Cuban Air Force  
 

 
 

 

 

 
 
     
HISTORY OF THE CUBAN MILITARY AVIATION*

After the flight from Key West to Havana of Domingo Rosillo, in a Morane-Saulnier monoplane aircraft on May the 17th of 1913, and a second flight a few days later by Agustin Parla Orduña, on May the 19th, Rosillo was recognized as a Captain in the Cuban Armed Forces. The first aircraft purchased in the spring of 1913 by the Cuban military aviation was a Curtiss model FS. Later on, during the month of August on the same year, Agustin Parla was named as Chief of Instructors of the just born Cuban Army Air Corp. In March of 1915, by order of the Military Commission of the Cuban House of Representatives of the Congress, the Aviation Corp was created as an auxiliary Corp of the Cuban Army with three Second Lieutenants.

On October 19th of 1915, Jaime Gonzalez was commissioned as an honorary Captain and his Morane-Soulnier airplane, which was used before by Agustin Parla, became the second Cuban military aircraft. General Jose Marti, then Chief of the Cuban Army, sends Parla to the Curtiss factory in Buffalo, New York, to study the use of the hydroplane, with views to establish the Aviation School for the Cuban officers.

During the First World War, and as proposed by senator Colonel Coronado, a member of the Cuban Senate, a group of thirty three Cubans, under the command of Captain Francisco Terry Sanchez, departed to Galveston, Texas in the United States, on the school ship "Patria" of the Cuban Navy, to train as pilots at the University of Texas at Austin, and as mechanics at Kelly Field in San Antonio, in order to structure the Cuban Escadrille and to enter combat duty in Europe. In August 1918, Captain Terry who saw combat duty with the Lafayette Escadrille was to command Squadron 1, formed by 10 pilots and 20 mechanics and Lieutenant Santiago Campuzano was to be in charge of Squadron 2.

Lieutenant Campuzano received the French Medal of Valor while organizing the 2nd Squadron, adding prestige to the Cuban Army. After the war, the first North American aviation mission arrived at Cuba and it was formed by Captain Charbourne, Lieutenant Richardson, and later Lieutenant Kelly, finding only six of the nine Curtiss JN-4D, that arrived as cargo on the 11th of December of 1918 and were numbered (1-2-3-4-5-6).

On May 18th of 1918 by Decree No. 1181, Cuban President General Mario Garcia Menocal ordained the organization of the Aviation Corp and the Aviation School. The first official flight of the Cuban Air Corps was over the Malecon Avenue in Havana on May the 11th of 1919, while the Campo Columbia was been inaugurated. The camp was located at the Polo grounds, next to the Almendares Hotel in Marianao, while Miss Georgina Menocal baptized the first aircraft. President Menocal was present during the ceremonies.

The first cross-country flight took effect with three JN-4’s, between La Habana and Sagua la Grande in Las Villas, with a step over in Jovellanos, Matanzas on October 10th 1919. On July 7 of 1919, while trying to make a loop at low altitude a JN-4 crashed, killing the two crewmen. This was the first accident of the Cuban military aviation. In an air accident on July 4th. of 1920, at "The Bien Parecida" farm, at Luyano in La Habana, lost their lives the two crewman after take off, one of them was Lieutenant Jaime Gonzalez. During the year of 1923 the Cuban Army Air Corps, added a new facilities to the Campo Columbia and it was authorized to have 10 officers and 97 enlisted man.

On February 11th of 1924 in another air accident at Columbia Camp, lost his life Lieutenant Alberto Valdes Gonzalez, in the same place where years later lost his life Lieutenant Manuel Vidal Lazaga. The first two pilots to train at the United States were Captain Arozarena in March Field and Lieutenant Laborde at Carlstrom Field, followed by another two pilots that trained at School of Observation at Fort Sill in Oklahoma and a the Pilot School at Arcadia, Florida. During this time Lieutenant Guillermo Martull, made a free parachute jump from a Jennie (JN) breaking the existing record.

When President General Gerardo Machado Morales, assumed the presidency of the Republic of Cuba on May 20th of 1925, a few days later on May the 25th, by decree ordered the reorganization of the Aviation Corp, giving Captain Mario Torres Menier that responsibility. During the presidency of General Machado the Cuban Army and the little Air Corp grew in importance and by mid 1925, four aircraft of the type QO-2 Corsair with option to nine, were ordered from the Vought Aircraft Co., the first four aircraft that arrived, received the denomination (7-8-9-10) and were the first new military aircraft obtained by any Central American or Caribbean countries.

OFFICER CORP IN THE YEAR 1920

Gustavo Alfonso, Pablo Alonso, Aristides Aguero, Miguel de Jesus Bannatyne, Jose Barrientos, Javier Bazan, Jorge Cao, Miguel A. Gonzalez, Eduardo Laborde Moliner, Ciro Leonard, Ramiro Leonard, Rogelio Merlotte Caballero, Guillermo Martull, Alberto Ponce de Leon Hernandez, Jose Terry Jimenez, Carlos Torres de Navarra, Alberto Valdes Gonzalez, Manuel Vidal Lazaga, Guillermo Gonzalez Viscay.

During the summer of 1926, two Corsairs flew the first international flight of the Cuban aviation from La Habana to Camaguey and continuing to Port Au Prince in Haiti, with Captain Laborde and Lieutenant Martull at the controls. The hurricane of 1926 destroyed the hangars and the semi permanent buildings at Camp Columbia, besides damaging many airplanes. Major Ovidio Ortega y Campos leaded the reconstruction of many of the damaged airplanes.

In 1927 Captain Rosenham Beam, later a General, together with the Lieutenants Jack Hodgson and James Gillespie and two Master Sergeants mechanics, Joseph Biando y Conrad O’Brian, arrived in Cuba as requested by President Machado, in order to reorganize the Corp and prepare for the expansion. The first action of Beam was to destroy the Jeannys, due to lack of security and this way concentrate on the other QO-2 existing, plus other six airplanes built by the Boeing De Havilland, the D.H 4M-1 (11-12-13-14-15-16) that were purchased before the mission arrived.

