Remembering Neil Armstrong

Neil Alden Armstrong

August 5, 1930 – August 25, 2012
Enshrined in 1979

The National Aviation Hall of Fame joins the entire world in mourning the loss of 1979 Enshrinee Neil Armstrong, who passed away on August 25, 2012. When the NAHF Board of Nominations formally recognized Mr. Armstrong for his achievements, it was not only for his having been the first man to step foot on the lunar surface, but also for his contributions preceding and following that pivotal milestone event.

Having learned to fly as youngster in Wapakoneta, Ohio, Neil earned his pilot’s license at age 15, before passing his driver’s test. Becoming a Naval Aviator at the age of 20, he soon found himself flying F9F Panther jets in Korea – 78 combat missions in all.

His military service interrupted studies in Engineering at Purdue University, to which he returned and earned a Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering in 1955 (and eventually a Master of Science from USC in 1970).

Soon after graduation Armstrong became a test-pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Center (now known as the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, at Edwards AFB, California). There he participated in the testing of early versions of the most sophisticated experimental aircraft types and systems of the jet age, including the rocket powered X-1B, the X-15 and numerous other supersonic jet aircraft.

In September 1962, the highly experienced pilot-engineer Armstrong’s application was selected by NASA for its “New Nine” group of astronauts. His first flight into space was in March 1966 as command pilot of Gemini 8 with David Scott as pilot.

As is now well documented and celebrated, as Commander of Apollo 11, Armstrong led the mission that captivated the world and changed history. With Command Module Pilot Michael Collins orbiting above, Lunar Module (LM) Pilot Buzz Aldrin and Armstrong descended to the lunar surface. After unexpected and potentially disastrous conditions forced Armstrong to manually pilot the LM to a safe landing, he became the first human to step foot on the moon, July 20, 1969.

Despite the world’s recognition of Armstrong as the courageous moonwalking astronaut, his contributions to aviation and science continued after the historic Apollo program, as an engineer, educator, and public advocate for advancing science. He humbly yet powerfully served in his unintended role at the top of the pantheon of exploration, using deliberate thought as to how best to appropriately encourage others to dream and achieve big, without personally exploiting his iconic status. This included serving 8 years as a professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati, near his home.

It was for all of this that Armstrong was honored with induction to the National Aviation Hall of Fame in July 1979, joining other trailblazing air and space pioneers so honored with enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. He was quietly pleased to join a roster that included fellow Ohioan’s Orville and Wilbur Wright, two of his personal heroes who founded that trail Armstrong and his contemporaries blazed to another world.

Since that time, the NAHF has been blessed to have Mr. Armstrong’s participation in many of its programs and events, including his often serving to represent NAHF enshrinees at the National Aviation Heritage Invitational at Dayton and Reno, and at the Combs Gates Award held annually at the NBAA Convention. The NAHF was appreciative of his 2010 testimony before Congress in support of the U.S. continuing human space operations.

He often returned to Dayton for the NAHF Enshrinement weekend, such as last July when he served as the Presenter of Enshrinement for his dear friend and fellow test-pilot, the late Ivan C. Kincheloe. Armstrong was looking forward to the induction of the late Richard T. Whitcomb at the 50th Anniversary Enshrinement Ceremony this October, having worked closely with the noted NASA aerodynamicist and his colleagues on overcoming some of the toughest challenges at the dawn of supersonic and space flight.

We are pleased to share with you here the accompanying images of several of these appearances, culled from the NAHF archives.

The entire NAHF Board and staff join the world in expressing our sincere condolences to the Armstrong Family. It will be the privilege of the Hall of Fame to share the legacy of Neil Armstrong – an exemplary gentleman, scholar and hero in every sense – with generations to come. The heavens have added a familiar bright star that now shines forever on earth.

A statement from the family said, in part, “For those who may ask what they can do to honor Neil, we have a simple request. Honor his example of service, accomplishment and modesty, and the next time you walk outside on a clear night and see the moon smiling down at you, think of Neil Armstrong and give him a wink.”

We most certainly will. Many of us have done just that, for years. Forgive us if tonight we do so with a tear in our eye. Godspeed, Neil Armstrong.