The Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet & The Borman Collection

by Dave Weiman
Published in Midwest Flyer – February/March 2019 issue

The EAA Aviation Museum in Oshkosh, Wis., has opened “The Borman Collection: An EAA Member’s Space Odyssey,” an exhibit that features the personal archives and memorabilia of astronaut Frank Borman, who was on the leading edge of America’s space program through the 1960s. The new exhibit was formally opened with a ribbon cutting by Borman on Friday, December 7, 2018, just prior to EAA’s annual Wright Brothers Memorial Banquet at which Borman was the featured speaker.

EAA Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board, Jack Pelton, led the ribbon cutting ceremony with Frank Borman prior to the banquet, introduced him at the banquet, and welcomed the 796 guests who attended.

EAA received the collection last spring when Borman donated it to the association, of which he is a lifetime member. The personal archives contain hundreds of artifacts, including items carried aboard space capsules, awards received for his accomplishments, and correspondence with world leaders, celebrities, and other notable figures. “The Borman Collection” also highlights Borman’s aviation career, which included U.S. Air Force service prior to NASA.

“I have a long relationship with EAA and have the greatest respect for what they do,” said Borman, when asked why he chose to donate his collection to the EAA Museum. “I believe they are responsible for preserving general aviation and our ability to fly. It means so much to me for this collection to be here and that others will enjoy it.”

EAA Aviation Museum Director Bob Campbell said that the Borman Collection is one of the most noteworthy donations ever received by the museum. “We are honored that Col. Borman chose EAA to permanently display his personal artifacts from his aviation and space experiences. This is a part of unmatched American history that people will now be able to enjoy in perpetuity here at EAA.”

Borman is best known as the commander of the famed Apollo 8 mission, which in December 1968 was the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon. The three astronauts aboard – Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders – orbited the Moon not once, but 10 times, and made hundreds of observations and notations that became the foundation for the Apollo Moon landings that followed. The memorable flight was noted for unforgettable moments, such as the famed “Earthrise” photo and the crew reading from the Book of Genesis while orbiting the Moon on Christmas Eve.

Frank Borman was born on March 14, 1928 in Gary, Indiana. Because he suffered from numerous sinus problems, his father moved the family to Tucson, Arizona, which Borman considers his hometown. His interest in aviation started by building model airplanes. Also, when he was a kid, he got a ride in a Waco out of a farmer’s field for $10, and started flying at the age of 15. He went on to become a fighter pilot, test pilot, an educator, an astronaut, and eventually an executive with Eastern Air Lines.

Borman graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1950 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. Upon graduation, Borman became a career Air Force officer. He received his pilot wings in 1951 and was a fighter pilot with the 44th Fighter Bomber Squadron in the Philippine Islands from 1951 to 1953, and as an operational pilot and flight instructor in various squadrons in the U.S., from 1953 until 1956. Most of his flying was in the F-80, F-84, swept wing F-84F and T-33. His flight commander was Charles E. McGee, who was a Tuskegee Airman during World War II.

Borman received his Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the California Institute of Technology in 1957.

From 1957 to 1960, Borman became an assistant professor of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics at West Point at the request of his superiors, but he never lost his desire to fly. From 1960 to 1962, he became a test pilot engaged in organizing and administering special projects for the Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot School, and went to work for Chuck Yeager at Edwards Air Force Base flying the F-104. When Yeager attempted to fly higher than 90,000 feet, he crashed and that was the end of that program.

Borman was selected by NASA for its second astronaut group in 1962. He was backup command pilot for Gemini 4 and was chosen as the command pilot for Gemini 7, which launched in December 1965 with pilot James Lovell. This was a long-endurance flight which set a 14-day/330-hour record, and also acted as the target vehicle in the first space rendezvous performed by Gemini 6A. The two spacecraft came within one foot of each other, and they took turns flying around each other.

Borman was selected in late 1966 to command the third manned Apollo mission, planned as an elliptical medium Earth orbit test of the second manned Lunar Module (LM) on the first manned launch of the Saturn V lunar rocket in 1967 or early 1968. However, in January 1967, the crew of the first manned Apollo mission (Apollo 1) was killed in a fire aboard their Command Module on the launch pad, delaying the Apollo program. Borman was the only astronaut to serve on the review board of that accident, and was able to convince Congress that Apollo would be safe again.