Immediatedly Beam dedicated himself to securely established, expand and modernize the Air Corp. Ordered the necessary spare parts in order to have he 6 DH 4 ready for combat. This aircraft were damaged by the 1928 hurricane. President Machado was the first head of state to do a spin on March 2nd of 1928 while flying as an extra crew. President Machado re opened the School of Military Aviation, which was recently reconstructed at Campo Columbia, with a modern building equipped with classrooms, laboratory, offices and barracks for twenty-five students on March 5th 1928.

The professors at the school were: Lt Colonel Antonio Mesa y Valdes, Captain Armando de la Torre MD, 1st Lt Agustin Rodriguez, 1st Lt Demetrio Ravelo Hernandez, 1st Lt (Pilot) Jose A Terry Jimenez, 1st Lt James Gillespi, 2nd Lt Rogelio Merlotte, 1st Lt Pablo A Rosado Rodriguez, 2nd Lt Faustino Lopez Neira, Captain (Pilot) Mario Torres Menier, Lt Jg (Pilot) Oscar Rivery, Captain Armando Castellan Villgeliu, Captain (Pilot) Eduardo Laborde Moliner, Captain (Pilot) Guillermo Martull and 1st Lt Florindo Fernandez Prieto

The aviation curriculum was divided in two parts, primary training and advance training and the following courses were to be taken: Military Courtesy and Courtesy, Hygiene, Military Administration, Rules and regulations of the Army, Customs of the Service, Infantry and Guard Services, Military Penal Laws and Code of Processing, Air Material Conservation, Aerodynamics, Parachutes, Telegraphy, Aircraft Instruments, International Air Regulations, Maps, Aircraft Alignment, Air Navigation, Air Tactic, Persecution and Attack, Meteorology, Armaments, Gun Sights and Synchronization of Guns, Bombarding, Bomb Sights, Bombs and Explosives, Sign Communication, Air Photography and Observation.

This curriculum was updated and more material added as the technology advanced On April the 17th of 1928, took of from Campo Columbia Lt Alberto Ponce de Leon Hernandez as flight instructor and Ensign Raul Perez Terrada and were lost forever. Cuba ordered 4 Buffalo Consolidated PT-3 Husky to be used primarily as trainers on February 1928 and incremented the order to total 10 aircraft. Four first, and two more by February 1930. This was the second period of the Air Corp that lasted from 1928 to 1933 and re established the strict system of numbering the aircraft and the PT-3 were numbered (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-11-12). The prestige of the Cuban Air Corp was so, those aviation students from Panama, Dominican Republic and Ecuador received grants to be trained in Cuba as pilots during 1930 and 1931 and then become the nucleus of their infants Aviation Corp in their countries. Among them the Dominican aviators Captain Anibal Vallejo, 1st Lt Frank A Feliz Miranda, and the mechanics Gregorio Peguero, Ernesto Tejada Matos y Andres Rodriguez.

With $75,000 it was ordered in October 1929, the first 3 combat Curtiss P-6S Hawk, with WASP engines and eventually the total was raise to 6 (9-10-15-16-17-18), following them 6 Vought O2U-1A Corsairs arrived in May 1939 and another shipment of eight followed up including at least three O2U-3A, followed by more during the period of 1933-34, (24-25-26-27-28-29-30-31-32-33-34) It is believe that Cuba had as many of the O2U-3A aircraft. The revolutionary invasion of Gibara in Oriente Province was defeated by the effective use of the Sir Corp, even after losing of 3 airplanes, 2 Corsairs and 1 P-6S, due to the ground fire from the invaders. Took part on the effort the Corsairs aircraft numbered 16-17-26-28-32-33.

During the first years of the decade of the thirties, 2 WACOS 9 and two WACOS 10, were donated by the newspaper "EL PAIS" and they receive the numbers 13-14, the other two were lost before numbers could be assigned to them. In February 1931, the Cuban Military Army Corp has at least 78 pilots duly trained and formed into two tactical squadrons and 162 ground personnel of different ranks. Captain Beam Left Cuba to the United States in June 1931 to take the Command and Staff courses. In January 1932 arrived at Cuba 4 Curtiss Hawk II, serial (19-20-21-22) and an Aeronca C-3 for training. Probably the first aircraft of this type used at this function in the world. Also used by Captain Laborde in his flight of 2737 miles from Havana to Guatemala City to Mexico City and return to Cuba during the months of April 20 1932 and July 29 of the same year.

The Cuban pilots had the opportunity to show their knowledge when Captain Mario Torres Menier and Lieutenants Pablo Alonso and Rodolfo Herrera, departed in a good will tour through Central America and the southern states of the United States. This flight took effect from September 10th 1933 and returning to Havana October 13th the same year with the Corsairs 27-31 and 32. During 1933, Lieutenant Manuel Vidal Lazaga and his mechanic suffered a fatal accident, in what is today the head of runway 4 at Camp Columbia. When president Machado became a dictator Captain Mario Torres Menier demanded his resignation form power under the threat of action of the Air Corp, to which Machado complied in August 13th 1933. With the fall of the government of President Machado ended the Beam era and began the era of Len Povey who tried to save the remnants of the Air Corp. At the coming of the revolutionary movement "4 de Septiembre" another reorganization took place at the Air Corp, the flight line mechanics after passing mental and physical tests, were given an intensive flight training in order to become pilots.

 

1933 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Pablo Alonso Echevarria, Tomas Alvarez, Victor Bermudez Nerey, Lucas Brihuegas, Florencio Ceballos, Fernando P del Valle, Laureano Garcia Berrocal, Belisario Hernandez, Antonio Herrera Toledo, Alfredo Jimenez Alum, Juan Olivera Hermida, Manuel Horta Gonzalez, Guillermo Someillan, Antonio Soto Rodriguez, Miguel Rollo Gill, Marcelino Vazquez Rodriguez, Francisco Yanez and Guillermo Solorzano

On August of 1934 the communists announced a demonstration in the center of the city of Havana, even without the government permission. Colonel Batista then Army Commander, ordered the Air Corp to scare the demonstrators to which Povey armed his plane with 2 demolition bombs of 120 pounds (only for effects because they did not have any detonators). Descending form a height of 4000 feet flew over the heads of the communists at the Prado Avenue, in a bombing pass, when the communist saw the plane panicked and ran with fear in all directions with their signs and flags and noise equipment. In the year of 1935 flying over the Las Villas Province in Central Cuba Lieutenants Miguel Rollo and Lucas Brihuegas had a fatal accident. A lonely transport Curtiss Robin, perhaps an ex Cubana Airlines, was operated between October of 1935 and September of 1937, also a Bellanca Airbus 66-75 (103) flew in August of the same year. This aircraft was armed with two-caliber .30 machine-gun, installed on the landing gear and another in the rear of the fuselage and two positions for 200 pounds bombs.

