Crowds cheer shuttle Enterprise's arrival

Fans, politicians and military personnel watch the Enterprise flown into Kennedy Airport on Friday. The space shuttle will become part of the Intrepid Museum in Manhattan. Videojournalist: Jim Staubitser (April 27, 2012)

The space shuttle Enterprise -- riding the back of a jumbo jet -- glided across New York City and part of Long Island on Friday, putting on a show for thousands of awe-struck spectators.

Some gathered on rooftops. Some hovered around office windows. Others braved chilly winds, planting themselves along the waterfront in Battery Park and the retired spacecraft's future home -- the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Manhattan's west side.

Nearly all came toting cameras, camcorders or smartphones, intent on documenting the historic event.

"It was amazing. It was awesome," said Sarah Crispi, 38, an attorney from Brooklyn who, along with several hundred other gawkers at Battery Park, caught the shuttle making a slow pass by the Statue of Liberty.

"USA! USA! USA!" one man shouted.

During the flyby, the craft also passed over Nassau County and Roosevelt Field mall, near the former airfield where Charles Lindbergh took off for Paris in 1927.

"It was like 'Wow!' " said Neil Ritchkin, 39, of Valley Stream, who stationed himself by the water at Inwood Park. "I was really happy to be able to see it."

Piggybacking atop a specially equipped NASA Boeing 747, Enterprise entered New York City airspace about 10:30 a.m., glinting in the sun as it flew low from the south over Liberty Island.

The shuttle passed the new Freedom Tower and the Sept. 11 memorial in lower Manhattan. Then it continued north up the Hudson River past the midtown skyline, past the site where three years ago Capt. Chesley Sullenberger heroically splash-landed US Airways Flight 1549; past Intrepid; and over the George Washington Bridge.

Fran Murray, 46, of Manhattan, couldn't pass up the chance to greet the spacecraft.

"It's so important to U.S. history, space flight, and to see it up close and personal, against the Statue of Liberty . . . it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience," he said.

Lora Rendell, 39, of Manhattan, accompanied her daughter Ruthie's kindergarten class field trip. "I told her when she's 76 and she brings her grandchildren to see the space shuttle, she can tell them she was here on the day it arrived in the city."

After the spectacular flyover, Enterprise landed at Kennedy Airport, where dignitaries, schoolchildren and others welcomed the shuttle to New York.

"Touchdown at JFK!" NASA announced on Twitter.

Enterprise's journey from Washington's Dulles International Airport had been scheduled for earlier in the week, but it was canceled twice because of thunderstorms and bad weather.

Built as a test shuttle, Enterprise was never configured to go into space, but it was the first shuttle to fly and helped launch the program 35 years ago -- several years before the first shuttle in space, Columbia, blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center.

Enterprise will be stored at the airport until June, when it will be placed on a barge and floated up the Hudson to the Intrepid. The shuttle will become a permanent exhibit in mid-July.

NASA retired its space shuttles last year and is flying them to cities around the nation for display.

"I think the space shuttle represents the finest moment in American history," said retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Joe Engle, 79, of Houston, who flew the Enterprise on a test flight in 1977. He came to Kennedy on Friday to see the shuttle "come home."

"There is a lot of pride there," he said.

With Igor Kossov

and Patricia Kitchen

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Newsday on social media

@Newsday

advertisement | advertise on newsday