriPacer and bored holes in the sky – no destinations… Sometimes we’d fly an hour or so without sayin’ a word – Neil because he wasn’t a talker… Me because I respected Neil. I’ll miss him…
    I’ve written some about Neil at http://www.jimsladesairlines.com, a pretty nice aviation/space website….

  • Thank you Richard for the wonderful article on Neil Armstrong, as well as all the other aviation related articles and presentations you have given.I have always found them to be both informative and inspirational. I was still too young to witness the lunar landings, but the legacy of that historical moment made me aware that we are only limited by our imagination on what we can achieve in a lifetime. Neil Armstrong and all those space explorers like him, took the ultimate risk, in order to pave the way for humankind to explore beyond the known realm of our world. One can only admire persons of such calibre, and on their passing to a higher calling, know that it was a life great lived. Ever so often when a fly on a beautiful dawn morning, or surreal sunset, I have looked down on the earth below and thought of the Wright Brothers. Now I will also look up and thank Neil Armstrong for having the courage and passion to take that big step for mankind.

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