1936 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Efrain Garcia D’Abrignon, Jose A Fernandez Martinez, Angel Gonzalez Rojas, Francisco Gutierrez Vazquez, Roberto Henderson Besanilla, Luis Insua, Carlos Pascual Pinard, Domingo Piñero Corno, Manuel Reboso Brito, Guillermo Someillan Gonzalez, Marcelino Vazquez Rodriguez.

During the graduation flight of the 1936 promotion, in 1937, while flying formation over his home town in the city Santa Clara, Province of Las Villas on a cross country to Camaguey with Corsair aircraft when one of the Corsair flown by Lieutenant Carlos Pascual Pinard flew too close Lieutenant Angel Rojas Gonzalez cutting his tail and crashed in the vicinity of his home. Captain Manuel Horta flying the last persecution aircraft a Curtiss Hawk numbered 21, had a fatal accident at Rancho Boyeros (Jose Marti Airport). His aircraft stalled while trying to make a aileron roll at low altitude during take off and crashing against a Beechcraft 17 tail number NC14404 that was parked on the apron near the runway on January 11th 1939. During the year of 1936, Len Povey brought his Curtiss Hawk to the "All American Show" at Miami, Florida for acrobatic competition and by accident invented a new revolutionary and exciting maneuver.

Povey was going to make as an extra maneuver three aileron rolls in the top of a loop. Realizing that in the top of the loop he had 140 mph, too much speed to perform the loops he decided to continue the loop and immediately a half roll and repeated the maneuver in other to make a flat "8". Upon landing, James Doolitle (later a General of great fame on account of the Tokio Raid) who was one of the judges questioned Povey. Asked if that was his extra maneuver, to what Povey replied, that it was, when asked about the name of such maneuver, Povey casually replied "a Cuban 8". This maneuver became one of the most important maneuvers of coordination for future pilots. On July of 1937 arrive to Cuba, one Snits SR-9DD Reliant (104), 5 Curtiss Hawk CW-19R the arrived the following month. This metal monoplane received the numbers (50-51-52-53-54). Two of them were re numbered later on as (101 and 102) in one of them lost his life Lieutenant Palacios in an accident and the other was donated to the Technical School at Ceiba del Agua. A friendship flight to Mexico City took effect by 3 CW19R on September 10th 1938. Liutenants Tomas Alvarez, Jorge del Valle and Antonio Soto flew the aircraft numbered 27, 31 and 32.

On November 12 of 1937, at 0800 hours took off for San Juan, Puerto Rico from the Miraflores Airfield in the Dominican Republic the flight "Pro Faro Colon". President Rafael L Trujillo was seen off this flight, along with members of the Dominican State Department, the Cuban Mission, accredited members of the Diplomatic Corp, schools and general public. Three model Stinson Cuban airplanes, all four seated belonging one to the Cuban Naval Aviation, "La Niña" flown by Lt. Feliciano Risetch with Roberto Medina as mechanic. The other "La Santa Maria" of the Cuban Air Corp flown by Lt. Alfredo (Fillo) Jimenez Alum and Pedro Castillo as mechanic and the other "La Pinta" bought by the Sociedad Precolombina, with Lt. Antonio Menendez Pelaez as pilot, Manuel Naranjo mechanic and the reporter Frank de Lugo Viñas. The Dominican plane a Curtiss Wright R-19 named "Colon" was flown by Major Frank A Feliz Miranda, Master Sergeant Ernesto Tejada as mechanic. The flight arrived at San Juan, Puerto Rico at 1240 hours on the same day.

At 0630 hours on the 14th the four took off with destination Caracas, Venezuela. They landed at La Guaira airport in Maiquetia at 1120 hours. From there on the 17th of November at 0715 hours the four planes headed for Puerto España in Trinidad. The following day at 0630 hours left for next point on the tour Paramaribo, the capital of the Holland Guyana, where they arrived at 1430 hours after flying 6 hours and 630 miles under a tropical sun. On November the 19th proceeded toward Belen Do Para in Brazil, flying 820 miles to reach the destination and later on the 21st at 1340 hours continued their flight to Fortaleza City in Brazil where they landed at 1630 hours after flying over the jungle of the Amazonas. In Brazil they visited Natal, Recife, Bahia and Rio de Janeiro. On November the 29th they departed Porto Alegre in Rio de Janeiro, destination Montevideo, Uruguay where they landed at 1245 hours on the 30th. Where they stayed for a few days. On December the 3rd they took off to the Palomar Military Airdrome near Buenos Aires, Argentina, five days later on the 8th departed to Santiago de Chile, where they arrived after crossing the Andes on the 9th of December. After a few days in Chile they took off, headed for La Paz, Bolivia where they landed on the 13th and in similar way to the other countries they were warmly received and dined.

On the 15th of December while flying toward Lima, Peru the flight was engulfed in a strong fog and "The Pinta" flown by Lt. Risetch was temporarily lost. The "Colon" and "La Pinta" had to land at Pizco and the "Santa Maria" continues the flight landing at the destination Lima, Peru at 1320 hours the same day. After an intense search without any positive results, "Colon" and "La Pinta" decided to continue toward Lima and arrived at 1055 hours at the Limatambo Airport. Thirty-five hours later after fixing some radio communication equipment defects, radio contact was established and "La Niña" informed that they were forced to land at the Valle de San Juan. After reorganizing the escadrille, the flight was continued flying toward Colombia and landing in Bogota on the 26th of December. On the 29th after technical revisions and refueling, the four planes departed to Panama. A few minutes After taking off from Bogota, three of the planes crashed near Cali in El Valle about 12 Kilometers. The three planes were engulfed in flames as it was reported via a SCADTA airline plane.

