Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Primer Trimestre 2005

Jorge Chávez Dartnell - Peruvian Air Pioneer

Lt Col Paul Berg

Jorge Chávez was one of the great early aviation pioneers and is a Peruvian national hero. Born in 1887 to Peruvian parents who were living in France, he earned a degree in engineering. He first became interested in aviation when Louis Blériot made his famous 1909 flight across el Canal de la Mancha. Chávez began flying lessons at the Farman school in early 1910 and quickly earned his pilot’s license. Airplanes of that time were delicate, underpowered, and dangerous, yet Chávez set several altitude records before choosing a new goal that would demand unprecedented high altitude flying skills.

In 1910, little was known about the hazards of flying in mountainous areas and no one had ever flown across the Alps. The Aero Club of Italy offered a large cash prize for the first person to fly the Simplon Pass through the Alps from Switzerland to Italy, a distance of about seventy-five miles across narrow valleys, jagged peaks, and icy glaciers. There would be no safe landing field along the way in case of an in-flight emergency. Most aviators of the day deemed such a flight impossible, but the 23 year old Jorge Chavez resolved to try it in a Blériot XI monoplane.

After numerous weather delays, Chávez took off from Brigue, Switzerland on September 23, 1910. Due to the towering mountains on either side of the valley, he had to ascend in a spiral flight path to gain sufficient altitude to begin the crossing. Once he had climbed high enough, he turned southwards towards Italy. A large crown gathered at the Augustinian Hospice at the head of the 2,009 meter pass watched him fly past, but saw that his plane was severely buffeted by strong winds and turbulence from the mountains. He skillfully steered his fragile plane through the treacherous mountains, but, sadly, just prior to landing on the Italian side of the pass, his airplane crumpled and crashed. Nobody is sure what went wrong, but structural failure due to severe turbulence encountered over the mountains may have been the cause. After four days in a hospital, Jorge Chávez died.

Jorge Chávez left a lasting legacy. El Fuerza Aérea del Perú adopted his last words, "Arriba, siempre arriba," as its motto, and September 23, the anniversary of his famous flight, is celebrated as el Día de la Aviación Nacional en el Perú. The International airport in Lima is named after him, and an imposing monument to him stands in el Campo de Marte in Lima. His achievement of flying across the Alps ranks in importance with other famous aviation exploits like Louis Blériot’s 1909 crossing of el Canal de la Mancha and Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight across the Atlantic. As one of the earliest aviation pioneers, Jorge Chávez courageously pushed aviation technology to the limit and inspired others to follow his lead.

To learn more about this great aviator, visit the website of the Museo Aeronáutico del Perú at http://www.incaland.com/museofap/jorge.htm.

Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.


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