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Top 5 Greatest Moments


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1. 1969 – Apollo 11 moon landing

None of us will live to see it, but Man will journey through the galaxy eventually and this was our species’ first, small step away from planet Earth.

At 10:56 Eastern Daylight Time on 20 July 1969 more than half a billion people watched a grainy, black and white television picture as Neil Armstrong made his own ‘One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind’ as he stepped off the ladder of the Lunar Excursion Module Eagle on to the surface of the moon.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the moon landing was how very quickly it had come about. It was, after all, just eight years and two months since President Kennedy had announced the goal of sending and successfully bringing home a manned mission to Earth’s nearest celestial neighbour.

Considering that declaration came just three weeks after the first US venture into space – and that, a mere sub-orbital hop – it looked ambitious indeed. NASA’s website acknowledges that it was very much a Cold War riposte to the Soviet Union, which had beaten the US into space with Yuri Gagarin’s flight the previous month.

Having survived the catastrophic start to the programme of losing three astronauts in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire, the programme moved with astonishing rapidity. There were seven launches between November 1967 and May 1969, steadily expanding the flight envelope of the Apollo Command and Lunar Modules.

Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida’s Cape Kennedy Space Center on 16 July 1969. Four days later, the Eagle separated from Command Module Columbia and – after a longer than anticipated flight to the surface – landed in the Sea of Tranquillity with a nail-biting 40 seconds of fuel remaining.

In the 2h 32m Armstrong and Aldrin were on the lunar surface there was time to do little more than gather a consignment of moon rock for later analysis and set out a small package of scientific experiments

The significance of the scientific achievement pales against the human achievement in doing the deed.

13. Yuri Gagarin – first manned space flight 


AirSpace images/discussion

Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin wrote himself into history in the course of 108 minutes on 12 April 1961 when his capsule, Vostok 1, became the first manned object in space.

A carpenter’s son, Gagarin learned to fly at technical high school before entering military flight training in 1955, graduating from the Soviet Air Force’s Orenburg flight academy with high distinction. Interested in space from childhood, he also had the self-confidence and determination to put himself forward for cosmonaut training in 1960 with just 230 hours’ flight time in his logbook.

Gagarin became a front-runner in the small group of prospective cosmonauts through a combination of technical skill, unfailing determination and equally unfailing good humour, something noted by friends, colleagues and superiors

He was just 27 when he was launched in to space.

Feted worldwide on his return, his simple, affable approach to life won him much admiration. He died in a MiG-15 trainer accident in 1968.

19. Concorde’s first flight


AirSpace images/discussion

It was a mark of how Concorde had already caught the public’s imagination that her first flight merited a live television broadcast. Equally unusual was the degree of press interest in her maiden flight, with the Toulouse runway surrounded by hundreds of photographers and journalists.

The flight had already been postponed twice because of bad weather and the third planned attempt, on 2 March 1969, was also considered in doubt because of high winds.

At 3.40pm, however, chief test pilot André Turcat and co-pilot Jacques Guignard were able to open the throttles and Concorde 001, F-WTSS, took to the air for a 27-minute flight. A spontaneous burst of applause from the watching spectators was drowned out by the roar of four Olympus 593s in full afterburner. Relief could be heard in the voice of UK television commentator Raymond Baxter, himself a former pilot, as he said simply: “She flies.”

Oh, how she flew.

22. A380 first flight, 2005

Almost 11 years after Airbus began work on what was then known as the A3XX, an estimated 50,000 spectators watched the first flight of the A380 from Airbus’ main production facility at Toulouse on 27 April 2005.

Possibly not since Concorde had a maiden flight attracted such attention. It is unusual for the mainstream media to turn out for the flight of a new aircraft.

The reasons were two-fold. Not only could they use the journalistic ‘hook’ for a lay audience of ‘the biggest airliner’ but they were also aware how important the A380 would be to the European airframe sector. 

The maiden flight of the Rolls-Royce Trent 900-powered aircraft lasted 3h 54m, with the sortie jointly captained by Claude Lelaie, senior vice-president of Airbus’ Flight Division and chief test pilot and vice-president Jacques Rosay.

24. Bell X-1 breaks the sound barrier


AirSpace images/discussion 

As the speed of military aircraft increased during the Second World War pilots increasingly began to encounter control problems and buffeting when diving at high speed. There was a popular belief (encouraged by some quarters of the press) that the properties of the air were akin to a physical barrier that would prevent an aircraft flying faster than sound – or even destroy it.

On 14 October 1947 a Bell X-1 piloted by Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Yeager was dropped from underneath a B-29 parent ship over Muroc Air Base (now Edwards AFB). It climbed to 42,000ft and in the thin air Yeager found that his Machmeter, having climbed to M0.97, went off the scale.

Such was the secrecy surrounding the achievement that news of the success was not released for several months. Pilots may have inadvertently broken Mach 1 in dives prior to this date, so Yeager’s record is officially classed as being the first to break Mach 1 in level flight.

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