Information that was picked up at the place of the accident indicated that the flyers took the direction of the Cali river heading up and were engulfed in foul weather, since the airplane were over loaded, they could not gain enough altitude to avoid the danger ahead. The Dominican plane "Colon" flying behind at higher altitude, did nor realize what was happening below and the lost of seven heroics crewmen. On September 10th of 1938 three CW-19R flew to Mexico in a good will flight and later on December the same three planes numbered 50, 51 and 52 flew to Cali, Colombia to commemorate the flight that ended in disaster the year before. This time the Cuban planes were fitted with belly tanks, possibly the first time that this was realized in Latin America. At the end of the decade of the 30’s there were some long range flights to participate in some air exhibitions in San Luis, Missouri. A WACO numbered 23 did the flight on March 13, 1937 and a Bellanca Airbus numbered 103 realized the same flight to San Luis on January 15th of 1938.

1939 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Jose A Alonso, Miguel A Alonso Estevez, Benigno Diaz Doval, Francisco Fernandez Bernaza, Jose A Fernandez Martinez, Jorge Gonzalez Rojas, Luis Gonzalez Rojas, Angel Gutierrez Vazquez, Mario Leon Gonzalez, Celso Mancitos, Luis Palacios.

Before the beginning of the Second World War, seven Stearmans A73B1 for training were purchased and they arrived between July of 1939 and March of 1940 and were assigned the numbers (43-44-45-46-47-48-49). The four Aeroncas 65TC purchased on April of 1941 were transferred to the ANACRA, a civic military institution dedicated to prepare civilian pilots in a military manner. During the year of 1939 the Cuban Army Air Corp was structured again into two operational units, a Bombardment and Observation Squadron and a Persecution Squadron, each with five pilots. On October 21st the Air Corp lost one CW 19. On December 11th of 1940 another reorganization took effect, keeping the same two Squadrons but augmenting the number of pilots to 9 and 8 respectively.

1941 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Alfredo Acosta Iglesias, Benito Aldecocea Lopez, Juventino Baez Rodriguez, Gaston Bernal Fernandez, Julio Caballero Garcia, Agustin Cartaya, Jorge Casales Escarras, Jorge Casanova Pellicier, Felipe Catasus Pazos, Francisco Cuadra Aguirre, Alberto Davila Sala, Jorge Escobar Quesada, Alfredo Fernandez Nespral, Eduardo Ferrer y del Castillo, Jose A Garcia D’Abrignon, Antonio Gonzalez Torrecillas, Angel Gutierrez Vazquez, Humberto Hernandez Nevares, Manuel Martinez Saladrigas, Maximo Pruna Hernandez, Pedro Roque Lazar, Victor San Julian Casas, Alfonso Silva Tablada, Rene Somodevilla, Carlos M Tabernilla Palmero, Jorge Triana Diaz, Lorenzo Triana Roche.

Due to the geographical position of the island of Cuba, at the entrance of the Gulf of Mexico, the heavy traffic of maritime lines and the great natural resources of the island, Cuba and the Air Corp became the best beneficiary of the Lend/Lease programs of the United States. Against the wishes of the Army and Navy, the Air Corp. received 40 airplanes.

July 1942, 6 Boeing Stearman PT-17 numbered 38-39-40-41-42-43

September 1942, 3 Vultee BT 13 numbered 66-67-68

October 1942, 3 Vultee BT 13 numbered 69-70-71

October 1942, 3 North American AT-6C numbered 100-101-102

November 1942, 3 North American AT-6C numbered 103-104-105

February 1943, 3 Vultee BT 13 numbered 72-73-74

May 1943, 11 Aeronca L-3B to the ANACRA numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10

June 1943, 3 North American AT 6 numbered 106-107-108

June 1943, 3 Boeing Stearman N2S-4 numbered 44-45-46

May/June 1945, 10 North American numbered 111-112-113-114-115-116-117-118-119-120

ANACRA is the anachronism of ACADEMIA NACIONAL de AVIACION CIVIL, RESERVA AEREA or National Academy of Civil Aviation, Air Reserve. A civic-military academy for the training of civilian pilots, throughout the use of military instructors. On July the 27th of 1942, arrived to Cuba 5 Curtiss-Wright SNC-1, with retractable landing gear but were refused by the Cuban government on the same day, due that the cuban aviation wanted Pratt & Whitney engines instead of Wright engines, this was used as an excuse. These planes were sent to Venezuela. This aircraft were to be numbered 55 to 65. During the Second World War the San Antonio Air Base, also known as the Cayuga was built near a town of the same name in the Havana Province and the San Julian Air Base in the Guanacabibes peninsula in Pinar del Rio was also built. Both airports were passed, to the Cuban Army for the use of the Aviation Corp, during the government of President Ramon Grau San Martin. San Antonio Air Base was used by the military aviation at all times, not so San Julian Air Base that was used as a mechanics school. Must of the pilots of the Aviation Corp, went to Kelly Field and Randolph Field in Texas, United States to received advance training and flight instructors courses and become instructors upon their return to Cuba.

1943 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Jorge Alemany Pelaez, Ramon Alonso Guillot, Nestor Alvarez Fernandez, Enrique Becalli, Mario Cabreras Bosque, Enrique Carreras Rolas, Jose M Castellanos Reyes Gavilan, Roberto Cendoya Echevarria, Guillermo Corvo Alzamora, Jose de la Peña Garcia, Oscar del Valle Cabieris, Enrique Dominguez Perez, Mario Dutil Somodevilla, Humberto Hernandez Nevares, Jorge Foyo Gonzalez, Rolando Garcia Baez, Juan A Garcia Rodriguez, Leopoldo Infante Fernandez, Luis Larrea Gonzalez, Rafael Lima Silva, Tomas Lingoya y Gonzalez Clave, Vilorio Mata, Miguel Matamoros del Valle, Jose Matos Mestre, Hubert Masmontet Pompeidin Cuervo, Rogelio Miro Quiros, Juan Olivera Hermida, Pablo Palmero Diehl, Luis Perez Escandon, Jorge Perramon Spencer, Agustin Piñera Machin, Carlos Pirri Llorca, Ernesto Puig Miyar, Manuel Ramirez Sotto, Marcelo Tabernilla Palmero, Cosme A Varas Castro, Manuel Vidal Mendez y Ricardo Zorrilla Armenteros.

