Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio and first began building model airplanes while in elementary school. He told biographer James Hansen he initially wanted to be an airplane designer, but “later went into piloting because I thought a good designer ought to know the operational aspects of an airplane.”
The future astronaut soloed an airplane just a few weeks after his sixteenth birthday. Before being selected as an astronaut, Armstrong was a naval aviator flying F9F Panther fighter jets in the Korean War. After the war, he became a research pilot for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. While a research pilot NACA and later NASA, he flew the rocket powered Bell X-1B and the North American X-15 along with a wide variety of jet and propeller aircraft totaling more than 200 different types.
During his time in the X-15 program, Armstrong demonstrated his engineering skills working on the hypersonic aircraft’s flight control system as well as the relatively primitive simulator used to develop flight profiles of the first winged aircraft to fly into space. During his highest of seven flights in the X-15, he climbed to 207,500 feet. After the engine stopped (as planned) and he was gliding back to land, Armstrong was testing a new control system when he bounced off the top of the atmosphere, skipping past Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert and not getting the rocket airplane turned around until flying near Pasadena.