Remembering Neil Armstrong...

Neil Armstrong portrait We know Neil Armstrong as one who made an awesome contribution to human history. Sometimes I also think of him as an eminent engineer and distant acquaintance who once treated me to lunch. Everyone knows him as the first to press a foot into lunar soil, many know him as an extraordinary research pilot and astronaut, fewer know him as one with a passion for engineering. 

Altogether, Neil enjoyed piloting more than 200 types of aircraft. One of those aircraft is the F-104B at Sacramento's Aerospace Museum of California. He and other X-15 pilots flewit  during the X-15 flight research program, which ultimately pushed manned flight to hypersonic speeds and near-orbital altitudes. As a docent at the museum I often tell a short story of his altitude flight on April 20, 1962 in #3 X-15. It was a true adventure in winged reentry from space, an eye-opener that led NASA to change reentry energy-management procedures ultimately used by the Space Shuttle.

That flight demonstrated  Neil's ability to make correct split-second decisions when even slight hesitation could have produced a disaster. Later and better-known examples came in space on the Gemini 8 mission, in ejecting from a failing Lunar Landing Training Vehicle with less than a second before ejection would have been fatal, and in landing on the moon. History has best recorded how he adeptly maneuvered the Eagle over a field of boulders, to a safe landing on the moon as the lander's fuel ran low.

Neil was an ardent advocate for engineering, even teaching it as a professor for a decade after he left the astronaut corps. His favorite quote was "Science is about what is, engineering as about what can be". In a 2004 email Neil attributed this to Bill Wulf, then president of the National Academy of Engineering. He added this:  "I like that view.  Science is about discovering the laws and processes of nature, engineering is about using that science and engineering techniques to synthesize new products for mans' use and benefit.  It is not a subtle difference.   There are no rocket scientists, only rocket engineers."

That message also shows Neil Armstrong's focus on reality through science and on the future through engineering. As scientists do, he paid meticulous attention first to recognizing and understanding reality. As engineers do, he applied that knowledge to innovation for human benefit. He wasn't just a pilot and an astronaut -- He also did significant NASA engineering work that was eclipsed in the public eye by his more-visible piloting achievements.

This gentleman engineer and avid pilot was a high-achiever on our behalf.  The world will always remember him for one event, I hope it will also remember him for many more.

Also see he true adventure story of X-15 Flight 3-4-8.
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Most images are very large at full resolution, these are 300dpi scans.

Neil Armstrong, about to board X-15Neil Armstrong, about to board X-15
Neil Armstrong after landing, X-15Neil Armstrong in X-15 cockpit after landing
Neil Armstrong in X-15 cockpit after landingNeil Armstrong in X-15 cockpit after landing
Neil Armstrong at nose of X-15Neil Armstrong standing at nose of X-15
Neil Armstrong at nose of X-15Neil Armstrong at nose of X-15

Three aerospace pioneers, all were expert research pilots, all flew the X-15:
* USAF rank of Major at time of this photo, rose to rank of Major General.

Scott Crossfield, Robert M. White, Neil Armstrong

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