On February 12th., 1943 6 AT-6 took off in a good will flight to Mexico City where they stayed for 17 days giving demonstrations and interacting with the personnel of the Mexican Air Force. The AT 6’s flew anti submarine patrols from the Preston Airport in Oriente Province and between longitudes 75º and 77º West of the Cuban northern coast in order to protect the maritime navigation routes, which they kept open and protecting the nickel mines at Nicaro. The Air Corp received a Beech S.17D "Staggerwing" number (1) for transport duty, this airplane was confiscated to Senator Emilio Ochoa and two Stinson, one model 105 number (2) given as a gift to the Corp by Miss Celia Velazco and the other a model 108 numbered (3). Colonel Otalio Soca Llanes, then Chief of Staff of the Air Corp, solicited the active participation of the Cuban pilots during the global conflict and training was intensified including night flight and instrument flying.

During the month of June 1945, and escadrille of 3 AT-6’s flew a good will mission to Mexico City, on the controls were Captains Roberto Henderson Besanilla, Laureano Garcia Berrocal and Francisco Gutierrez and as mechanics Sergeants Barrios and Delfin Burias. On the leader plane Captain Henderson was carrying Col. Otalio Soca Llanes, Chief of the Air Corp as a passenger. The 21st of July 1943 Captain Roberto Roque and his mechanic Fernando Cubas, while flying a Vultee numbered 72 had a fatal accident in Guines, La Habana, coming out of a dive and crashing against huge tree. During the months of February or March 1944 and while flying an ANACRA aircraft Lieutenant Jose Rodriguez had an accident at Boyeros Airport. Later on, during the months of April or May, Lieutenant Vasquez of the 1941 promotion, while flying a metallic Curtiss R-19 with a Wright engine of 425 hp, suffered a fatal accident while flying with his instructor Captain Palacios near the sugar mill "Toledo" in the Havana Province. Also, Lieutenant Pepin Fernandez flying a Vultee BT-13 had a reversible stall during the approach to the sugar mill "Steward" runway with a crosswind. Lieutenant Larin died on an accident while flying an AT-6 at the Maisi runway in Oriente Province.

On an accident, crashing against the hills near the town of Artemisa in Pinar del Rio Province, during formation flying training, Major Manuel Perez Alfonso and his instructor Captain Efrain Hernandez D’Abrignon in one airplane and Aviation Cadet Somodevilla in the other plane. In this accident lost their lives Major Perez Alfonso and Cadet Somodevilla. Captain Hernandez D’Abrignon miraculously saved his life, but was so badly wounded that never flew again. Lt. Luis Insua killed himself in an accident over Baracoa Beach in the Havana Province, while flying a PT Ryan.

In July the 16th of 1945 the Lieutenants Zorilla and Henderson lying a C-45 number 212 and carrying as a passenger Major Rivero, an aid to the Chief of the Army suffered an accident while on an approach to the Charleston Airfield in South Carolina, United States while returning from a flight of two aircraft to Washington DC. In the other aircraft piloted by Lieutenant Fernandez "El Callao" was on board the Chief of the Cuban Army General Genovevo Perez Damera.

During the summer of August of 1947, and resulting from the seizure of equipment belonging to the Caribbean Legion, that was positioned at the Mariel Naval Air Base. The failure of the Cayo Confites expedition, prepared by Dominicans and Cubans for the overthrow of General Rafael Trujillo of the Dominican Republic. The Air Corp had to wait until of the birth of the Mutual Aid program of the United States in order of revitalizing, but the bonanza of Cayo Confites benefited the Air Corp in the following way:

6 Lockheed P-38L numbered 121-122-123-124-125-126

1 Consolidated B-24 numbered 214

2 North American B-25C numbered 300-301

1 Douglas C-47 numbered 205

1 Consolidated PB4Y-1

1 Curtiss C-46

2 Cessna UC-78 Bobcats

2 Lockheed Vega Ventura

Also two dual seated P-38’s painted in black landed by mistake at Campo Columbia instead of the Mariel Naval Air Base and were retained by the Air Corp

The P-38’s originally stationed at the Mariel Naval Air Base, were flown to Campo Columbia by Lieutenants Masmontet, Matamoros, Corvo, Carreras and Lima. The C-46 and the B-24 were destroyed by a hurricane at Campo Columbia.

1947 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Juan Brito Garcia, Roberto Carrillo Castillo, Rolando Cossio Soto, Luis Cosme Toribio, Hector Hernandez, Osvaldo Hernandez Suarez, Manuel Iglesias Ramirez, Raul Planas, Joaquin Varona, Manuel Villafaña Martinez, Antonio Michel Yabor Justiz y Mario Zuñiga Rivas.

During the period of 1947 to 1948 and been the Chief of the Air Corp Colonel Eulogio Cantillo Porras (later a General) the Campo Columbia asphalt runways were built under the supervision of Captain Guillermo Someillan Gonzalez. The runways were oriented 40º/220º, 180º/360º and 80º/260º accordingly to the prevailing winds.

During 1948 the old Almendares Hotel was purchased and remodeled to have the Office of the Chief of Staff of the Air Corp. the dependencies, the operational squadrons, dining facilities, rooms for officers and enlisted man dormitories, classrooms for Aviation cadets, a club and an open air movie house.

Also during 1948 and while on a second approach to the runway of the summer retreat of President Carlos Prio Socarras in the Altura, Province of Pinar del Rio and under instrument conditions due to a torrential storm with no navigational aids, lost his life Lt.. Hernandez Hector and his mechanic flying an AT-6.

In 1949 Cuba purchase a Hiller 12 helicopter, numbered 111 but it was dismissed between 1954 and 1956.

1948 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Raul Cross Quintana, Rene Garcia Fernandez, Jorge Gonzalez Barreras, Aurelio Martinez Leiro, Emilio Perez Piloto, Claudio L Ray Moriñas, Rene Travieso Pla y Raul Vianello Alacan.

Cuba received until the middle of 1952 the following equipment, some purchased and others obtained through the Mutual Aid Plan.

