a personal memoir
Neil Armstrong's business aviation side
By Alex Kvassay
Former salesman for Beech and Learjet
Alex Kvassay and Neil Armstrong were friends for more than 40 years. This Jan 1988 photo shows (L–R) Kvassay's son Doug, Kvassay, Armstrong and Alex's son Tony.
Neil Armstrong is known the world over for his unique achievements in space—and especially on the Moon. Less known but equally impressive are his combat records as a flyer in Korea, his flights in the North American X15, the Gemini space flight, etc.
However, virtually nothing is known about Armstrong's works and connections with business aviation which started mostly after the Moon trip.
Shortly after that mission, someone from NASA called the Governor of Colorado asking if he could find a secluded ranch where the astronauts could have an undisturbed vacation after such space flights.
The Governor called Harry Combs—then president of Gates Learjet and a well known aviation personality in Colorado—who owned exactly such a ranch and immediately offered it to NASA for this purpose. Thus started a lifelong friendship between Armstrong and Combs.
Combs invited Armstrong to be a member of the board of directors of Gates Learjet. From then on, Armstrong often came to Wichita and, aside from the board meetings, spent a lot of time with engineering and the flight test department. He was also interested in our marketing activities. This is how I became acquainted with him, in my capacity as international marketing vp.
Shown visiting the Armstrong home in Apr 2009 are (L–R) Bob Barefoot, Deedee (Kvassay's daughter) and their son Johnny, Neil and Carol Armstrong, and Kvassay.
Far from being just a trusted friend and advisor to the Learjet program, Neil Armstrong went far beyond that when he flew a Learjet 28—the last Learjet model to have GE engines, and very few of which were built—on a time-to-climb-to 50,000 ft flight, achieving 5 new world records in that aircraft category.
This flight was made on Feb 20, 1979 at the First Flight Airport—FFA (Kill Devil Hills NC). Learjet Chief Pilot Pete Reynolds was copilot.
Neil Armstrong also owned and flew Beechcraft airplanes. I contacted Beechcraft and, after some research, they told me that he first owned a Beech Bonanza and later a Duke. My recollection is that he mentioned a Beech Baron, but I may be mistaken.
He was also well acquainted with the Piper Cub. When Combs ordered a new Cub for his ranch, it was Neil Armstrong who picked up the aircraft in Pennsylvania and flew it to Colorado. Probably it was a bit slower then the X15.
Neil Armstrong was also with us in the Combs group and introduced Harry to the large crowd on Dec 17, 2003 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers' first flight. This event also saw the presentation of a flight-capable full-size replica of the Wright Flyer which Harry Combs donated to the National Monument at Kill Devil Hills.
And Armstrong came with us on the "Friendship One" Boeing 747SP record flight around the world on Jan 29/30, 1988. This was not a business aviation event as such, but many business aviation luminaries were aboard, including Clay Lacy (who flew the 747SP which he borrowed from United), Moya Lear, Robert Duncan, Bruce McCaw, Joe Clark, John Zimmerman, Dick Friel, Margaret Mead and Doug Allen—not to forget my 2 sons (Doug Kvassay with Duncan Aviation and Tony Kvassay with Clay Lacy).
While I know that business aviation was just a very small part of Armstrong's many aviation activities, I feel they were important enough to be documented for future generations. I consider myself very fortunate and privileged to have been able to maintain a friendship with Neil for over 40 years.
Alex Kvassay sold corporate aircraft for 30 years, earning a reputation as the industry's premier international salesman of his day. Now 86, retired and living in Wichita KS, Kvassay continues to travel for pleasure—recent solo trips have taken him to Argentina, Libya, North Korea and Cuba.