Mexican-Americans in Aviation Online Exhibition
Many countries have made significant contributions to the world's aerospace history and heritage. One of these is Mexico, whose aviation history begins on January 8, 1910, just a few short years after the Wright brothers' historic flight. This online exhibition highlights some of the Mexicans and Mexican Americans whose bravery helped shape the world of flight as we know it today. It is dedicated to all those Mexicans and Mexican Americans whose hard work and dedication changed aviation, and even now encourage us to make history ourselves.
Curated by Obed Morales
Emilio Carranza (1905 - 1928)
Emilio Carranza, known as the "Mexican Lindbergh," was a daring adventurer during the Golden Age of Flight, who was born in Villa Ramos Arizpe, Coahuila, Mexico, on December 9th, 1905. Emilio Carranza was the great-nephew of President Venustiano Carranza of Mexico and the nephew of famed Mexican aviator Alberto Salinas Carranza, who had founded the Mexican Air Force School of Aviation. Many of his formative years were spent in and around aviation, on both sides of the border between the United States and Mexico. At age 18, he became a national hero in Sonora while helping to put down the de la Huerta rebellion. But, while in Sonora, his plane crashed, and his face had to be reassembled with the use of platinum screws. He was commissioned into the Mexican Air Force in January of 1926 as a Lieutenant. In June of 1926, he went to the United States to buy an airplane which he intended to use for long distance flights, acquiring a Lincoln Standard airplane in Chicago which he repaired. He installed a 185 horsepower BMW engine in the Standard, and named it the "Coahuila." On Friday, September 2, 1927, at 5:50 in the morning, the "Coahuila" departed Mexico City for Ciudad Juárez, landing there at 4:48 in the afternoon. Captain Emilio Carranza was received triumphantly. Shortly thereafter, Carranza and Charles Lindbergh became very close friends, and Lindbergh visited Mexico City on a goodwill flight on December 14th, 1927; Captain Emilio Carranza was his official companion while in the city. Carranza held the record for the third longest non-stop solo flight, which he established on May 24-25, 1928 by flying 1,875 miles in 18.5 hours from San Diego, California to Mexico City. At the time, the records for the first and second longest non-stop flights were held by Col. Charles Lindbergh for his earlier flights from New York to Paris, and from New York to Mexico City. On the night of July 12th 1928, Captain Carranza died near Mt. Holly New Jersey while returning to Mexico after a successful goodwill flight from Mexico City to Washington D.C. After a short flight, the fuel laden aircraft went down in a severe thunderstorm, prematurely ending the promising career of this great flier. Captain Carranza was flying the 'Mexico-Excelsior' aircraft, a Ryan Brougham Monoplane built in San Diego, California by the B. F. Mahoney Aircraft Corporation, and which was very similar to the famed Spirit of St. Louis. He is remembered as one of the most renowned aviators in the history of Mexican aviation.
Col.P.A. Roberto Fierro Villalobos (1897 - 1985)
Fierro Roberto Villalobos was one of the most important individuals for the promotion of Mexican civil and military aviation. Fierro was born in Ciudad Guerrero, in the state of Chihuahua, and was educated there during the Porfirio Díaz era. In August 8, 1913, he joined the revolutionary forces commanded by General Constitutionalists Jesus Maria Rios. In 1920 the government of interim President Adolfo de la Huerta announced the recruitment of pilots for the new Mexican Air Force, Fierro joined as a cadet, graduating in 1922 and was assigned to a bombing squadron. Eventually, he climbed through the ranks and was made Commander of the Mexican Air Force: in the years of 1934 at the 1936, 1940 to 1942 and 1959 to 1965. In this capacity, he was a great proponent of both Mexican civil and military aviation.
Mexican-Air Force in World War 2
During World War Two, Mexico allied with the United States and sent pilots to fight the Axis powers. Known as the Aguilas Aztecas ("Aztec Eagles") The "Escuadrón Aereo de Pelea 201" (201st Mexican Fighter Squadron) of the Mexican Expeditionary Air Force (Fuerza Aérea Expedicionaria Mexicana) has the honor of being the only Mexican military unit that has fought outside of the Mexican Republic. This Squadron fought in the liberation of the Philippines while assigned to the 58th Fighter Group during WWII. Its pilots provided air support in the liberation of the Philippines and flew long-range sorties over Formosa, earning praise from Allied theater commander General Douglas MacArthur and decorations from the U.S., Mexican and Philippine governments. The "Aztec Eagles" fought bravely by all accounts, and did much to earn respect for the Mexican Air Force.
