WAPAKONETA — The Learjet 28 that Neil Armstrong broke five records in took its last flight Wednesday morning, coming home to Neil Armstrong Airport on what would have been Armstrong’s 90th birthday.
The jet, flown in by former NASA astronaut and two-time shuttle pilot Gregory H. Johnson, will permanently be displayed at the Armstrong Air and Space Museum.
“When visitors come to the museum, there isn’t much about what’s after Apollo 11, so this is a fantastic artifact that really anchors that post-Apollo 11 part of Neil Armstrong’s career,” said Dante Centuori, the museum’s executive director. “It’s not just the fact that this is the only aircraft he ever set world records in, the other world records were space records … it shows his passion for being a pilot and that really was something he enjoyed his whole life. This helps us interpret that and tell that story.”
In February 1979, Armstrong, who served on Learjet’s Board of Directors, and co-pilot Pete Reynolds set Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and National Aeronautic Association records for time to climb to 15,000 meters and altitude.
The jet was donated by Kevin Hayward, president and CEO of Ox Industries in Pennsylvania, though it was technically purchased for $1 by the museum.
“Knowing the noise regulations were going into effect in 2016, the plane was going to need a lot of alterations that would have changed the historical value or the makeup of the airplane,” Hayward said of his decision to donate it.
Hayward originally reached out to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.
“I had a contact there but they have an extensive Neil Armstrong exhibit, they had a Learjet — it didn’t feel as poignant as what it would be as at other exhibits,” Hayward said.
He then reached out to the University of Cincinnati’s aeronautical engineering department where Armstrong taught from 1971-79. He was directed to Mark Stear, a student of Armstrong’s at UC, who helped connect Hayward to Armstrong’s hometown.
“I feel fortunate to be able to be a small part, a nanosecond in history of this plane and this community, and I look forward to coming back and seeing it,” Hayward said.
Centuori said the next steps are for the museum to get the jet decommissioned and ready for display usage, so he’s not quite sure when visitors will be able to see it on display.
“The other part is the interpretation and figuring out how we want to display it on museum property,” he explained. “We have to ask ‘What’s the story we want it to tell?’ With an aircraft like this, every part of its lifetime tells a story. Do we give it the paint job it had when Neil set the world record? Do we leave it the way it is now to show what it was in its final state? These are the decisions that we’ll need to make.”
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