Hispanic American Aviators

For over a century, many significant Hispanic aviators have called the United States home, indeed there are too many to highlight in this exhibit.  One of the earliest Hispanic American aviators is Augustin Parla, who was born in Cuba but immigrated to the United States during the Spanish American War. Augustin learned to fly at the Curtiss School of Flying in Miami in 1912 and only a year later he became the first man to fly from Key West to Florida.  He would achieve many other aviation firsts, including inaugurating the first commercial flight in Cuba. 

Augustin Parla at the controls of his Hydroplane. 

Elwood Richard Quesada was born in 1904 and would go on to become one the of most prominent Hispanic Americans in the Air Force.  Quesada enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1924 and would rise to the rank of Lieutenant General.  His career highlights would include commanding the 9th Fighter Command (which provided air cover for the allied breakout of Normandy) and becoming director of the FAA in 1958.

General Quesada in a rare moment of relaxation. 

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.

Perdomo on the wing of his P-47.

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 Coast 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.

During the Vietnam war, many Americans had to endure unthinkable conditions as prisoners of war in North Vietnam.  One of these brave men was Everett Alvarez Jr., who was shot down while flying his A-4 during Operation Pierce Arrow in the aftermath of the Gulf of Tonkin Incident. He was a POW for 8 and a half years. Alvarez was the grandson of Mexican immigrants and attended Santa Clara University.

Everett Alvarez Jr. with his family shortly after his release from the infamous "Hanoi Hilton."

Olga E. Custodio was the first Hispanic female military pilot.  In 1981 she received her wings and became a T-38 instructor pilot. She retired from the Air Force with the rank of lieutenant colonel in October 2003.  Custodio was also one of the first Latina commercial airline pilots and flew a variety of aircraft, including the Boeing 727 and 757. 

Olga Custodio in the Captain's seat. 

The first Hispanic American Astronaut was Franklin Chang Diaz. Born in Costa Rica, Diaz moved the the United States in 1969.  He eventually attained a Ph.D. from MIT, and was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1980.  His first space flight was in 1986 aboard STS-61-C, and would be a member of 6 additional missions.

Chang Diaz is currently the CEO of the Ad Astra Rocket Company.

Born in 1958, Ellen Ochoa would go on to become the first Hispanic women in space.  In 1993, she served as a mission specialist on board the Space Shuttle Discovery.  She would go on 3 other space missions, logging over 1,000 hours in space.  In 2012 she became the Director of the Johnson Space Center. 

Ellen Ochoa attended SDSU before receiving a Ph.D. from Stanford University. 

Next page in this exhibit.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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