Neil Armstrong, In His Own Words

The first moonwalker’s storied aviation career didn’t begin or end with Apollo.

Armstrong in the cockpit of the X-15 in 1961, a year before becoming an astronaut. (NASA)

Armstrong in 1956


In the late 1950s and early 1960s, working as a test pilot at Edwards Air Base in California, Armstrong (pictured in a simulator in 1956) flew practically every high-performance airplane in existence, including the F-86E Sabre, the F4H Phantom, the F-102 and F-104, the X-1B, and most famously, the X-15. Yet, as he told biographer James Hansen, “Our principal responsibility was engineering work. We did not do a lot of flying. It was program development, looking at the problems of flight. It was a wonderful time period, and it was very satisfying work, particularly when you found a solution.”

He wrote in 1970: “Having been in flying machines for many years and faced a lot of difficulty, [pilots] become accustomed to being required to solve problems as they arise …, and particularly test pilots who get a higher percentage of things going wrong than normal pilots. And I'm not saying that we did it perfectly in every case; I'm sure we didn't. But the experience that we'd had in flying a variety of different kinds of machines in difficult circumstances certainly enhances your ability to look at a situation, … analyze it and determine what your probable best course is and how much latitude you have to deviate from that best course. It's not an easy subject to describe adequately, but it seems to have worked."


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