3 North American B-25H, Purchased and numbered 302-303-305

1 Consolidated Catalina OA-10, Purchased and numbered 190

1 Consolidated Catalina OA-10, MAP and numbered 190

2 Douglas C-47 MAP, and numbered 200-201

1945, 1 Beech F-2B (Air Photo) C-45, MAP and numbered 212

1945, 1 Beech UC-45F, MAP and numbered 213

Dec 46/July 56, 1 Douglas C-53D (C47), Purchased and numbered 209

Dec 46/July 56, 8 Douglas C-47, Purchased and numbered 202-203-204-205-207-209-210-211

July 1947, 2 Beech AT-7, MAP and numbered 150, 151

July 1947, 2 Beech AT-11, MAP and numbered 160-161

April/Aug 1947, 6 Beech 35 Bonanzas, Purchased and numbered 10-11-12-13-14-15

1950, 2 Lockheed C-60A Loadstar, MAP and numbered 214,215

1950, 1 Cessna 190, Purchased and numbered CU-EDU 1

1950, 1 Lockheed C-56, Purchased and numbered CU-EDU 2

1951, 2 De Havilland Beavers DHC-2, Purchased
 
 

During the summer of 1950 and while flying a P-38 numbered 121, Lieutenant Joaquin Varona suffered a fatal accident over Santa Fe Beach in Havana.

On March the 10th of 1952, then Senator General Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar ousted the government of Carlos Prio Socarras by mean of a Coup de Etat. On the 23rd of April of the same year officially the name of the Cuban Army Air Corps was changed to Fuerza Aerea Ejercito de Cuba (FAEC) or Cuban Army Air Force. For the first time since Captain Mario Torres Menier in 1933, has a pilot as chief of the Air Force, Colonel Carlos Pascual Pinard, his command was very short lived because he died of a painful kidney deceased, after his death Carlos Tabernilla Palmero was promoted to Chief of the Air Force with the rank of Colonel and later Brigadier General.

Immediately the Mutual Defense Air Program (MDAP) began to take effect, new equipment began to arrive and the cuban pilots, after receiving basic military training at Managua Army Military School in the province of Havana and spending some time training at Military Aviation School at Camp Brihuegas, also known as Campo Columbia, were sent to the United States, in order to receive the pilot courses offered, flying the must modern equipment of the time, the PA-18, the North American AT-6, and later the B-25 or the T-33 for fighter pilots before flying the F-84. Later groups flew the Beechcraft Mentor T-34, the North American T-28 Trojan before proceeding to the B-25 or the T-33. Some of the student pilots flew the T-37 a Beechcraft jet known as the Tweedy Bird. Some of the Cuban pilots flew the F-86 while on advance training during 1955.

All the cuban pilots received the best and the must up to date instruction in instrument flying, formation flying and all the related subjects received by the USAF student pilots.

1952 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Blas Balboa Auty, Eulalio Beruvides y Ballesteros, Miguel Carro Suarez, Roberto Fiad Cura, Vigilio Garcia Cuellar, Hector Gonzalez Fernandez, Jose Laffite Franco, Roberto Lam Rodriguez, Feliz Martell Monzon, Alvaro Prendes Quintana, Juan V Reinoso, Ricardo Rodriguez de Castro, Eduardo Rodriguez y Rodriguez, Bernardo Rodriguez Sardiñas, Leonardo Seda Reyes, Gustavo Somoano Alvarez y Enrique Zignago Perez.

1953 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Mario Alvarez Cortina, Mario Bermudez Esquivel, Alfredo Caballero Gonzalez, Carlos Gomez Acosta, Florencio L Gonzalez Rojas, Antonio Hernandez Martinez, Martin Klein Schiller, Jorge Morales, Manuel Navarro Macho, Hector Ors Pina, Felix Sanchez, Antonio Soto Vazquez.

The equipment began to arrive in the following manner:

May 52/June 53, 29 F-47D Republic Thunderbolts, Purchased from USAF with parts and numbered

450-451-452-453-454-455-456-457-458-459-460-461-462-463-464-465-466-467-468-469-470-471-472-473-474

475-476-477-478

During 1953, Lt Emilio Perez Piloto, returning from a patrol flight and trying to land with a F-47, with the propeller in automatic had an electrical failure on the system while trying a go around, suffered a fatal accident on runway 8 in Camp Columbia.

In 1954 Lt. Enrique Perez Zignago while taking off from Camp Columbia, toward the city of Havana on a F-47, the escape tube of his plane, that passed at both side of the pilot seat caught on fire. Trying to avoid falling into the city directed his plane toward the Gulf of Mexico, where he crashed in front the Blanquita Hornedo Hotel, about 5 miles from the field. Lt Alvarez Cortina, nosed over a F-47 during a landing a suffered minor injuries During the summer of 1955, while flying an AT-6 over the town of Bejucal on the Havana Province, Lt Florencio L Rojas Gonzalez, suffered a deadly accident after trying a "Split S" at low altitude, on the day of his wedding. Lt Rojas was the youngest one of an aviator’s family and the second member of the family to die while piloting an aircraft.

More equipment purchased and MAP arrived:

Jan/April 1953, 7 Piper PA-20 Tri-Pacer, Purchased and numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7

March 1953, 5 Piper PA-18-135 Super Cub, Purchased and numbered 20-21-22-23-24

June 1954, 8 Lockheed T-33, MAP and numbered 701-703-705-707-709-711-713-715

Nov 1956, 16 Douglas B-26 B & C, MAP and numbered 901-903-905-907-909-911-913-915-917-919-921-923 925-927-929-931

Dec 55/May 58, 4 Piper PA-22-150, Purchased and numbered 25-26-27-28

Dec 55/May 58, 3 Piper PA-22-160, Purchased and numbered 34-35-36

Sept 1955, 1 Piper PA-23-160 Apache, Purchased and used by FAEC Commander

Aug 1956, 2 Bell 47G-2 Helicopters, Purchased and numbered H1-H2

Dec 1957, 1 Douglas TB-26, MAP AND numbered 933

1957, 6 De Havilland Beavers DHC-2. Purchased and numbered 15-16-17-18-19-20

1957, 4 Curtiss Commander C-46, Purchased and numbered 610-611-612-613

During the year of 1956, the UASF Mission to Cuba, offered 13 Lockheed F-80 "Shooting Stars" as part of the fiscal year, F57 MDAP, to replace the F-47’s, but assuming that Cuba would no have any money to paid for them, the Department of Defense of the United States suggested be given free of charge through the grant previsions of the MDAP. This aircraft never arrived to Cuba.

