A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

A Tribute to Neil Armstrong

The passing of a fine man............. 

Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, is a true role model for many people –me included.

I admire him not simply for his extraordinary achievement with Apollo 11, and before that as a talented and courageous test pilot, but for the man who was undoubtedly changed inside following the first moon landing but apparently not outwardly.   He has never courted celebrity, quite the reverse in fact.   He was a modest and thoroughly likeable man, an ordinary man who has done extraordinary things.

We met on only two occasions.   At the opening ceremony of the new National Air and Space Museum facility at Dulles, Washington DC, where we shared a stage with other pilots of some of the greatest historical aircraft.     But the most memorable was our first meeting at the American Geographical Society’s globe signing event in New York in 2004, where he was generous in his kind words of congratulation to Bertrand and me.

For many years Neil has refused to give autographs and I would not have the temerity to ask why, but on that occasion in New York he felt uncomfortable by being pestered for requests to sign something and so he suggested to Bertrand and I that ‘we go find a beer’.

Sitting in a quiet hotel bar nearby sipping drinks (he paid), just the three of us, was in one sense a completely surreal experience, but at the same time so incredibly normal.

I’m sure I must have sounded pretty dumb when I explained that my first message to our control centre immediately on landing the Breitling Orbiter 3 in the Egyptian desert was “the Eagle has landed – all OK”.   Not in the least bit original, but the experience had been so powerful that Neil’s classic phrase just came out, unthinking from somewhere deep inside.   I can still picture those black and white grainy TV images of the moon landing in 1969 – like many people, I know exactly where I was and remember staying up long into the night watching the progress of the lunar module.

Could I keep my mouth shut and not risk upsetting such a famous person by asking for an autograph?   Of course not!   He smiled and told me it would be a pleasure.   This then (as you see above) is a treasured possession which evokes a fond memory of perhaps history’s most famous son, but also of a true gentleman.