Military Heroes and Legends of Aerospace: Neil Armstrong
On Patrol staff
“Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed.”
Born on the family farm in northwest Ohio on August 5, 1930, Neil Armstrong attended Blume High School in Wapakoneta before entering aeronautical engineering studies at Purdue University in 1947. His education was paid for by the Holloway Plan, under which he committed to four years of study and three years of active-duty service in the Navy. His studies were interrupted in January 1949, however, when the Navy called him up to report to Pensacola for 18 months of flight training. He became a fully qualified Naval aviator just a week after his 20th birthday. His first assignment was to Fleet Aircraft Service Squadron 7, at NAS North Island, San Diego, California.
It wasn’t until August 1951, that Armstrong saw action in the Korean War from the cockpit of his F9F-2 Panther. While making a bombing run, he took anti-aircraft fire near Wonsan, North Korea. Though he was able to pilot the jet back to friendly territory, he was forced to eject from the damaged aircraft.
Armstrong flew 78 missions over Korea, for a total of 121 hours, earning 3 Air Medals and the Korean Service Medal and Engagement Star.
Later that year, at the age of 22, he returned to Purdue to complete his studies and joined a Naval Reserve fighter squadron at NAS Glenview, Illinois, where he was promoted to lieutenant jg.
After graduation, Armstrong decided to become a test pilot and sent an application to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station at Edwards Air Force Base, which had no open positions. The application was forwarded to the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory in Cleveland, where Armstrong began working in February of 1955.
He began by piloting chase planes on drops of experimental aircraft from converted bombers and research flying in the early supersonic fighters. His first flight in a rocket plane came in 1957, in a Bell X-1B. Three years later, he began flying the X-15 hypersonic rocket research aircraft.
In 1962, the X-15 took him to an altitude of 207,000 feet, the highest he flew before participating in the Gemini 8 space mission. That X-15 flight was the longest in both time and distance of the ground track.
That same year, after having been chosen as part of the pilot consultant group for the X-20 Dyna-Soar military space plane, Armstrong was moved to astronaut status.
In March of 1966, he made his first trip into orbit as command pilot for the Gemini 8 mission, during which he performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space.
Armstrong made his second space flight in 1969, this time as the commander of Apollo 11, the first manned lunar landing mission. He became the first man to step foot onto the moon’s cratered surface.
Returning to Earth, Armstrong was appointed NASA’s Deputy Associate Administrator for Aeronautics where he served until 1971 when he resigned from NASA to accept a teaching position with the University of Cincinnati as a professor of aerospace engineering. He had completed a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California in 1970.
Neil Armstrong is a fellow of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots and the Royal Aeronautical Society, and an honorary fellow of both the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the International Astronautics Federation. Armstrong also served on the National Commission of Space. He has been decorated by 17 countries and is the recipient of numerous honors including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, among others.
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