Francisco Sarabia

In 2000 the Mexican postal service issued this stamp to honor the 100th anniversary of Mexico's most famous pilot - Francisco Sarabia who is also Lerdo's most famous son.  Sarabia is remembered for setting a 1939 speed record on a non-stop flight from Mexico City to New York City.

He beat Amelia Earhart's previous record by almost 4 hours.  The flight was in conjunction with the opening of the World's Fair.   After a round of celebrations, he took off for Washington DC to deliver a personal letter from Present Cardenas to President Roosevelt.

While he was in Washington, his plane El Conquestador del Cielo was parked at the US Army Air Corps at Bolling Field.  There the plane was serviced and readied for what was intended to be a leisurely flight back to Mexico City.  Why hurry, he had the record.

A group of Mexican diplomatic folks gathered to bid farewell as he took off toward a hero's welcome in Mexico.  His plane had gained about 100 feet of altitude when the engine failed, and the plane dumped into the Potomac River.  Sarabia drowned.

An investigation showed that a mechanic had left a wipe rag inside the engine compartment.  The rag had been sucked into the carburetor.

The plane was pulled from the river and shipped back to Mexico where it was placed in storage for the next 33 years until a display building was built for it in Lerdo.   Today the plane is fully restored.


In 2013-14, The Museum was completely remolded and modernized to better display the plane and to tell the story of Sarabia's life..

"Pancho" Sarabia was born in Lerdo on 3 July 1900.  He completed the first 8 years of school here before moving to El Paso for high school.  From there he went to an  automobile school in Kansas City.  After graduation, he worked as a auto mechanic in the USA for two years before returning home.

He came back to Lerdo in 1919 to work as a mechanic and continue his love of auto racing.  Soon aviation became the place for an adventurous young man, so he returned to the USA to study flying.  He received his pilot's license in 1926.

He began his flying career by joining an aerial circus traveling the USA staging dare-devil air shows and engaging in air races as he had in car races.  By the time the circus came to Monterrey, he owned his own plane. He decided to stay in Mexico.  He worked his way around Mexico as a mechanic and charter pilot carrying passengers and cargo.  He continued to do some flying circus work and teaching flying.

He saw an opportunity to establish a freight business in Chiapas serving all of the Yucatan.  He turned out to be as persuasive a salesman as he was an audacious pilot.  He convinced the government to build a series of landing strips throughout the region so his planes could pickup crops to transport to market.  

At the time of his death, his company was operating 38 planes, and Sarabia was a recognized leader of aviation in Mexico and a national hero.

Business success had not dimmed the urge to fly to the edge.  So with the support and encouragement of President Cardenas, he undertook this last of his many record-setting flights.  He was 39.
For more information, read this detail account of his aviation activities by the Latin American Aviation Historical Society and the source of these pictures:  

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