May 30, 2019

Wright Flyer fabric lands at Purdue University Archives


WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. —Two monumental events in the history of flight and space - the Wright Brothers’ first power-controlled flight and Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon - have a unique connection that is now represented in the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives and currently on display at Purdue University’s Archives and Special Collections. 

Neil Armstrong’s widow, Carol Armstrong, recently donated two pieces of fabric from the wings of the original Wright Brothers Flyer, built in 1903 and flown at Kitty Hawk. This donation to Purdue bridges these two pivotal flight and space events, connecting the Purdue family all the way back to the birth of aviation by powered flight.

Purdue’s Archives and Special Collections announced the gift of the fabric pieces, each measuring approximately 25 inches by 24 inches, at a private reception last month. The pieces are particularly important because they were given to Neil Armstrong to take with him on the Apollo 11 mission aboard his historic landing of the Eagle lunar module on the moon. Along with the fabric, Armstrong donated related correspondence from 1969 between the Air Force Museum and Neil Armstrong regarding the Wright Flyer fabric.

One of the pieces is now on display in the “Apollo in the Archives: Selections from the Neil A. Armstrong Papers” exhibit through Aug. 16.

Tracy Grimm, the Barron Hilton archivist for Flight and Space Exploration and associate head of Archives and Special Collections, said the gift bridges the history of flight and space.

“To know that these pieces of fabric connect the first human steps on the lunar surface with the first powered, heavier-than-air machine  sustained flight is astonishing,” Grimm said. “To think that Orville and Wilbur Wright and Neil Armstrong all touched and held this fabric is incredible. It shows that Neil honored the pioneers who came before him, just as we honor his accomplishments.”

Purdue’s ownership of the Armstrong Papers, a collection of more than 450 boxes of Armstrong’s manuscripts, personal papers, and working files, alongside this recent addition of the Wright Brothers Flyer fabric, are all due to the generosity of Neil and Carol Armstrong. Armstrong began giving his papers to Purdue, his alma mater, during his lifetime and Carol continued to donate items over time. Armstrong donated the papers to support Purdue’s teaching and learning goals and to advance scholarship. The papers are accessible by appointment to faculty, students, and scholars conducting scholarly research.

Sammie L. Morris, professor and head of archives and special collections, said the donation continues to help bring flight and space history to life.

“As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this year, we show how Purdue has helped the world advance in transportation and exploration. It is so fitting that the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 coincides with Purdue’s 150th birthday this year, cementing forever the close relationship Purdue has had to flight and space history from its beginnings,” Morris said.

This aligns with Purdue's Giant Leaps celebration acknowledging the university’s global advancements made in Space: Earth, Exploration and Economics

Writer: Abbey Nickel, 765-496-1325, nickela@purdue.edu  

Sources: Tracy Grimm, grimm3@purdue.edu

Sammie Morris, morris18@purdue.edu

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