Sunday, July 20, 2003

Pioneers of aviation honor Wrights' legacy

Hall of Fame event celebrates adventurers

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - Aviation pioneers who set air speed records, orbited the Earth and walked on the moon gathered Saturday to be saluted in the hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright.

Twenty-two of the 178 people who have been enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame were to be honored by the hall in a "homecoming" at the Dayton Convention Center.

"I cannot tell you how proud I am to be here," said Eugene Cernan just prior to the ceremony.

Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon when he did so during the final Apollo landing in 1972, was enshrined in the hall three years ago.

"We're here because aviation and space is a romance," Cernan said. "It's exciting. It's adventurous. It challenges us."

Cernan said the Wright brothers' greatest legacy may be the inspiration to fly that has been passed on from generation to generation.

"Whether we're asked to fight for this country or in some cases go to the moon, we all had a dream. And the dream was about flying," he said.

Joe Engle, a former astronaut who commanded two space shuttle missions, said that without the Wright brothers, "we wouldn't have a job."

"I doubt that we would have found anything other than flying airplanes that we could have consumed ourselves in as deeply as we did," Engle said. "So we're eternally grateful to the Wright brothers."

Engle called his fellow enshrinees "my heroes."

"They're people that I read about and wanted to grow up to be like," he said. "It's just a real warm, deep warm feeling to get to come back and see where aviation began."

Former test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly twice the speed of sound, was to attend the ceremony.

Crossfield is training four pilots, one of whom will be selected to try to re-enact the first flight of the Wright brothers in a replica plane on Dec. 17 near Kitty Hawk, N.C.

Crossfield said the Wright brothers' flight "set the world on fire."

"We've been a year at this, and we're going right through the same problems the Wright brothers did. I think we found all the solutions they did," Crossfield said. "A lot of experts say this is not a flyable airplane. I don't think, I know - we're going to fly."

Paul Tibbets, who piloted the Enola Gay, dropping an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, talked about the mission that flew him into history.

"I knew I was going to kill an awful lot of people in Japan," Tibbets said. "But then I said to myself, 'I may kill a lot, but in the long run I'm going to save a lot of lives.' "

The Japanese surrendered shortly after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

About 2,000 tickets at $150 apiece were sold for the hall of fame homecoming, twice the number normally sold for the annual enshrinement ceremony.

Former astronauts John Glenn, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were scheduled to attend. Actor-pilot Harrison Ford, who piloted the Millennium Falcon in the movie Star Wars and Air Force One in the film of the same name, was to serve as master of ceremonies.

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