Lawrence Leon
Armando el Curtiss de la Armada en Puerto Belgrano
"Arming the Curtiss of the Navy in Puerto Belgrano"
Historia y Arqueologia Marítima

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  American Aircraft and American Pilots in Argentina: Part 1: 1919-1933 (**)
Dr. Georg v. Rauch
Lawrence Leon

     The year 1919 was pivotal for Argentine aviation .Unable to import aircraft during the war years, military and civil aviation schools were limited to copies of Bleriot XI monoplanes and Henri Farman biplanes manufactured at the workshops of the Escuela de Aviación Militar at El Palomar, or a handful of small aviation shops, such as Caistabert, Noni and Marechal. Alongside official Air Missions dispatched by the governments of France and Italy, came the technical reps of Fokker works, the Handley Page Aircraft Disposal Company and in mid-July of that year, a newcomer in Argentine aeronautical circles arrived at Buenos Aires, Lawrence Leon, representing the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation.
Curtiss JN-4
Argentine Aviación Naval Curtiss JN-4
Collection of Dr. Georg v. Rauch
Courtesy of Arne Ludwing Brinner, 6-15-07
       Leon assembled a Curtiss JN-4, Jenny at El Palomar and offered to train Teniente 1o. Oscar Lozano and Sargento P. Bidalaum , free of charge to the Argentine government. In March 1920, Leon inaugurated a Flying School at the San Fernando airfield with all Curtiss-types such as the Jenny, the Standard J1 and the Oriole. (1)
     The school was established in order to popularize aviation in Argentina-while demonstrating the qualities and reliability of the aircraft produced by Curtiss.
Lawrence Leon
Argentine Aviación Naval Curtiss MF Seagull
     On the reverse side of the photo there's an old inscription: "Flight Training Course for enlisted personnel c. 1926-27"According to Argentine Navy records, the aircraft remained in service till the end of 1926.
Collection of Dr. Georg v. Rauch
Courtesy of Arne Ludwing Brinner, 6-15-07
       Leon did remarkably well in both aspects: he sold a Curtiss MF-1 Seagull flying boat and four JN-4s, to the Argentine Navy, four additional JN-4s to Servicio Aeronáutico del Ejército (Army Air Service. In addition, Leon sold over fifty Curtiss aircraft to Argentine Aero Clubs and private owners, including JN-4s, Orioles, Mercuries, Meteors Travel Airs and J-1 Robins.  
Seagull & Crew
Argentine Aviación Naval Curtiss MF Seagull
Collection of Dr. Georg v. Rauch
Courtesy of Arne Ludwing Brinner, 6-15-07
        Two other American instructors, Richard Depew and William Mac Mullen, seconded Leon. During 1920-23, the school graduated no less than twenty-three pilots, the first of which was Guillermo Hillcoat. In 1925, Leon returned to the United States and was replaced in his functions as school instructor and Curtiss Tech. Rep by Guillermo Hillcoat. As a matter of interest, under Hillcoat's guidance the Curtiss School graduated seventeen additional pilots during 1925 and 1932. By the early 1930s, British, French and Italian aircraft models and air engines, so popular in South America during the 1920s, were falling into disfavor. Through an aggressive, yet effective sales policy, Curtiss-Wright began to displace a vast array of European aircraft manufacturers, such as Caproni, Dewoitine, Fairey, Vickers, Potez. In 1929, Leon sold two Fledglings to the to Servicio Aeronáutico del Ejército , followed in 1932 by seven Wright Cyclone engines rated at 620 h.p. and a license to manufacture that power plant at the Fábrica Militar de Aviones (FMA) at Córdoba, jigs, tools and components for fifty complete engines, along with almost eighty 165h.p. and 240 h.p Wright Whirlwinds radial engines. (2)
      In May 1933, Curtiss began work on a Falcon light observation and bombing biplane powered by a 710-hp. Cyclone radial. An internal company memo states that it would be ready in "four to six weeks" for shipment to Buenos Aires, where it would be inspected by the Argentine Army and Navy. Curtiss hoped for a contract for six Falcons from the Argentine Navy and a contract with the Army regarding a license to manufacture the Falcon at the FMA, in Córdoba. Hard hit by the World Depression, the Argentine Government curtailed military spending and postponed aircraft procurement until 1936, when in response to protective measures enacted in 1933, Argentina's recovery was meteoric. Although by this time Leon had been replaced by other Curtiss tech. Reps in Buenos Aires, the firm secured important orders from the Argentine, from aircraft which ranged from the Curtiss Hawk III for the Army to CW 16E trainers and CT-32 2 Condor transports for the Navy. Furthermore, in 1937 the Hawk 75H emerged the clear victor in the Fighter Contest held at El Palomar. An order for 30 machines and a license to produce another twenty aircraft at the FMA soon followed. By the early 1930s, Leon had gained the confidence of Colonel Angel Zuloaga and Captain Marcos A. Zar, Directors of Army and Naval Aviation services respectively. This is clearly demonstrated by a letter sent to Clifton K. Travis, Curtiss Rep at La Paz, Bolivia by C.W. Webster of the Curtiss Wright Export Division at New York

"Dear Cliff: Our object is to sell the Falcon to the Argentine government and in due course, to arrange a contract for them to purchase the manufacturing rights to construct this plane for the Government at Córdoba. All of these arrangements will be handled by Leon when he arrives, probably in September. His relations with Zuloaga and Zar are intimate, so do not attempt to sell but merely handle the plane for the time being and put on your show and the necessary demonstrations. When Leon arrives, he will probably take you in his confidence and give you a line on our set up, so do nothing that will interfere with the negotiations which Leon and myself have already started." ( 3)

     The fact that Zuloaga and Zar, both men of remarkable probity deposited such confidence in Lawrence Leon is a clear sign of the respect and recognition Leon earned in Argentine Aeronautical circles. In the words of Antonio Biedma R, a well known Argentine aeronautical historian :

"This North American pilot was one of the most outstanding and dedicated pioneers of Argentine aviation:"(4)

(**) An except from : Rauch, Georg v,” Amerikanische Flugzeuge und amerikanische Flieger in Argentinien: 1 Teil: 1919-1933”, Pucará ( Series II, Vo. 19 No.1, January-February 199) pag. 7-32
Translated by André Louis Maurois

(1) Lironi, Julio Victor, Misiones Extranjeras 1919-1924: Beneficios y Consecuencias en la Evolución de la Aviación Militar y Civil en nuestro país (Instituto Argentino de Historia Aeronáutica Jorge Newbery, (Buenos Aires, 1980) pag.45-49, 79.

(2) Geyer, Lorenz," Geschichte des Curtiss Wright Flugzeuges in Südamerika: 1929-1939", Pucará (Series II, Vol. 19, No.1, and January-March 1999) pag.7-32. C.W. Webster, Curtiss Aircraft to Lawrence Leon, Arroyo 880, Buenos Aires, Argentina 3 February 1932.

(3) C.W. Webster, Curtiss-Wright Export Division New York to Captain C.K. Travis, c/o Webster and Ashton, Casilla 144, La Paz, Bolivia. 18 July 1933.

(4) Lironi, Misiones Extranjeras: 1919-1924, pag.47

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