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Aviacion Cubana

Audacious Flight of Rosillo and Parlá (1913)

Ruben Urribarres

"Augustin Parlá has arrived at Key West with his hydroplane and hopes to make the passage at the same time as Rosillo" 
El Mundo Newspaper, May 11, 1913

Agustin Parla

May 17, 1913, Domingo Rosillo and Augustin Parlá, pioneers of Cuban aviation, added their names to the history of aviation, by making the first international flight of aviation in Latin America. They established a world-wide distance record by flying their airplanes the 90 miles from Key West to Havana in 2 hours and 40 minutes. This record was snatched from nobody less than the famous French pilot and aeronautical designer, Luis Bleriot. 

The aerial trip between Key West in the U.S.A. and Havana was considered to be extremely dangerous. North American aviator McCurdy had tried it without success in 1913 and the two Cubans would repeat his attempt in the hope of better luck. The City Council of Havana decided to reward the feat: 
"Ten thousand pesos for whoever arrives first and five thousand for the second"  Domingo Rosillo

The flight would depend on the support of three ships of the Cuban Navy: the "Patria", which would be stationed at 45 miles from Havana, the "Hatuey" at 30 miles, and the "24 de Febrero" at 15 miles from the finish. A North American ship: the Auxiliary Gunboat "Peoria" also would cooperate to insure the security of the intrepid pilots.

When the first airplane took off from Havana, the battery of La Cabaña would fire two cannon shots to announce the start of the passage. 

Nevertheless, the day of departure had not yet arrived. Rosillo had gone to Key West before Parlá and had it not been that the propeller of his Bleriot-XI monoplane had been broken during a test flight, one he made to please the Cuban immigrants who longed for a triumph, the flight would already have been attempted. He had to wait until a replacement propeller could arrive from Cuba. Parlá arrived in Key West in his Curtiss hydroplane, which was powered by an engine of 80 horsepower.

Parlá, in spite of his lack of experience, had the superiority of his apparatus to make a flight over the water in his favor. If it had to land unexpectedly on the ocean, at least it would be able to float.

Anyway, Rosillo's propeller was delayed even longer and although Parlá was ready for the flight, the conditions at the time were not favorable. It was known that Rosillo would bring a letter valise with him and an order to buy tobacco at the Gato factory. The tobacco industry would thus use aviation for its commercial operations for the first time.
Rosillo y su Bleriot-IX
Domingo Rosillo and his Bleriot-XI under Cuban Palms
Finally, the long awaited propeller for the Bleriot monoplane arrived. Everything was ready for the 17th. 

At the first light of dawn of that day, on the smallest of three signal masts of the Morro de La Habana, a red flag appeared: the public knew that it was the great day.  At 5:10 a.m., Rosillo departed. His airplane was baptized with the name of "Habana" and on the rudder was written, "Cuba". He flew for 2 hours, 30 minutes and 40 seconds. At that point, he ran out of gas. A strong crosswind had made him consume more fuel than he had anticipated.
Sello conmemorativo a Parla
After the trip was completed, he declared: 
- My impressions of today? You have heard me speak of the storm under the skull? 

"I began to see that the gasoline level was dropping in the indicating tube, at a rate faster than had been calculated. All around I could only see sea and sky. The machine performed perfectly; I saw the "Hatuey", and passed it. The tank was almost empty, but finally I saw Cuba. I had arrived without a drop of gasoline in the tank. I couldn't even make it to where I had planned to land, in the Polígono de Columbia. I had to land instead in el campo de tiro. The wind had made me use more fuel than I had planned. I had filled the tank with 50 liters, and on a lucky hunch, I had added 10 ounces more... " 

Parlá, on the other hand, had left at 5:57 and by 6:01 he had to return: "I began the flight, but the apparatus did not respond properly. It would not let me compensate for the wind that blew. When I returned and inspected it, I found that two tension wires of the elevator were broken." Rosillo was, without a doubt, the winner.

On the 19th, at 2:00 in the afternoon and without previous notification of his intentions, Parlá again went in search of his goal. He did not have support from the Navy. Unlike Rosillo, who preferred to fly escorted by ships, Parlá flew on his own. The news came as a surprise in Havana and the public prepared to receive the resolute aviatior. More than two hours had passed, still the Curtiss was not seen from el Morro. Had he perished? Was he floating somewhere of the Caribbean? Had he been blown off course by the wind, to who knows what place, and now he would fly without directions? everyone asked. 
Parla llega a La Habana
Agustin Parlá al concluir su famoso vuelo Cayo Hueso- Mariel-La Habana. Miles de personas lo reciben en la antigua caleta de San Lázaro, hoy Parque "Antonio Maceo"

Soon the answer arrived: "aviator Augustin Parlá landed on the water in the bay of Mariel, at the risk of his life, at 4:30 today, May 19, 1913. Motor failure had prevented him from reaching Havana, but he is well and already has started off by automobile for the capital ". 

Of the flight from Key West a reporter wrote, "... filled with limitless patriotism and a tenacious resolution, he embarked on the trial flight. As the town had followed it from start to finish, they finally learned that the aviator had moved steadily along the ideal course, the one that led to Cuba ". 

The City Council of Havana awarded the second prize to Parlá, although, in truth, it was Cuba who won, as was affirmed: "its name is registered in the history of aviation and will be placed among the advanced countries due to their persistence to advance aviation up to the maximum limit". 

  Related articles:
The Trasatlantic Flight of Menéndez Peláez
1937. Pan-American Flight "For the Columbus Lighthouse"
1933-1938. Military Aviation. The 1933 Revolution and her consequences

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