Chapter 5
Shakir Jerwan in Guatemala

By Manuel Idígoras Fuentes
Introductory Comments by Juan Manuel Quesada, 12-16-05
Shakir Saliba Jerwan (1881-1942) Born on February 16, 1881 in Beirut, Lebanon, when it was part of Syria. He was from the Batroum, Lebanon family He was the son of the Reverend Saliba Jerwan, who was the first evangelical protestant to be ordained in Lebanon, and who was born in the Middle East and of Mrs. Farida Saliba, opthalmologist.

He arrived in the United States with his three Fuad brothers (who worked with Jerwan in various aspects of aviation), Amin and Samuel.

Jerwan was part of the first class of the "Moisant Aviation School" along with Harriet Quimby, Matilde Moisant, Ferdinand E. DeMurias of Cuba and Harold Kantner and obtained pilot's license no. 54 in August of 1911. He was a student of Andre Houpert, who had graduated from the Blériot School in France.
After graduating as a pilot, he devoted himself to writing flight instruction manuals and to aircraft design, gaining enough distinction in those branches so that Alfred J. Moisant named him chief of pilots, instructor and general manager of the Moisant Aviation School

Regarding Minerly Wilson, I have not found any information, only that Miguel Idígoras Fuentes writes that after his stay in Guatemala, he distinguished himself in the European war.

On the development of these two aviators in Guatemala, there are two slightly contradictory versions. The one of Alberto de la Riva and the one of Manuel Idígoras Fuentes (Director General of Guatemala)

Both agree that Jerwan arrived in Guatemala after the 15th of June, 1915 as a replacement for Murvyn Wood and that Wilson arrived later. In ning?art?lo of national press it is mentioned to Jerwan before the 15 of June of 1915.

It appears to me that the Fuentes version may be the more correct, inasmuch as he was a contemporary with Jerwan, while De La Riva had already retired.

Here is the Idígoras Fuentes version:

By Manuel Idígoras Fuentes
Courtesy of Juan Manuel Quesada, 12-16-05
The aeronautical activities were in a backwater in Guatemala through the year 1915. Mister Wood, a competent American pilot, had returned to his country, but the Italian mechanic, Manlio Montanelli. remained in Guatemala. The absence of a pilot did not hinder the activities of Don Manlio. Besides maintaining the "Moisant" biplanes, powered by Gnome rotary engines of eighty horsepower, - being well of Don Manuel (Manuel Estrada Cabrera-inevitably had to be a Blériot XI), he devoted himself to constructing a national aeroplane, an exact copy of the "Moranne," which years previously had been destroyed while being flown by Alberto de la Riva , (that is the Nieuport, which according to de la Riva would uniquely serve to train aviators, as well as to serve in the field. This new aeroplane, powered by an Anzani motor of sixty five hp., was designed and built in Guatemala, in the "Rubio" factories. It bore the National Shield in relief, and I believe included the pompous phrase, "Made in Guatemala", which was then only a hope.

In the middle of that year, some officers from the Military School left to enter the Aviation School.
Montanelli received them with open arms

Just a short time later, the new pilot, Mr. S.S. Jerwan, arrived. He was originally from Syria, but had become a naturalized American citizen. He had earned his pilot's license number 53 from the Aeroclub of America. He was director of the first School of Aviation in the United States, where he had taught Murvyn Wood and many other American and Mexican pilots who later becames aces. The Mexican, General Salinas, had been one of his students.

Mister Jerwan was the prototypical prudent Aviator, more prudent even than Colonel García Granados. He always sought the highest level of security, avoiding all those mishaps caused by negligence or distraction. Every day, upon arriving at the field, even though he did not plan to fly, he performed a meticulous inspection of the aeroplane.

Days before Montanelli completed the National Aeroplane, the Mexican aviator Carlos Combal arrived, who had learned to fly in France. A little later, Combal became a skilled pilot in his mother country and then died a few years later of a heart attack, just moments before taking off in a "Farman" with several passengers.

