Exhibit, astronauts showcase aviation progress

Sunday, August 10, 2003

— Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, landed in Rockefeller Center for the opening of an exhibit marking the 100th year of aviation since the Wright brothers' flight in December 1903.

Amid replicas of historical and modern aircraft and engines, Armstrong praised the determination of Wilbur and Orville Wright, and explained a model of his own moon-landing pod to a rapt audience a few weeks ago that included students from New York's School for Discovery.

Astronauts Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, who together rode Apollo 11 to a landing on the lunar surface in July 1969, were the center of attention for spectators at the exhibit.

Armstrong emphasized that the Wrights were the true pioneers of powered flight. "We must honor the two brothers who defied conventional wisdom. They accomplished what most believed was inhuman," he said.

The exhibit, "Centennial of Flight," commemorates innovations in flight during the past century. It runs through Aug. 18 and is sponsored by General Electric, NASA and the Air Force.

A 75-foot tall Mercury Redstone rocket occupies the plaza space where the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree stands at holiday season.

Among other featured items are the world's largest aircraft engine, built for the Boeing 777 jetliner; two modern fighter jets, an AV-8 Harrier and an F-16 Falcon; a Predator drone; and a model for a proposed plane to fly over Mars.

Dramatizing the swiftness of technical progress in aviation, a full-scale replica of the Wright brothers' rickety wood-and-canvas "Flyer," sat near a P-51 Mustang, which a scant 40 years later was the top fighter plane of World War II.

Movie-size scale models of B-29 and B-17 bombers, and Charles Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis" and a $16,000 first-class seat from a Japan Air Lines jumbo jet were also part of the show.

Armstrong and Aldrin were joined by Amanda Wright Lane, the great-grandniece of the brothers who posed beside the "Flyer."

Roscoe C. Brown, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, black fighter pilots whose World War II exploits helped abolish segregation in the armed forces, reflected on the success of his 68 combat missions and the miracle of flight itself.

"I came here to remember the struggles and the victories," he said. "And these were against nature, too. If God had made man to fly, he would have given him wings."