Neil Armstrong, astronaut, test pilot, Korean War vet, Purdue Boilermaker, baritone horn player, fellow Leo, and giant leaper of renown, died today at 82. On July 20, 1969 (two weeks before I was born), Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon, uttering his now famous phrase, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” I don’t know what the best day of your life is, but I’m pretty sure Neil Armstrong has you beat. Beyond even the moon landing, his life and career is a litany of badassery.
Dexateens – Neil Armstrong
“Come down down down
From the moon Neil Armstrong
You’ve been up there too long
And it’s time to come home”
On September 3, 1951, Armstrong flew armed reconnaissance over the primary transportation and storage facilities south of the village of Majon-ni, west of Wonsan (Korea); while he was making a low bombing run at about 350 mph, Armstrong’s F9F Panther was hit by anti-aircraft fire. While trying to regain control, Armstrong collided with a pole at a height of about 20 feet, which sliced off an estimated 3 feet of the Panther’s right wing. Armstrong was able to fly the plane back to friendly territory, but due to the loss of the aileron, ejection was his only safe option. He planned to eject over water and await rescue by Navy helicopters, and therefore flew to an airfield near Pohang, but his ejection seat was blown back over land. A jeep driven by a roommate from flight school picked Armstrong up; it is unknown what happened to the wreckage of No. 125122 F9F-2.
On March 22, 1956, Armstrong was in the right-hand seat of a B-29 Superfortress, which was to air-drop a Douglas Skyrocket D-558-2. In the left-hand seat was commander, Stan Butchart, flying the B-29. As they ascended to 30,000 feet, the #4 engine stopped and the propeller began windmilling (rotating freely) in the airstream. Hitting the switch that would stop the propeller’s spinning, Butchart found the propeller slowed but then started spinning again, this time even faster than the other engines; if it spun too fast, it would break apart. Their aircraft needed to hold an airspeed of 210 mph to launch its Skyrocket payload, and the B-29 could not land with the Skyrocket still attached to its belly. Armstrong and Butchart brought the aircraft into a nose-down alignment to increase speed, then launched the Skyrocket. At the instant of launch, the #4 engine propeller disintegrated. Pieces of it damaged the #3 engine and hit the #2 engine. Butchart and Armstrong were forced to shut down the #3 engine, due to damage, and the #1 engine, due to the torque it created. They made a slow, circling descent from 30,000 feet using only the #2 engine, and landed safely.
On April 20, 1962, Armstrong tested a self-adjusting control system in an X-15. He flew to a height of 207,000 feet, (the highest he flew before Gemini 8), but he held the aircraft nose up too long during descent, and the X-15 bounced off the atmosphere back up to 140,000 feet. At that altitude, the atmosphere is so thin that aerodynamic surfaces have almost no effect. He flew past the landing field at Mach 3 (2,000 mph), over 100,000 feet altitude, and ended up 40 miles south of Edwards Air Force Base (legend has it that he flew as far as the Rose Bowl). After sufficient descent, he turned back toward the landing area, and barely managed to land without striking Joshua Tree at the south end. It was the longest X-15 flight in both time and distance. On May 6, 1968, about 100 feet above the ground, Armstrong’s controls started to degrade and the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle began banking. He ejected safely (later analysis suggested that if he had ejected 0.5 seconds later, his parachute would not have opened in time). His only injury was from biting his tongue.
In the fall of 1979, Armstrong was working at his farm near Lebanon, Ohio. As he jumped off of the back of his grain truck, his wedding ring caught in the wheel, tearing off the tip of his ring finger; he calmly collected the severed digit, packed it in ice, and had it reattached by microsurgeons at the Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky.
“The moon won’t mind if you go
25 years have passed below
The moon won’t mind if you go
25 years have passed below
And nobody knows”