It seems that these two aviators spent their time in a rivalry, hating each other. Jerwan and Combal continued that hatred until death. Though Jerwan didn't like the flight characteristics of the aeroplane which had been copied by Montanelli, and stated that he wouldn't be the one who would test it, but changed his mind when he learned that Combal was prepared to make the test flight, because of their conflict. Consequently, he arrived at the field in the early morning got into the "Moranne, " (the modified Nieuport), taxied to the extreme south of the field, and then, shouting an insult in Syrian to Combal, gave the signal and took off. It is well to remember that because the Marte field was small, it was customary for the assistants to hold back the aeroplane while the pilot gunned the motor to full power. When he considered that the motor was at maximum power, he lowered his arm, the signal to the crew to let the plane go The airplane then did not have brakes and to measure the power of the engine, it was tied to a post by means of a cable, in which was a dynamometer which would measure the force of the motor. Remember that the "Moisant" (the modified Nieuport), was normal, when it arrived at four hundred pounds or more. The aeroplane accelerated rapidly and took off in about one hundred meters. It cleared the cypresses on the north side of the field with about five meters of clearance. The wings, I well remember, fluttered in a transverse direction, in spite of the calm atmosphere, and that is a characteristic when they are going to lose speed and stall. About a thousand meters of the departure point, and at about forty in altitude, the "Moranne" (The modified Nieuport), began to fall to the left side and crashed into a house. Jerwan suffered a tremendous brain concussion, abrasion of his scalp, and a temporary dislocation of a vertebra, which required him to stay in bed for three months.

When Jerwan was able to speak, he blamed the mechanic; who defended himself saying that he had advised the aviator to only make a short flight or perhaps to cancel it entirely..

From the wreckage of the aeroplane, Montanelli, who was tireless, constructed a small plane with short wings, with a three-cylinder "Anzani" motor, which served as the training plane for the School. The classes of School of Aviation were more theoretical than practical and those of the mechanic were the reverse. If was not difficult to get a ride as a passenger in the "Moisant", (Blériot XI), on the occasion of some national celebration, but the students rarely got to fly.

The activities were frequently suspended. This by virtue of a lack of spare parts and having to order them from the United States. The students frequently left the School, to play polo with Jerwan or to learn juggling from Combal.

The minister of promotion of that era, bought in the United States a blue aeroplane, with wings of taube, a two place monoplane with a "Gyros" motor. Mister Minerly WIlson was contracted to handle it and to deliver it by air, accompanied by his wife. He was small, thin and 22 years old. The plane had to depart June 30, 1916. Minerly began his test flights a few days earlier. He taxied the length of the field without taking off. Afterward, he learned that the ceiling was only of three thousand feet. and we are at five thousand.
On June 28, at eight in the morning, when the field was crowded of troops reviewing the trial which would confirm the departure on the 3oth, Minerly made the final attempt. The soldiers made space for him. After warming up the motor and making two test runs without success, he prepared to make the final attempt. Minerly was all man and an excellent aviator, but the exact opposite of Jerwan with respect to caution. Giving the aeroplane full power, when arriving at the middle of the field, he turned toward the canyon, and in an impulse which nobody could oppose, threw himself into the canyon and continued his flight five meters below the level of the field.
We all waited with stopped hearts, the outcome. Minerly followed the canyon northward and was soon lost to sight. hoping that God would enable him to gain altitude. A quarter of an hour later, we saw him approach from the south, over the cypresses at the edge of the field. He was in a quandry. He wanted to land immediately, but the troops had obstructed the field, were beyond the control of their officers and nobody knew what was going to happen. He continued toward the south, and upon arriving at the cornfields of Joaquin Mont, dropped toward the left wing and crashed into the ground..
The recently tilled land, saturated with rainwater, was the place where the aeroplane crashed. They had to use an axe to extricate Minerly, he was so embedded in the wreckage of his ship. Two months in bed in the Military Hospital, were sufficient for his recovery. The wound in the region of his beard hadn't healed well: like when a vest is buttoned but lacking one button. It arrives exceeded lip to him and down it needed ment? It is recorded that months later, upon returning to the United States, Minerly, who had been suffering in silence was operated on again and a wood chip was found in the wound, making him eligible for indemnification from our Government. Minerly later distinguished himself in World War I.

At this point, I pause to make some comments on the
narrative of Manuel Idígoras Fuentes:

On page 8 of the July 1, 1916 edition of the Diario de Centro América, it is written, "Remarkable Maneuvers were conducted by Shakir Saliba Jerwan during the June 30 celebrations." On that day, Minerly Wilson was not able to fly. Nevertheless, the press already did not cover aviation with the enthusiasm that had in the beginning. On this occasion, they only published a small article on one of the interior pages, without any photographs or more details.

