Hispanic Heritage Month Heroes – Week 4
Felix Rigau Carrera, the first Hispanic fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps
Miami International Airport is closing out Hispanic Heritage Month by going back 100 years to celebrate one of the earliest Latino pioneers in aviation – World War I fighter pilot Felix Rigau Carrera, the first Hispanic fighter pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps.
Born and raised in Sabana Grande, Puerto Rico, Rigau Carrera joined the U.S. Army in 1914 after graduating from what is now the University of Puerto Rico. He was assigned to the Army’s Aviation Section, a direct ancestor of what is now the U.S. Air Force. While serving in the Army from 1914-1916, he became the first Puerto Rican parachutist. Upon the outbreak of World War I, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1917.
After receiving additional aviation training, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and assigned to the First Marine Air Squadron, which deployed to France as the newly renamed 1st Marine Aviation Force in July 1918. There, Rigau Carrera and his unit provided bomber and fighter support, making him the first Puerto Rican to pilot a fixed-wing aircraft and the first Hispanic fighter pilot in the Marines.
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 for staging exhibition flights. He became a 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 died at the age of 60 and was buried with full military honors at Abingdon Episcopal Church Cemetery in Gloucester, Virginia. In his native hometown of Sabana Grande, the street Calle Félix Rigau Carrera and the American Legion Post 36 were named in his honor.