Today, a private funeral service will be held in Cincinnati for Neil Armstrong. Local aviation photographer Dan Patterson has this remembrance of the first man to walk on the moon.
Neil had a knack for understatement. At a meeting in 2003 about the Centennial of the Wright's first flight, the other participants introduced themselves with all their titles and bona fides. When it was his turn, he leaned into the microphone and said, "I'm Neil Armstrong, and I'm just an aviator."
All he wanted to do was fly. I made a portrait of him a few years ago with a restored Aeronca Champ, just like the first type of aircraft he had flown. We were at a small airport in Ohio on a fine June morning, and the owner of the Champ had flown it in for the photo session. We finished the portrait and were enjoying a cup of coffee with Armstrong when he looked his watch and said he ought to be going. When Dave Bucher, the owner of the Champ, asked him if he wouldn't rather go flying, Neil's face lit up, and they were off like two school boys. Soon the bright yellow plane was just a dot in the sky as the sound of the engine faded away.
He also had a passion for the story of the Wrights. At an FAA safety weekend at the airport in Hamilton, Ohio, word got out that Neil would be there to speak about the Wrights. Mind you, he would have preferred no fuss so he could just talk shop with a few pilots. But when the evening arrived, hot and steamy, a thousand people packed into the hangar to hear him. Nearly all of them were aviators, and they knew well the history of Orville and Wilbur. But when Armstrong told the story, pausing often, full of emotion, it was as if you were learning about sailing from Columbus or listening to the scriptures from Isaiah.
Finally he had a great sense of humor. A few years ago, at the annual meeting of the Dayton Engineers Club, again with a packed auditorium, he told every corny engineer joke in the books to a captivated audience. He concluded his talk with this: there couldn't be any engineers in Hell he said, because they would all get together and figure out how to air condition the place.
Wishing you, Neil Armstrong, blue skies and tailwinds.
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