National Hispanic Heritage Month – Félix Rigau Carrera, Pilot

Aviation pioneer Félix Rigau Carrera was born in 1894 in the town of Sabana Grande in southwestern Puerto Rico. He developed a strong interest in mechanics and airborne transportation early on in his life.

After earning a degree in mechanical engineering from the Colegio de Agricultura y Artes Mecanicas (the present-day University of Puerto Rico), Rigau Carrera went to New York and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was assigned to the aviation section of the Army’s Signal Corps, and it was through this service that he became a pilot.

After being discharged from the Army, Rigau Carrera continued his flight training at aviation schools in Seattle and Minneapolis.  During World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines Corps and received further flight instruction.  Rigau Carrera ultimately saw military action in France as part of the 1st Marine Aviation Force, becoming both the first Puerto Rican to operate a fixed-wing aircraft and the first Hispanic-American fighter pilot in that branch of the U.S. military. 

After the war, Rigau Carrera made his way back to Puerto Rico and bought his own airplane. He soon achieved another milestone when, after flying from the airfield at the military installation Camp Las Casas in Santurce, Puerto Rico, he became the first Puerto Rican to pilot a plane over the island.

Rigau Carrera subsequently used the airfield at Camp Las Casas on a frequent basis as a departure point for transporting passengers on sightseeing tours and also staging exhibition flights. He became a huge celebrity throughout Puerto Rico in the 1920s, earning the nickname “Ėl Aguila de Sabana Grande” (The Eagle from Sabana Grande). He also became the first pilot to have a regular air-mail route in Puerto Rico.

Rigau Carrera returned to the U.S. mainland and settled in Gloucester Courthouse, Virginia, by the 1930s. He died there in 1954 at the age of 60. For more information on Félix Rigau Carrera, please check out https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Félix_Rigau_Carrera.

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