With the coming of the B-26, the following personnel was trained as rear gunners, all sergeants:

Telesforo Antunez, Rafael Becerra Alba, Armando Bergueiro Lozano, Alfredo Capote Oropesa, Aristides S Cordova Aguiar, Pablo de los Reyes Basulto, Sandino A Delgado Hernandez, Emilio Diaz Aguiar, Julio Garcia Abreu, Nemesio Hernandez, Pablo Hernandez, Silvio Lopez Ballester, Juan Mesa Yanez, Florencio A Perez Morales, Luis Pinacho Hernandez, Francisco Piloto Gonzalez, Rene R Rigal Riera, and Gilberto Yip Martinez.

All along the time, mechanics both jet and reciprocating engines, sheet metals, propellers, radio, etc., as well as ground support personnel such as tower operators, meteorologists, logistics and many more were receiving training at the Americas School in Panama.

1955 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Angel Alvarez Castillo, Pedro Bacallao Fonte, Juan Bermudez Esquivel, Luis D Buria Acosta, Francisco Chappi Yañes, Jose A Crespo Grasso, Luis de Vale Rojas, Guillermo Estevez de Arcos, Rafael Garcia Iñiguez, Jose Entriago Telledo, Orlando Izquierdo Ramirez, Oscar Mas Machado, Justo Moron Ruiz, Pablo Ors Pina, Roberto Perez-Valdes Montiel, Osvaldo Piedra Negueruela and Luis Soto Camacho.

1956 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Edmundo Aguila Marti, Nildo Batista Fernandez, Manuel Borbolla Cartaya, Esteban Bovo Caras, Orlando Brito Garcia, Carlos M Casanova Lago, Matias Farias Riesgo, Rene Fernandez Corredera, Crispin L garcia fernandez, Adolfo R Leon Fernandez, Santiago Mendez Acosta, Luis Muñoz Grau, Jorge Perez Requeny, Antonio Salas Baro and Roberto Suarez-Solis Leyenda

Due to a farewell ceremony to Colonel Fred Hood, Chief of the USAF Mission to Cuba, a mass flying formation was scheduled on March 19th of 1956, with all the FAEC airplanes. During the take off a B-26 piloted by Lt. Bernardo Rodriguez Sardiñas and flying on the jump seat Lt Carlos Gomez Acosta a fighter pilot, suffered a fatal accident, when the right engine was lost during the take off roll from Campo Columbia, falling at a side of the American Dominican school in "The Coronela". The same day the 1956 promotion was arriving a Campo Columbia from the Managua Army School to begin flying training.

During the Naval insubordination of Cayo Loco Naval Base, located at the Cienfuegos, province of Las Villas, two B-26’s piloted one by Captain Mario Zuñiga and the other by Captain Agustin Piñera Machin, suffered some damage from anti aircraft fire of the Naval Base The political pressure after the repression of the insurrection of Cienfuegos, that was defeated with MDAP equipment used by the Army and the Air Force, forced the government of President General Dwight D. Eisenhower to revise the MDAP policies toward Cuba and to impose a military embargo to the island hat forced Cuba to procure armament and equipment from other nations.
 
 

1957 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Jose Alvarez, Amado Cantillo Huget, Elpidio Castañeda, Alfredo de la Maza Barrios, Mariano Fernandez Isla, Rafael Garcia Pujol, Manuel Gonzalez Guzman, Guillermo Gonzalez Molina, Eduardo J Herrera Perez, Alberto Perez Sordo, Douglas Rood de Mole, Wilfredo Layva Enriquez, Jorge Navarro Rodriguez, Jesus Padron Cruz, Amado Valdes and Lt Alvarez.

From the last days of 1957 until the fall of the Batista regime, the government of the United States imposed a restriction to the purchases of the Cuban Air Force, forcing the FAEC to do her purchasing with friendly government such as Mexico, Dominican Republic, Brazil and the United Kingdom. In some cases the B-26 had to use truck brakes adapted to the breaking system, because the restrictions.

Dec 1957, 1 Douglas C-54, Purchased and numbered 615

April 1958, 3 Westland Whirlwind Helicopters, Purchased and numbered H-9 H-10-H11

1958, 10 North American T-28, that never left Miami due to the military embargo, Purchased and numbered 150-151-152-153-154-155-156-157-158-159

1958, 3 De Havilland Beavers DHC-2, Purchased and numbered 29-30-31

1958, 15 Hawker Sea Fury FB.11, 5 arrived at the beginning of 1959, Purchased and numbered 500-505-510-530-435-540-545-550-55-560

1958, 2 Sea Fury T.20 for instruction, Purchase and numbered 575-580

These Sea Fury were delivered short of detonating cartridges for the starting system, forcing the ground crews to develop different methods of starting the engines. One of them a long leather strap wrapped around the propeller and pulled from a jeep until the engine started. Also they were short of ammunition for their 20-mm, guns and not all the guns were delivered, nor installed.

LIASON PILOTS PROMOTION

Jose Acosta, Aldo Aguila Gonzalez, Evelio Alpizar, Arturo Ayala, Ramon Arguelles, Jose Barroso Figueredo, Victor Bermudez, Sergio Betancourt Nuñez, Brito, Rafael Cabrera, Francisco B Campbell Coll, Carlos Canals Rabasa, Romelio Carta Fernandez, Rafael Castillo, Celestino Davila Teran, Adalberto Diaz, Federico Dilu Silva, Nestor Fernandez, Jose Figueiras Conde, Jose M Hernandez, Rodolfo Hernandez Herrera, Alejandro Irragorri, Alcides Leon, Alberto Lambert Mosquera, Carlos Lazo Cubas, Mario Lopez, Jose R Lopez, Wilfredo Mas Machado, Rafael Mitjans, Candido Molinero, Jesus O’farrill, Jose M Pellon Blanco, Narciso Perez, Arcadio Reyes Martin, Rafael Rivero, Edelso Rodriguez, Orlando Rodriguez, Osvaldo Rodriguez Martin, Luis Roque, Ramon Ruiz Hernandez, Guido Valdes Obregon, Carlos Valls Ruiz and Gumersindo Varela Sanchez.

