Monday, July 21, 2003

Moon walk was star of show at salute to achievements in flight

By James Hannah
The Associated Press

DAYTON, Ohio - The historic significance of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon still causes people to catch their breath.

Recognition of that July 20, 1969, feat drew the largest applause from the 2,000 people attending Saturday night's National Aviation Hall of Fame celebration honoring 22 of its enshrinees.

"Neil made that incredible - to me - absolutely incredible first step ever made by a human being someplace other than Earth," former astronaut John Glenn told the crowd.

The crowd, which included Armstrong, erupted into cheers.

The salute at the Dayton Convention Center honored aviation pioneers who set air speed records, orbited the Earth and walked on the moon. And it occurred in the hometown of Wilbur and Orville Wright on the 100th anniversary of powered flight.

Actor-pilot Harrison Ford, the master of ceremonies, said it was an honor for him to be in such esteemed company.

"Through their vision, courage, innovation and sometimes just plain stubbornness, these dreamers and achievers have changed our world," Ford said. "They're being honored for their contributions to the family of man, for giving us a century of drama and energy and excitement."

Stephen Wright and Amanda Wright Lane, great-grandnephew and great-grandniece of the Wright brothers, led a toast of the duo.

A video tribute to the Wright brothers was played on seven giant television screens that hung in the cavernous convention center.

"I cannot tell you how proud I am to be here," said Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon when he did so during the final Apollo landing in 1972.

Cernan 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."

Former test pilot Scott Crossfield, the first man to fly twice the speed of sound, attended 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, the man who piloted the Enola Gay, dropping an atom 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 aviation hall was founded in Dayton in 1962 and later established by Congress. The Wright brothers were the first two enshrinees.

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