Borman was then reassigned to his LM test mission, planned to fly as Apollo 9 in early 1969 after a first low Earth orbit flight commanded by James McDivitt in December 1968. But the LM was not ready, leading NASA to replace Borman’s mission with a lunar orbit flight using just the Command/Service Module as Apollo 8 in December, making McDivitt’s flight Apollo 9 in March 1969.

Borman’s Lunar Module pilot and spacecraft systems engineer was William Anders. The Command Module pilot and navigator, Michael Collins, needed to have back surgery and was replaced by his backup, James Lovell, reuniting Borman with his Gemini 7 crewmember. Apollo 8 went into lunar orbit on December 24, 1968 and made 10 orbits of the Moon in 20 hours before returning to Earth.

In the years that followed, Borman served as a special presidential ambassador on trips throughout the Far East and Europe. In 1970, he undertook another special presidential mission, a worldwide tour to seek support for the release of American prisoners of war held by North Vietnam. He completed the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management program that same year, which laid the foundation for his future in business.

Following his career with NASA, Borman became a special advisor to Eastern Air Lines in 1969, and after retiring as a colonel in the Air Force in 1970, he became senior vice president-operations group for the airline. He was promoted to the position of executive vice president-general operations manager, elected to the board of directors in 1974, and president and chief operating officer in 1975. He became chairman of the board in 1976 and retired from Eastern Air Lines in 1986, at which time he and his wife, Susan, moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico. The Bormans have two sons, Frederick and Edwin, and four grandchildren.

During the press conference immediately following the ribbon cutting ceremony to The Borman Collection, I asked Col. Borman what it was like sitting in the Command/Service Module as Apollo 8 readied for takeoff with the engines rumbling, knowing that it would be a two-week journey to the Moon and back.

“All I thought about was the mission,” said Borman. “I didn’t want to make a mistake on our first mission (to the Moon). Our mission was to make 10 orbits and come home!”

When asked if he would have rather been an airline pilot than an airline executive, Borman said he liked being the President and CEO of Eastern Air Lines, and not once flew an airliner during the 17 years he worked there.

When asked if he had any general aviation flying experience, other than taking flying lessons as a teenager, he said “My wife and I restored a number of antique airplanes over the years. We flew a P-51 Mustang for many years in airshows. I much prefer airplanes to spacecraft.” Borman’s P-51 and P-63 once won Grand Champion at EAA AirVenture Oshkosh.  

When asked by a reporter what he thought of plans to colonize Mars one day, Borman remarked that he doesn’t think that’s practical…that conditions on Mars are uninhabitable. He would rather see man return to the Moon and establish a research station, there.

Among the people Borman admires the most is former astronaut and Wisconsin native, Deke Slayton, one of the original NASA Mercury Seven astronauts, who became NASA’s first Chief of the Astronaut Office when he was grounded for medical reasons. Borman also has great respect for fellow astronaut James Lovell, and James Edwin Webb, who served as the second administrator of NASA from February 14, 1961 to October 7, 1968. “Jim helped us get to the Moon because he held off Congress from investigating the fire incident. The Russians were right behind us, so NASA moved up the missions to beat them.”

EAA Director and retired NASA astronaut, Colonel Charlie Precourt, interviewed Borman at the banquet. Astronaut James Lovell had also planned to participate, but had to cancel at the last minute due to health concerns. Precourt flew four missions with the Space Shuttle program and is currently a vice president and general manager with ATK Aerospace Group, a NASA contractor that manufactures key safety components for spacecraft (i.e. Orion). Precourt also built a VariEze for his personal enjoyment.

This year’s banquet not only celebrated the 115th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first successful flight that occurred at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina in 1903, but also the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 8 mission. The Wright brothers forever changed how we look at the sky; the Apollo 8 mission forever changed how we look at what was beyond.

“The Borman Collection” is located on the EAA Aviation Museum’s main floor, near the iconic Wright Flyer replica. It is accessible to all museum visitors as part of the regular admission.

The EAA Aviation Museum is located next to Wittman Regional Airport (KOSH), and Interstate 41 at the Highway 44 exit in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. EAA members receive free museum admission year-round. For more information, call the EAA Aviation Museum at (920) 426-6108 or visit www.eaa.org/museum.

“Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit.” FRANK BORMAN

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