On the Internet there is a list of "aces" of aviation. They designate them as "aces" only after they had shot down five enemy aeroplanes. Neither Minerly Wilson, nor Captain Baron Rene d'Eydne, who is referred to later by Manuel Idígoras Fuentes, appear in the list. Nevertheless, that does not mean that they had not been pilots during the war

Continuing with the narrative of Manuel Idígoras Fuentes

With several alternatives, we followed the students without losing the sacred fire. After waiting for some spare parts, the Penguin was restored, but only for a few days. We practiced short hops on the 27th of December, 1916. In order to fly the small plane, in a straight line, the tail was raised as far as possible, and by making a violent movement to the stick, the apparatus was launched, raising itself about three or four meters and advancing in flight, about twenty. One movement, more violent than the others, caused it to drop vertically, from about eight meters, breaking the cowling, which caused a traumatic injury to the left knee

Idígoras Fuentes notes that 1917 passed without any new developments in National Aviation, the earthquake ???? a paroxysm. Meanwhile, aviation progressed in Europe in giant strides, impelled by the warring countries.


A French Military Mission arrived in Guatemala in August of 1918 whose assignment was to organize the Guatemalan Army, that fought elbow to elbow with France and her allies.
Captain Baron Rene d'Eydne, ace French combat aviator, was a member of the Mission. He had served in almost all the fronts, and because of his daring, his chest was adorned with the most important French, English, Italian and Russian decorations. He had shot down several enemy airplanes and as well, was injured on three occasions. Six enemy bullets left in their marks on the hero.
Neither France nor Northamerica were willing to loan or divert a single one of their airplanes. Nevertheless, due to the persuasion by d'Eynde, they agreed to furnish three "Breguet-14", that were the last word in French construction.

Captain d'Eydne, who was the logical organizer, began to confront the Director regarding a certain Ferro, who he challenged to fly solo. He ordered him to print flight notebooks, and to keep whatever record books might be needed. He asked for and was granted permission so that all the young officers should be sent to the Aviation school in order to select to the most apt and willing. The selection was made in the Penguin and in the "Moissant"
Completing the elimination process, he then assembled the remaining candidates into the first squadrons, those who were chosen to fight with the forces of democracy in the skies of France.

Everybody was fascinated with the medals which Captain d'Eydne wore, especially the French Cross of War, on which was placed golden metal palms, one for each enemy plane demolished. The future fighter squadron, was formed by Enrique C. Valladares, Julio Pablo García, Holger Holm, Arturo Castro Meza and a servant. The bombing one by Ureta, Cemeira, Filiberto Aguilar, Enrique Cifuentes and many others. Mario Ochoa was the Adjutant General of the Captain. Daniel Corado served as the head mechanic.

Almost everyone was already skilled and tired of short hops and hoped for the opportunity to fly solo in the "Moisant" (Blériot XI), but the Captain inspected the apparatus and declared it to be unserviceable and dangeroius. It had been in service since 1912.

Comments on the previous facts: It was then that the Blériot XI ended its days. As it had been noted earlier, it had been a magnificent apparatus and nobody had had an accident in it. Some people have written that Jerwan's accident was in this plane, but Idígoras gave a detailed explanation of the event. Naturally, from 1912 to 1921 (that was when the first airplanes came to Guatemala), the evolution of airplanes was enormous, the reason why later generations of Guatemalan pilots could work with very different apparatuses.

Ended then the Blériot its days "it's possible to say entirely", after having probably served for the training in the "Moisant" since 1912, after having served for Wood and Nannini in the academy training the first group of students as pilots, who probably flew in the apparatuses as passengers, as Wood did also his wife, Nannini to the Costa Rican l Mariana Invernnizio and knowing that to other people. Despu?de to have served Jerwan to him to train or perhaps so single to take to the students of the second litter of students to pilots, within who it was the same Id?ras and Colonel Enrique Cifuentes to whom conoc?

In the house of my parents conserv?or many a? h?ce broken that him fractur?a leg to Dante; vestige that llegu? to know the famous and excellent Bl?ot

Continuing again with the narration by Idígoras Fuentes

Just a short time after the armistice was announced, Ve?e to begin a new era of peace and hope; we lost very expensive ours and saw disappear the Cross military and its palmitas, together with the much glory that pens?mos to conquer for pa? Little sobrevivi?l Bar ?al armistice. Muri?n Quetzaltenango of an appendicitis attack.

A great one p?ida was for Guatemala the death of the Capit?d'Eynde. The three airplanes "Breguet 14", were returned of the wharves to makes it. With its overflowing enthusiasm, its competition and esp?tu that hab?sabido to inculcar to its students, soon Guatemala of ten to fifteen Pilots had had.

The Aviaci?Nacional had another collapse, Mister Jerwan and Montanelli retired, tired to struggle in vain.

The exact date of the retirement of Jerwan and Montanelli I have not been able it to establish with clarity, but as it is seen in fotograf? both they were together with d'Eynde a time

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