Latin American Air Wars and Aircraft 1912-1969

By Dan Hagedorn
Hikoki Publications, ©2006
ISBN 1-902109-44-9
Hardbound, 176 Pages
Available from Specialty Press for $59.95

Reviewed by Chris Banyai-Riepl

This book was quite a pleasant surprise to come across, as on the surface it combines common aircraft with uncommon markings. Thoughts of Corsairs and Mustangs in interesting camouflages flowed through my mind as I began to flip through the pages. However, I soon discovered that aviation in Latin America goes far beyond that, and the more I read, the more fascinated I became with the history of Latin American warplanes. What makes this book even more impressive is the realization that it is only a fraction of the actual research. In an interesting move, and one that holds potential for other projects in the future, the author and publisher decided to remove the majority of the historical background from this book and make that available on their website, through Adobe Acrobat files. A rough count shows those historical chapters to total over 500 pages worth of text, which easily would have placed this book in the $100+ price range if they were included. By going this route, they were able to reduce the cost of the actual book, while not eliminating the important historical story.

Moving onto the actual content of the published book (I would review the historical text as well, but I have only managed to read the first dozen chapters of that so far; the thoughts on that material, though, is that it is well worth the download), this is an incredible amount of information presented in its 176 pages. There are 35 chapters, with each chapter relating to a specific Latin American war or conflict. Latin America is defined as pretty much everything south of the United States, including Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and South America. For those not quite familiar with that region, a set of maps begin the book, and it is well worth looking these over to familiarize yourself with the terrain.

The first chapter starts the story off with the Mexican Revolution. As the Mexican Revolution was a long and convoluted revolution, with several different leaders over a 25+ year period. There is much more to the Mexican Revolution than Antonio Banderas as Pancho Villa, or Marlon Brando as Emiliano Zapata, and this book brings to life the aviation side to that conflict with quite a bit of new information. For example, I was not aware of the indigenous Mexican aviation industry until I read this book.

Mexico is not the only nation covered here, though, and the book takes a chronological approach, moving from Mexico to Brazil, then to Paraguay, Chile, and Nicaragua before turning to the Chaco War between Paraguay and Bolivia between 1928 and 1935. Also during that period we see revolutionary activity in Guatemala, Brazil, Cuba, and Uruguay, and internal issues in Venezuela, Peru, and Columbia. Fully half of this book covers the period before the Second World War, which means we still haven’t gotten to those Corsairs and Mustangs. The aircraft in these sections are varied and colorful, with lots of Curtiss and Boeing fighters.

The remaining pages of the book are no less fascinating, even more so when viewed against the Cold War background. US interests in Latin America with regards to keeping communism out of the region shaped quite a few of the post-war conflicts, including the CIA-backed invasion of Guatemala in 1954. A fascinating view of all the Cuban issues is presented here, as well, with some interesting Invaders. The book ends with the war between Honduras and El Salvador, the so-called “Soccer War,” which marked the last air combat between piston-engined fighters. While this is a good spot for a cut-off, I hope that Dan Hagedorn does not stop his research and hopefully we will see a second volume covering 1970 to the present. Air wars did not stop in Latin America in 1969, and with such notable conflicts as the Falklands War, there is undoubtedly enough information to fill another book.

With the majority of the text removed and provided online, the pages of this book are freed up for copious amounts of photos and drawings, and there is no lack of those. Indeed, from a modeler’s perspective, this book is enough to keep you busy for years to come. While there are the well known Mustangs and Corsairs that we have seen before, there are quite a few other aircraft that would make for some interesting subjects. Cuban P-38s, Guatemalan P-47s, Haitian P-51s (with F-86 drop tanks, no less!), Invaders, and Dakotas (how about a USAAC Ju 52, designate C-79 and re-engined with DC-2 engines and nacelles) are just a few of the fascinating subjects presented in these pages. Many of the photos are backed up by some nice color side view profiles. Combined, these provide more than enough information to build some of these aircraft, and they definitely will grab some attention at your next meeting or contest.

Even if your interests lie elsewhere, this book is well worth checking out, as so little has been done on Latin American aviation. Who knows, you just might find a new interest to pursue. I thank Hikoki for producing this book in this manner, and thanks to Specialty Press for the review copy.

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