1958 SCHOOL OF AVIATION PROMOTION

Francisco Fernandez Piña, Jorge fernandez, Jorge Garcia Morata, Echenique, Puppy Martinez, Humberto Miranda, Morfi, Roberto Solis Sariol, Jose Rivas Perez and Ruiz Sabatier.

The Cuban Air Force had the following fatalities, starting in 1958:

Lt. Brito a Liason Pilot and his gunner, suffered a fatal accident flying missions against the communist guerrillas on board of a PA-22 Lt. Hector Gonzalez Hernandez found his death when a bomb builded in Cuba, detonated under the wing of his T-33 south of Camaguey in Camaguey Province on his way to the operations area. Lt. Pablo Ors Pina suffered a similar accident while flying an F-47 over Cienaguilla in Manzanillo Oriente over the rebel’s operation area Flying over the operations area against the rebels, Lt. Luis Soto Camacho suffered and accident flying an AT-6 During take off, from Camaguey Airport in the Camaguey province in eastern Cuba, Lt. Rafael Fajardo suffered a fatal accident. Lt. Ramon Ruiz Hernandez, a Liason Pilot and his gunner, suffered and accident flying in a PA-22, flying over the Sierra Maestra operation’s area. Lt. Orlando Rodriguez suffered a fatal accident near Taco Taco in the Pinar del Rio Province. While trying a "go around" Lt. Oscar Mas Machado had an accident flying a F-47 when he had a propeller failure with all the ordinance and full of gasoline, falling inside the city near Campo Columbia

It is proper to mention that the PA-22 were used very effective in the anti guerrilla operations, when the right hand side door and the rear seat were removed and a thirty caliber machine gun was installed in place of the removed back seat. Also for dropping hand grenades inside glasses, so they could explode after contact with the ground below. Also during 1958 the following non-fatal accidents occurred: While flying a two F-47 plane formation, one of the planes piloted by Lt. Guillermo Estevez de Arcos and the other by Lt. Leonardo Seda Reyes over Varadero Beach. The aircraft flown by Lt Estevez experienced severe vibrations and engine stoppage having to have a forced landing over the coral rock terrain near the beach. Of this showy accident Lt. Estevez escaped injury while the airplane was completed destroyed. Lt. Garcia Iñiguez while taking off in one of the new British Sea Fury, different torque than the American planes, went out of control and charge against the B-26 line causing serious damaged to them. This is the end of the Cuban Air Force and the coming of The Revolutionary Air Force and Fidel Castro communist regime.

It is to note the efficiency of the Cuban Army Air Force as per the air attaches of Cuba and the United Kingdom, praised the diversified system of maintenance of the diverse type of equipment and celebrated the training programs, including air to ground gunnery and rocket to ground firing. The British air attaché commented "the mayor problem for the Air Force is to locate the rebels to attack them". At the fall of the President Batista regime, 10 F-47, 14 B-26, 7 T-33, 10 C-47, 4 C-46, 2 C-54, 12 Sea Fury and more training aircraft such as AT-6, PA-18, PA-22, De Havilland Beavers and various helicopters in flying conditions became part of the Revolutionary Air Force. The fate of the Cuban Air Force pilots was the arrest of more than 60 aviators, accused of "War Crimes" and Genocide.

During a must published revolutionary trial on February of 1959, that took more than two weeks, more than 40 of the aviators, pilots, gunners and mechanics of the former Cuban Air Force, were charge with the crime of genocide in Santiago de Cuba, province of Oriente. Castro demanded the death penalty by firing squad for most of them. A military Court composed of rebel officers of the Raul Castro column was constituted. Major Felix Lugerio Peña was named president, Major (Pilot) Antonio Michel Yabor, Castro’s chief of the Rebel Air Force while at the Sierra Maestra and Adalberto Paruas Toll a lawyer and a judge advocate of Raul Castro column, as vocals found the aviators innocent of the crimes charged.

When Fidel Castro heard news of the verdict, he went in front of national TV and accused the Military Tribunal members as been counter revolutionaries, demanding an investigation of the trial. Fearing for his life, Michel sought exile in the US and Major Peña committed "suicide" at Camp Columbia. Another Military Tribunal ordered by Castro, ignoring all the judicial principles existing and the "sanctity of a judgment" was convened, the absolutory sentence was revoked and the aviators were condemned to thirty years of hard labor, sparing them of the death penalty. In this second Military Tribunal the accused aviators were not permitted to be present. The majority of the aviators serve prison sentences of more than 20 years, under the most severe conditions.

Besides this Military Tribunal, more pilots were brought in front of the so-called revolutionary justice for the same charges and more Courts were assembled in Santa Clara, La Havana and Camaguey. In total more than seventy-five pilots served over 20 years of imprisonment. On April 1959, Lt. De Vale had a fatal accident during take off, flying a b-26 in Camaguey Airport. On August 9 of 1959 when a C-46 piloted by Col. Antonio Soto and copiloted by Lt. Carlos Valls, proceeding from Dominican Republic was intercepted on the ground, a shoot out started killing Lt. Valls. After this incident Castro ordered the discharge of all the former members of the Cuban Air Force still on active service, starting a new era were the Cuban pilots began training at the Soviet Union, Communist China and the Czechoslovakia Republic.
 
 

CHIEF OF STAFF OF THE CUBAN AIR FORCE

1913 TO 1958
 
 

Colonel Julio Sanguily, Captain (Pilot) Mario Torres Menier, Captain (Mechanic) Ernesto Perez Chavez, Major Pedro Dole Coello, Major Cecilio Perez Alfonso, Major Ramon Valls Fundora, Major Manuel Perez Alfonso, Major Rogelio Lopez Borges, Lt. Colonel Otalio Soca Llanes, Lt Colonel Eulogio E Cantillo Porras, Colonel Manuel Larrubia Paneque, General Juan Rojas Gonzalez, Colonel (Pilot) Carlos E Pascual Pinard, Brigadier General (Pilot) Carlos M Tabernilla Palmero.
 
 

CUBAN REVOLUTIONARY AIR FORCE

January 1959 to April 1959

Major Pedro Luis Diaz Lanz
*Note: "Parts of this article are based on Mr. Dan Hagedorn´s Central American &Caribbean Air Forces" book, which is acknowledged as one of its sources.

 

 
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