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Conquistadors of the Sky: A History of Aviation in Latin America (review)
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Conquistadors of the Sky: A History of Aviation in Latin America. By Dan Hagedorn. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2008. Pp. 569. Notes. Index. Illustrations. $29.95 paper.

This book brings to light for the first time many intriguing insights, arranged chronologically, then alphabetically by country. The author highlights such figures as Latin America’s most prominent aviation pioneer, the Brazilian designer and pilot of dirigibles [End Page 428] and heavier-than-air flying machines Alberto Santos Dumont, who was the first person to make a heavier-than-air powered flight in Europe. And while Hagedorn notes that, at the start of the twentieth century, European and U.S. aviators made many of the first flights in Latin America, he emphasizes the accomplishments of the Latin American men and women who were the first to fly in their respective countries. For example, Mexican aviator Alberto Braniff made the first successful powered flight in a French Voisin biplane near Mexico City on January 8, 1910. With its strong European ties, Argentina unsurprisingly produced Latin America’s first woman aviator, Amalia Celia Figueredo. She learned to fly from French pilot and airplane designer, Paul Castaibert, earning her flying certificate on October 1, 1914.

Hagedorn argues that, through the 1930s, the development of aviation in Latin America not only paralleled that of other regions in the world, but progressed even more rapidly than it did in some developed areas. Yet, while Latin America appears to have been on par with the United States and Europe in the utilization of different types of airplanes, the premise is still debatable when it comes to the advancement of aerospace technology and other aspects of aviation. Sometimes the author appears to be stretching his data to make a certain point about the development of aviation in the region as compared to its development in the United States. He argues, for example, that, with its 357 airports, “It can be safely stated that, during 1930, developments in air transport in Latin America exceeded major mergers and extensions within the U.S.” (p. 246). Yet, according to the Aircraft Handbook (1922), in 1922 the state of Texas alone had 164 airfields, though 139 were unimproved. Since Hagedorn does not distinguish among paved runways or grass strips, runways with facilities and those without, it is hard to interpret the contention. This is a minor quibble, though, given the depth and fine quality of Hagedorn’s research.

During World War II, Hagedorn notes that the United States intended to include Argentina in its preparations for war in the hemisphere through the Lend Lease program, approved in October 1941. However, when the U.S. government became aware of highlevel Argentine political admiration for the Axis regimes and Argentina’s policy of selective neutrality, this led to differential treatment and delays to fill orders for arms and spare parts. The United States only sent two small training planes, but surprisingly provided complete engineering drawings for the North American AT-6B Texan, one of the finest advanced military trainers. This led the author and others to speculate that the development of the FMA IAe-22, supposedly of Argentine origin, shares characteristics with the AT-6.

In the postwar period Mexico, Argentina and Brazil attempted to develop their own industries. The Brazilian aerospace company Embraer, in particular, has made great inroads in satisfying the world demand for regional jet airliners since its founding in 1969. In addition to this, Hagedorn provides a list of at least 47 actions in which aircraft played a fundamental role in revolutionary and counterinsurgency movements. He also describes the utility of aircraft in combating crime, airborne smuggling, and drug trafficking.

Conquistadors of the Sky is not the type of book that lends itself to be assigned to undergraduates. This engaging study does fulfill the need for specialists who require a comprehensive [End Page 429] volume or reference guide, which demonstrates how Santos Dumont and others in Latin America played a significant role in the development of aviation. Hagedorn’s valuable work, full of rich details, will undoubtedly inspire future research.

Barbara Ganson
Florida Atlantic University
Boca Raton, Florida