Watch Neil Armstrong narrowly escape a 1968 training accident

This silent film clip, posted at the Smithsonian's Air & Space Magazine blog, is one of the most amazing things I've seen in a while.

First off, it shows a 1968 test run of a lunar landing research vehicle—a practice version of the lunar module that would later carry Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the Moon. It's weird and surreal and very, very awesome to watch an LLRV rising, lowering, and swooping through the sky from the vantage point of someone standing on the ground. In general, a great reminder that we make UFOs right here on Earth.

But the real crazy bit happens at the end of the video, when Neil Armstrong—who was piloting this LLRV—bails out just before the craft plummets to the ground and explodes.

No, seriously. And it leads to this amazing story, which is, in itself, a brilliant tribute to Armstrong.

In his Armstrong biography First Man, author James Hansen recounts how astronaut Alan Bean saw Armstrong that afternoon at his desk in the astronaut office. Bean then heard colleagues in the hall talking about the accident, and asked them, “When did this happen?” About an hour ago, they replied. Bean returned to Armstrong and said, “I just heard the funniest story!” Armstrong said, “What?” “I heard that you bailed out of the LLTV an hour ago.” “Yeah, I did,” replied Armstrong. “I lost control and had to bail out of the darn thing.” “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”

Read the rest at the Air & Space Magazine blog

NOTE: We couldn't get the embed code from Air & Space to work for some reason, so we've embedded the same video, but from YouTube, rather than their site.


    1. The short version: It had one large engine that provided the lift that was then throttled back to 5/6ths to simulate lunar gravity there were then a series of thrusters that provided the powered descent, which could be used by the pilot to vary the rate of descent.  There was also a series of smaller thrusters for pitch and yaw. There were two LLRVs and three subsequent LLTVs that were built. Three were destroyed in accidents. All of the Apollo commanders, despite its unreliable nature, felt it was important to their training. In fact Dr. Bob Guilruth was so worried about it he asked each returning commander (who actually piloted the landing, despite the distinction of the LM pilot in the opposite seat) and they all responded with a resounding yes, it was essential in training to land on the moon.

      1. “You train harder than you play.”

        After mastering this flying deathtrap, piloting the actual lunar lander would, for all-intents-and-purposes, be easy-mode, and that’s were it counts.

    2. In this video, it doesn’t – the main engine’s out.  So it is not so much flying as plummeting.

  1. Thanks so much for posting this and telling this great story.  I’m sure others will point this out, but it was the LEM or LM (Lunar Excursion Module…later renamed just Lunar Module  because “excursion” seemed frivolous), not the LLRV that carried Armstrong and Aldrin to the moon.

      1. The video on Youtube is not the same incident as on the site. I think the clip you’ve embedded shows NASA test pilot Stuart Present ejecting.

  2. Notice the thousands of suspicious black dots and squiggles in the sky all around the module. REDACTED UFOS!!! WHAT IS NASA HIDING?????

    1. No, silly. Those are rockets. They were already launching the film crew. They had to get to the moon first to set up the stage for the fake landing.

        1. How else would you get the visual effects of lunar gravity correct in the 60’s? You couldn’t run photoshop even on the mainframes of the day. Obviously they built a big sound stage on the Moon. LAter on they used the same facility to film 2001 and Flesh Gordon.

  3. If someone were to produce a flying scale model of that thing, my mouse would hit the “buy now” button so fast you wouldn’t be able to see it.  And I’d probably crash it way worse than that.

    1. Crash it and die.

      If I remember right, it was said to be very unstable flying near the ground on Earth.  The full LEM however was said to be quite elegant.

      Another part of the story not mentioned is after this crash, Armstrong defended continued use of the LLRV and the LLTV despite it’s dangers. 

      This incident, as well as many other reasons was why Armstrong was picked for the Apollo 11 mission.

      1. And a good thing, too, since Armstrong had to manually fly the bird (on near empty fuel tanks) when the original touchdown site turned out to be unuseable.  We would probably have lost the whole landing team if Armstrong wasn’t a great pilot with nerves of steel.

  4. At this point in his career I’m not sure the ejecting part would really impress me.  He was a test pilot before becoming involved with NASA and obviously good at dealing with problematic craft.  Now the part about just shaking it off and heading back to the office, yeah that’s impressive.

  5. “OMG Neil are you OK?”


    “Wait where are you going?”

    “Back to my office, I have to design some sort of counterweight for my giant balls”

  6. At an event earlier this year at KSC Charlie Duke and Ed Mitchell were asked who was the best pilot. They both jokingly said, “Well, ME.” After the chuckles stopped Charlie Duke very seriously said, “Neil Armstrong. Without a doubt.”

  7. From his obituary in The Economist: “He spent his final years on his farm in rural Ohio, flying gliders in his spare time (it was, said the supposedly emotionless engineer, the closest humans could come to being birds).”

    That is a hell of an image. An aged Neil Armstrong, flying gliders over rural Ohio.

    And no humans have gone farther than Low Earth Orbit in nearly *40 years*.

    1. Yup, he started in gliders and went back to them. In general gliding is a bit safer than spaceflight but things do go wrong; an old friend of mine had to bail out at 900ft a couple of weeks ago when a UFO shot him down while on the way to caifornia to make those strange boom noises. OK, actually another glider’s wingtip sliced his fuselage in half whilst thermalling. See

  8. he had lost control of the vehicle by the time this video starts. He sticks with it for 11 more seconds trying to get it under control, before bailing one second before impact. Amazing.

  9. He was supposed to crash so they could make him better, stronger, faster.  Naah nah nah nahhhhh…

    1. That’s the one thing Soviet-designed jet aircraft did, which the American aircraft could never seem to match: superior Soviet pilot ejection technology.

      Which is mystifying considering that American pilots were such a valuable “commodity” in terms of the amount of resources spent on pilot equipment and training, (well… until the prices for 4th, 4.5th, and 5th generation aircraft flipped that), which exceeded the value of the airframe itself. To put it another way: the pilot was worth more than the plane he/she was flying, so I’d think that I’d think that American tech would be better at preserving that.

      There’s actually a great book that discusses this subject, at length: “Red Eagles: America’s Secret MiGs”, where USAF pilots flew captured/bought/stolen Soviet aircraft for top-secret ”
      air-to-air ‘asymmetric’-aircraft combat training” at Groom Lake (Yes, Dreamland: Area 51), here in Nevada. 

      American’s flying MiGs required a great deal ingenuity, and in some cases, acts of pure cunning, in fabricating or “acquiring” replacement parts and consumables to keep the planes in airworthy condition …without tipping-off the Soviet GRU at the same time. There is actually a lengthy description in the book on the trouble requisitions had in sourcing replacement rocket charges for the Soviet-built ejection seats, as they had to be replaced every six months for safety-purposes.

  10. ?  Am I crazy, but these do not appear to be the same incidents.  The youtube one shows the vehicle land on its side about 1 second after ejection.  The one on the Smithsonian site shows the vehicle drift for about 3 seconds before landing almost on its tail.

  11. “I can’t think of another person,” Bean recalls, “let alone another astronaut, who would have just gone back to his office after ejecting a fraction of a second before getting killed.”

    In his book Carrying the fire, Mike Collins says that Armstrong spent more time on decisions than any other pilot on the space program, and made more correct decisions as a result. He gave the example of Neil landing at Tranquillity with 20 seconds of fuel in the descent stage, though there was probably a bit more than that in reality.

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