Berta Zerón (1924 - 2000)
Berta Zerón was a notable and eminent Mexican aviator pioneer who was born in the city of Pachuca, Hidalgo. Zerón became interested in flying when she discovered an airplane belonging to Amelia Earhart on the ship upon which they were traveling. A few years went by before she decided to take her first steps to become a pilot. Zerón applied for her permit for flight practices in 1947. She completed her first official flight on 13 July 1947, with a duration of 45 minutes, covering the route from Pachuca to Mexico City. Her first solo took place in 1964, thanks to the support of Capitan Francisco López, who owned a Cessna 170 and who provided her with the opportunity to fly at a cost of 100 pesos (10 dollars) an hour. She obtained her private pilot's license in January 1965, logging 200 hours in the Cessna 170. She soon learned to fly twin engine airplanes, and practiced aerobatic flight in a PT-17 Stearman. She soon received a Commercial Pilot's License also obtained her Unlimited Public Transport Pilot License, which was the first license of its type to be obtained by a woman in Mexico. By having a transport pilot license in her hands, she was awarded her first "Emilio Carranza" medal and went on to have a successful and ground breaking career as a commercial pilot. She once stated, "To me, aviation is the reason why I'm living, it's my whole life."( Para mí la aviación es mi razón de vivir, es toda mi vida).
General Luis Farell (1902 - 1977)
Luis Farell Cubillas was a Mexican air force combat pilot during the Mexican Revolution and became one of the most prestigious and exceptional pilots in it. Farell was born in San Pedro de las Colonias, Coahuila, Mexico. During the Revolution, he fought against Adolfo de la Huerta, the Yaqui rebels and General Arnulfo R. Gomez. He also flew several bombing and strafing sorties against the forces of General José Gonzalo Escobar and General Saturnino Cedillo, both of whom were leading revolts. Farell retired from active service as a Division General while being Sub-Chief of the Mexican Air Force. After the Revolution, Farrell became one of the most known Generals in Mexico and continued to promote Mexican aviation.
Alberto Braniff (1884 - 1966)
Alberto Braniff was the first to make a powered flight in Mexico. He was born to a wealthy and powerful family during the Porfirio Díaz era. His father was a wealthy industrialist who sent him to study in Europe, where he caught "aviation fever" and became interested in aviation. Back in Mexico in 1910, Alberto Braniff made his first short flight in a Voisin Airplane, with a 50 H.P. E.N.V engine, using as a runway the Balbuena Plains in Mexico City. Not only was this the first flight in Mexico, most believe it was the first flight in Central or South America.
Gustavo Salinas Camiña (1893 - 1964)
Gustavo Salinas Camiña is a true pioneer, being the first person to use an airplane to attack naval vessels in 1914 during the Mexican Revolution. Flying a very early Martin Biplane, Camiña dropped explosives on the gunboats Guerrero and Morelos. He did no damage, but showed the potential for attacking ships from the air. Later, he became the Mexican Air Force's first Division General, and was influential in organizing Squadron 201 during World War Two. For his contributions to aviation and to military aviation, he was decorated by the Mexican, French, Belgian and Peruvian governments.
Oscar Perdomo (1919 - 1976)
Known as "The last Ace in a Day of WWII", Oscar Perdomo flew a P-47 Thunderbolt with the 464th fighter squadron, 507th fighter Group USAAF in the Pacific Theater. On his tenth and last combat sortie of the war, not only did Perdomo become the last ace of World War Two, he gained the honor of becoming an ace in a day, shooting down four Nakajima "Oscar" fighters and one Yokosuka "Willow" Type 93 biplane trainer. Perdomo received the Distinguished Flying Cross for his action, and remained in the Military until 1958.
Robert Cardenas (1920 - present)
Mexican-American Brigadier General Robert L. "Bob" Cardenas was both a combat and famous test people who has flown over 60 different aircraft in his career. General Cardenas began his military career as a Private in the Army Cost Artillery, and then became a pilot as a cadet in the Army Air Corps. During the War he flew combat missions in B-24 Liberators in the skies over Germany. He was shot down on his 20th mission but was not captured. He escaped into Switzerland and then into France prior to D-Day. He was later flown back to England and to a rehabilitation center in the U.S. He became a test pilot after his graduation in 1945 from the Flight Performance School at Vandalia, Ohio. As a test pilot, Cardenas achieved notoriety as the commander for the B-29 which launched Chuck Yeager's sound breaking X-1; in addition to being the Chief Air Force Test Pilot of the Northrop YB-49 flying wing. Cardenas lives at home with his wife Gladys and their children and grandchildren in San Diego, California.