Neil Armstrong — who has died at the age of 82 — was best known as the commander of Apollo 11, but his career at NASA began nearly a decade earlier as a research test pilot.
A trained aerospace engineer, Armstrong was a self-described “white-socks, pocket-protector, nerdy engineer” who worked at the cutting edge of flight test throughout the 1960s, flying everything from a hang-glider type aircraft towed behind a biplane, to a hypersonic rocket-powered airplane that flew to the edge of space.
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.