Neil Armstrong’s Champ

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In 1946, a 16 year old Neil Armstrong was landing an Aeronca Champ in a field in Ohio. He probably looked out the side window and saw a bright red sun rapidly descending in the western sky, illuminating some grain bins. That was the same humble beginning that most pilots have, a little experience behind them and a lot of things to learn and accomplish in the future. Many pilots allow their egos to get bigger than they are but not this time.

Neil went on to achieve a lot, he soloed before he had a driver’s license. He was a Boy Scout and made Eagle Scout. He went on to college to earn a BS in Aeronautical Engineering from Purdue Univercity and later a master’s degree. He joined the Navy (they had paid his way through college) and flew the Panther off the USS Essex in the Korean War. Neil flew 78 combat missions and had to eject from a damaged Panther. He went on to be a test pilot flying most of the Century Series fighters, as well as the X-15 (to over 200,000 feet and nearly 4000 MPH). His first trip into space was commanding Gemini 8, the second trip was to the moon. Afterwards, he was an administrator at NASA for a short time and then a Professor of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Cincinnati for 8 years. He lived out the remainder of his days on his farm in Lebanon Ohio.

On the moon, he was the photographer, taking the vast majority of pictures with a Hasselblad camera mounted to his suit. There were only 5 pictures on the moon where he is partially shown or in a reflection. For all the people that go on vacation and take hundreds of pictures of themselves, Neil Armstrong went to the moon and there isn’t even a decent picture of him there. Sometimes life simply isn’t fair.

Being a very public figure never seemed to sit well with him. Everyone wanted him for something; better than many he under stood the concept of the “golden touch” and the problems it brings. He was still a simple man, not far removed from the boy in the Champ, but with little private life and a lot of exposure. In the pre internet days, there was a rumor he was a “Muslim” (people confusing Lebanon Ohio with the country of Lebanon in the Middle East of course) and the famous hoax of the “Good Luck Mr. Gorsky” quote. He stopped signing autographs in the early 1990s when he found them being sold for large sums of money as well as there being many forgeries in existence. He filed quite a few lawsuits to protect his name and privacy, giving the proceeds to Purdue University. Neil was quite a guy.

Neil Armstrong passed on August 25, 2012 in Cincinnati Ohio from complications due to a coronary bypass. He was buried at sea on September 14th; he was 82. His public life was far from over. A year after his death, in 2013, someone (obviously not a “rocket scientist”) at ABC News, tweeted that Neil Armstrong had died. Word spread quickly over the internet and finally someone figured out an error had been made and he was already dead and his condition hadn’t changed. It seems strange that people believe ANYTHING that they see on the internet and accept is as gospel, and something that can never be disputed.

That Champ still exists in a museum in Wapakoneta, Ohio hanging on the wall. The Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum is a facility owned by the State of Ohio and not affiliated with the Armstrong family. It opened in 1972, 3 years after Neil walked on the moon. The museum isn’t big, or grandiose, but was bought and paid for, in significant part, with funds raised by local people. There is a moon rock recovered by Apollo 11, a Gemini Capsule flown by Armstrong, as well as a Douglas F5D Skylancer he flew and many other items.

As that young man pushed the airplane into the hangar there may well have been a moon in the sky and little did he know that less than 25 years later, he would be walking on the lower right hand corner of it. The first of 12 men to set foot on the moon. While only spending 2 1/2 hours walking on the surface, the shortest time of all (Apollo 17 astronauts spent 22 hours outside on the moon), being first was all that mattered.

You can contact the author Mark Hrutkay at TNMark1@GMail.Com.

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Mark Hrutkay

Mark has been a member of the International Association of Aviation Photographers (ISAP) for several years and attends all their events and seminars. He has won several awards for his work and has been published in several aviation magazines, domestic and foreign. You can contact Mark Hrutkay at TNMark@Me.Com.

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