Lunar Lander replica - Neil and Buzz.

Neil Armstrong's First Flight

Field review by the editors.

Warren, Ohio

The surface of the moon is a quarter-million miles from earth -- except for one small patch next to the McDonald's in Warren, Ohio.

Lunar Lander replica.

It's the First Flight Lunar Site, a miniature park that replicates a moonscape and the Lunar Excursion Module "Eagle" that flew Neil Armstrong to the moon on July 20, 1969.

The Site exists to honor the spot where Armstrong took his first airplane ride.

Neil, who had been born in Wapakoneta, was being driven by his dad to Sunday school on July 26, 1936. Father and son passed what was then Warren's airport, and saw an airplane parked next to the hangar. Neil, who was a week shy of his sixth birthday, asked his dad if they could take a ride in the plane. Dad, on a whim, agreed, Neil missed Sunday school, and the rest is history, kind of.

There were probably lots of moments in Neil Armstrong's life that were just as important in setting his trajectory as the world's first Moon Man. But the airplane ride in Warren is celebrated because it had a champion: Pete Perich, a local resident who saw Armstrong's tenuous connection to the town as a way to motivate its young people. "Neil's dream took him to the moon," reads a bronze plaque at the site meant for youthful visitors. "How far will your dream take you?"

Site of Neil Armstrong's First Flight.

Perich had the idea for the First Flight site as far back as 1971, but Warren at that time was uninterested. Three long decades passed before the planetoids aligned in Pete's favor. This change of fortune included Neil Armstrong, now retired, being on the board of directors of a local metals company that could supply the titanium to build the LEM, and Pete discovering that his neighbor at his retirement home in Florida had blueprints of the Eagle from his days as a NASA contractor.

Simulated moon foot prints.
Simulated moon foot prints.

Armed with this support, Pete found the Warren community willing to help. Property was purchased, volunteer welders and die-makers went to work on the LEM, and the First Flight Lunar Site was finally dedicated on October 30, 2003. Neil Armstrong himself, well-known for avoiding endorsements of moon tributes, attended the dedication in person (He was also attending a nearby board of directors meeting). Armstrong judged the LEM "one of the finest he had ever seen," according to a brochure available at the site.

The Eagle module catches the eye of passing motorists, a unique neighbor for the McDonald's and an adjacent Kmart, but the site also has scale replicas of the Titan II and Saturn V rockets that flung Armstrong into space. The LEM stands on a simulated lunar surface with moonprints leading from a brick walkway to the Eagle's ladder (Pete had originally wanted kids to "follow in Neil's footsteps," but the moonscape proved too rocky and was chained off). A photo of the cockpit interior can be seen through the entry hatch, and in the windows are photos of Neil and his fellow moon man, Buzz Aldrin, smiling in their spacesuits. "Hey, kids," they appear to be saying. "We started in little towns like yours and wound up on the moon!"

Amazingly, years later, the desire to show the young people of Warren that they could dream big prompted the creation of yet another, similarly-spirited, entirely different attraction: David Grohl Alley. If the kids in Warren can't be inspired by a town that kickstarted the first Moon Man and the drummer from Nirvana, then there must be something wrong with them.

Neil Armstrong's First Flight

Address:
2487 Parkman Rd NW, Warren, OH
Directions:
From Hwy 5/82 take the US 422/Parkman Rd exit. Drive southeast into town for around a mile. The spacecraft display will be on the right, just past the McDonalds (park in its lot).
Admission:
Free
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Giant Chair of 9/11Giant Chair of 9/11, Warren, OH - 1 mi.
David Grohl Alley, World's Largest DrumsticksDavid Grohl Alley, World's Largest Drumsticks, Warren, OH - 2 mi.
Statue of Liberty ReplicaStatue of Liberty Replica, Leavittsburg, OH - 3 mi.
In the region:
Large Fish on a Hook, Grove City, PA - 41 mi.

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July 17, 2018

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