The first Latino U.S. Fighter pilot hails from Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico. Félix Rigau Carrera, also known as “El Águila de Sabana Grande” (The Eagle from Sabana Grande), was born August 13, 1894 to a Spanish Navy sailor from Cataluña, Spain and a Puerto Rican homemaker. As a child Félix showed interest in mechanics and used to make small fixed-wing aircraft replicas.
- Rigau Carrera Graduated from el Colegio de Agricultura y Artes Mecanicas in Mayagüez now known as the University of Puerto Rico (UPR).
- He joined the United States Army and was assigned to the Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps, from 1914 to 1918.
- He became the first Puerto Rican parachutist.
- Rigau Carrera became the first Puerto Rican to pilot a fixed-wing aircraft and the first Latino fighter pilot in the Marines when he was appointed Second Lieutenant and assigned to the First Marine Air Squadron which deployed to France as the 1st Marine Aviation Force in July 1918. His unit provided bomber and fighter support to the Northern Bombing Group.
Once he was release from the military, Félix trained in private pilot schools in Seattle, Washington and Minneapolis, Minnesota. Félix traveled to New York City and enlisted in the United States Marine Corps upon the outbreak of World I.
After World War I ended, Félix’s next step was to buy his own aircraft when he returned to Puerto Rico. In 1919, his 3 brothers helped him finance a civil aircraft named Curtiss JN-4. His first flight out of Puerto Rico was from Camp Las Casas, a United States military base established in Santurce, Puerto Rico which was a training base for the most famous 65th Infantry Regiment. Félix began flights carrying paid customers on sightseeing trips as well as exhibition flights. He would also fly paying customers to destinations around the island.
Félix Rigau Carrera became national hero and was dubbed “El Águila de Sabana Grande” by the Puerto Rican people who celebrated his every landing with live music and fireworks. He died in October 13, 1954 at the age 60 and buried with full military honors. On September 14, 2011, he was honored during the Hispanic Heritage Awards at Cleveland International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio.
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