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Aviation heroes salute Wright brothers

Some of the world's greatest living aviation pioneers gathered Tuesday to salute the Wright brothers and inspire a new generation to reach skyward.
Day 2: Kitty Hawk Continues Celebrating The First Flight Centennial
Former astronauts Neil Armstrong, left, and Buzz Aldrin were among 100 aviation heroes honored Tuesday in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. Alex Wong / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Just steps from the spot where the Wright brothers launched their 12-second flight into history, some of the world's greatest living aviation pioneers gathered Tuesday to salute them and inspire a new generation to reach skyward.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first men to walk on the moon, shared the stage with former Sen. John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth. A few seats away was Chuck Yeager, the first person to shatter the sound barrier.

"Whatever we were able to do we were able to do because we stood on the shoulders of others," Glenn told a crowd of thousands at the Wright Brothers National Memorial.

The aviators were among the 100 all-time heroes of aviation selected by the First Flight Centennial Commission, the state agency helping to coordinate the six-day centennial celebration of man's first powered flight.

It was to culminate Wednesday with a speech by President Bush and an attempted re-creation of the famous flight with a meticulously built replica of the Wright Flyer. The flight was scheduled for 10:35 a.m., 100 years to the minute since Orville and Wilbur Wright flew over the Outer Banks dunes.

Among those honored Tuesday were the some of the men and women who have flown first, longest, fastest and highest since then.

"What a beautiful, warm sunny day," Armstrong said. "The brothers would have thought, `Not enough wind.' Hope for a stiff wind tomorrow."

Yeager was among the few people at the show who had actually met one of the Wright brothers. He said he encountered Orville Wright in 1945 at an air show where Orville saw his first jet.

"To be a part of the Wright brothers' 100th anniversary, it just makes you feel kind of clamped up inside," Yeager said.

Capt. Bruce McCandless II, a shuttle astronaut who in 1984 was the first person to walk in space untethered, said his accomplishment was just a "footnote" in history.

"What makes our country great is the ongoing confrontation and conquering of new frontiers," he said.

Later, Aldrin and Glenn called for reinvigorated support of the nation's space program, crippled by the space shuttle Columbia disaster last February. Glenn argued that the country needs to turn its attention back to the international space station.

"Right now, it's limping along with only two people on board," he said. "Once we get the shuttle going again, it can do the heavy lifting."