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Conquistadors of the Sky: A History of Aviation in Latin America by Dan Hagedorn, University Press of Florida, Gainesville, 2008, $39.95.

It’s one thing for a book to fill a long-overlooked gap, and another to do it in a comprehensive, readable fashion. Conquistadors of the Sky is an invaluable contribution covering topics from Aztec myths to the civil and military aviation histories of Latin American countries—right up to the current headaches involved with stemming drug traffic.

This is a vast subject, and Dan Hagedorn tackles the chronology in systematic fashion, incorporating the major developments, civil and military, within each country in each era. His familiarity with Latin American aviation is evident in the manner in which he seasons his writing with short passages about the principal personnel, including pilots, inventors and entrepreneurs. Most readers will be surprised by the depth and variety of the aviation industry in Latin America over the last 100 years. Far from being confined to using imported planes, Latin American countries produced many indigenous designs.

Hagedorn does a real service by providing insight on the Chaco War between Bolivia and Paraguay and the Leticia conflict between Colombia and Peru. He includes excellent photos of French, Italian and German planes involved. During World War II, the United States became the primary supplier of both military and civil aircraft, and Hagedorn covers the contributions made by the air forces of Brazil and Mexico to Allied efforts.

Well written and captioned, with good footnotes and an excellent index, Conquistadors is a boon for scholars and buffs alike.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here