A little more than a century after setting the first world record for the longest flight over water in 1913, the memory of two pilots lives on.
Domingo Rosillo del Toro flew from Key West to Havana and didn’t even bring a float to save him should his plane crash, according to a New York Times article from May 17, 1913, the day the record was set.
Key West native Augustin Parla followed behind him that day. The two were reported rivals, both vying for a $10,000 prize, more than $246,000 in modern U.S. dollars.
Two days after the 104th anniversary this week, seven planes took off from Florida Keys Marathon International Airport as part of the inaugural Cuba Air Rally.
“Cuba insisted we do this first edition because of the May anniversary. They want this to commemorate those two pilots,” said Catherine Tuberas, president of International Air Rally, which organizes rallies every year.
Tuberas said the event would be historic because it was the first visual flight rule (VFR) trip to Cuba in more than 60 years. It could also help strengthen relations in the aviation world between the two countries, she said.
VFR means the plane is flown using only the pilot’s senses and vision for guidance, without help from electronic navigation tools.
Two gyrocopters, two Beechcraft Bonanzas, two Czech Sport Aircraft Cruisers and one Cirrus plane embarked on the 140-mile trip from Marathon to the Havana Jose Marti International Airport, communicating with the Cuban government, Tuberas said. The return trip will be Monday from Havana to Key West International Airport.
Pilot Eric Davis, flying his 1964 Beechcraft Bonanza, was feeling a little nervous Friday prior to takeoff, just as Rosillo and Parla were on the record-setting day in 1913.
“I’ve never flown over this much water before, but everything is in good shape,” said Davis, who is from Atlanta. “We have to fly slower than we normally would because there’s a large group of us and we have to maintain spacing, but it should take us about an hour.”
Ed Hoffman was feeling “broken-hearted” because the radio communication system in his vintage 1946 Fairchild plane wasn’t working right so he could not fly with the rest of the group and returned home to Tarpon Springs Friday afternoon.
Before climbing into the cockpit of one of the two Czech Sport Cruisers, Erin Porter said it would be a “very special flight.”
Porter, public relations specialist for Royal Palm Beach-based Cruiser Aircraft Inc., flew with the company’s hired pilot Bob Harris, while Cruiser Aircraft Inc. President Thomas Schrade and CEO Oscar Starinsky flew the other cruiser.
Tuberas hopes there will be more planes in the rally next year and said with such short notice of approval from the Cuban government, there wasn’t enough time to get the word out.
“We had to start somewhere,” she said.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219