Neil Armstrong - Global Aviation Leadership Award
Berlin - 7 June 2010 - IATA Annual General Meeting and World Air Transport Summit
Because this wonderful award is called the Global Aviation Leadership Award, I would like to reminisce with you for a few minutes.
Let’s begin by going back five centuries to the first attempt to circumnavigate the earth. As you know Ferdinand Magellan led that expedition which left Bilbao in the autumn of 1519 with a fleet of five Spanish Caravels manned by 240 sailors. Only one of the five ships, the Victoria, captained by Juan Sebastián Elcano, with only 17 of the 240 sailors completed that first around-the-world voyage and set the first around-the-world speed record—just under three years.
Three centuries later, in one of the most famous clipper ships, the Flying Cloud, Captain Josiah Perkins Cressy circled the earth in 306 days. Fifteen years later three accomplishments worth noting occurred. In 1869, the Suez Canal was completed, making sea travel from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean faster by avoiding the long trip around Cape Horn. Also in that same year, a transcontinental railroad was completed across North America. And a few months later, railroads were linked permitting travel across the Indian sub-continent.
In Paris, a young writer noted this confluence of change which inspired him to write a book based on advances in transportation. The author was Jules Verne and the book was Around the World in Eighty Days.
Many of you will remember that the book’s protagonist Phileas Fogg and his valet Passepartout, in an attempt to win a £20,000 wager, traveled by steamer, train and a variety of less comfortable modes, and successfully completed the circumnavigation in precisely 80 days. Around the World in Eighty Days was widely read, leading many to wonder whether such a trip might just be possible.
One such reader was a New York journalist writing under the pen name of Nellie Bly. Nelly, following the trail of Phileas Fogg, traveled by steamer, trains, cart and burro and actually circumnavigated the earth in 1889 in 72 days six hours and 11 minutes.
Just 14 years later, Wilber and Orville Wright made their memorable flight at Kittyhawk, North Carolina. Air travel would change transportation forever.
In 1924, four open-cockpit bi-planes, Douglas World Cruisers, made a very bold attempt to fly around the world. Each aircraft was named for a city. There was the Boston, the Chicago, the New Orleans and the Seattle. They left from Seattle northwestward towards Alaska. The Seattle was the first to fail, flying into an Alaskan mountain top in the fog, but the crew all survived. They took-off and landed on wheels when they were flying over land. And the took-off and landed on floats when on the over water legs.
It was an enormous logistical enterprise to put people, fuel, floats, spare engines and parts around the globe. The three airplanes flew over Japan, China, India, the Middle East and into Europe. The Boston went down over the Atlantic, but the crew was rescued.
The difficulties they overcame and the hardships that they endured, changing engines in the jungle and crossing the North Atlantic in freezing rain and ice in these open cockpits are challenges that we never encounter now in modern aviation. The New Orleans and the Chicago completed their first aerial circumnavigation of the earth. Their trip lasted about six months.
Five years later, the German dirigible the Graf Zeppelin, circled the earth in 21 days and seven hours. Grace Drummond-Hay, also a lady journalist, was a passenger on that flight and became the first woman to circle the earth by air—easily breaking Nellie Bly’s record.
Wiley Post and Harold Gatty, flew a Lockheed Vega around the world in 1931 in eight days and 16 hours with 14 stops.
In 1938, Howard Hughes in a Lockheed 14 made a circumnavigation in three days and 19 hours.
Clara Adams was an inveterate traveler. She took a lot of inaugural routes and always paid her own way—the kind of passenger you really like. She was the first passenger to purchase a ticket for an around-the-world flight. Her 1939 flight in a Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper required 16 days 19 hours eight minutes and 10.5 seconds. It made 16 stops.
By 1959, BOAC was flying scheduled flights around the world in a Britannia in less than 87 hours.
In 1961, Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin in a Vostok spacecraft circled the world in a 108 minute flight. Shortly thereafter, John Glenn in a Mercury spacecraft orbited the earth in 95 minutes.
We don’t know how to cut the record much shorter. The fastest orbital velocities occur at the lowest altitudes. Flying much lower will cause the spacecraft to begin skimming the upper atmosphere and slow down below orbital velocity.
I was too late for the World Cruiser flights and just missed the Graf Zeppelin flight. But I remember all the others I have mentioned. And I was impressed and inspired by them.
I have had the privilege of working for and working with remarkably skilled people. They gave me opportunities and responsibilities that I could not possibly have earned.
I have been privileged to spend my career of investigating the problems and challenges of flight. And I have enjoyed every moment with the possible exception of public speaking.
I have had the opportunity to circle the globe many times—occasionally leisurely, sometime relatively quickly, and other times very rapidly.
So I am very pleased, honored and gratified to receive the Global Aviation Leadership Award. I thank IATA most sincerely for the honor. And I thank every one of you for sharing the occasion with me today.