Never on a Sunday: The tall tale of an Iberian Roland, Part 1

The Iberia, Compañía Aérea de Transportes Sociedad anónima Rohrbach Ro VIII Roland in the back was used for the Madrid-Barcelona flight of 14 December 1927. Anon., “Inauguración del nuevo servicio aéreo Madrid-Barcelona.” Aérea, October-December 1927, 33.

While it is true that the Canada Aviation and Space Museum of Ottawa, Ontario, is primarily interested in the history of this country’s aerospace industry and the preservation of its heritage, its staff will not neglect a good story when it sees one. Yours truly found this good story in the monthly (most of time) Spanish magazine Aérea. And yes, the museum’s library does have magazines from countries other than Canada. It has American, British and French magazines. It also has some / many Austro-Hungarian, Belgian, Chilean, Czech, Dutch, Finnish, German, Hungarian, Indian, Italian, Mexican, Polish, Portuguese, Soviet, Spanish, Swiss and Yugoslav magazines. These somewhat exotic publications date primarily from the 1920s and 1930s. I just love that library, but I digress.

On 14 December 1927, Iberia, Compañía Aérea de Transportes Sociedad anónima inaugurated its service between Madrid and Barcelona, Catalonia. Officially formed in July, this Spanish airline was entirely owned by a well known German airline, Deutsche Luft Hansa Aktiengesellschaft (DLH), a company with no legal connection to today’s Deutsche Lufthansa Aktiengesellschaft.

Given the importance of the Madrid-Barcelona air route, King Alfonso XIII, in other words Alfonso Léon Fernando María Jaime Isidro Pascual Antonio de Borbón y Austria-Lorena, agreed to be the honoured guest of Iberia, in Madrid. Indeed, there was no need to twist the royal arm. Alfonso XIII’s interest in aviation went way back. In February 1909, the young monarch had sat besides Wilbur Wright, at Pau, France, as the latter showed him the controls of a Wright Flyer. He had been sorely tempted to go up with this famous American aviation pioneer.

In any event, the Iberia airliner, a German-made Rohrbach Ro VIII Roland trimotor, flew from Madrid to Barcelona without a hitch. In the meantime, the Roland scheduled to make the flight in the other direction ran into a snow storm. Increasingly disoriented, the pilot landed to wait until the skies cleared. He arrived in Madrid two hours late.

Why are these flights of interest to me, you ask, my reading friend? For one thing, the registration of the Roland in the foreground of the photo above was, as you may have noticed, M-CACA. The latter part of this registration is a rather naughty word in Spanish. (A brief note for the hispanically-challenged people out there, caca means poop.) Yours truly must admit that he was amused when he first saw the photo. The fact that the people who chose that registration, in early December 1927, did not think their decision would prove controversial is somewhat mind boggling. Who blew a gasket, if I may use this expression, after seeing the Roland is unknown but the airplane became M-CAAC a few days before Christmas.

Interestingly enough, the similar sounding Canadian civil registration G-CAAC was given in 1919 to an American-made Curtiss HS-2L flying boat, the first bushplane operated in Canada. The first pilot of this historic machine, Canada’s first bush pilot, was Stuart Graham, an individual mentioned in an August issue of this blog / bulletin / thingee. The remains of this HS-2L, known as La Vigilance, as well as a magnificent replica, are on display at the Canada Aviation and Space Museum.

It is also worth noting that the Canadian registration G-CACA did not seem too shocking to the (unilingual anglophone?) powers that be who dealt with civilian aviation. Indeed, it was given to a war surplus two seat biplane registered in August 1920 by a First World War veteran, E.A. Alton of Winnipeg, Manitoba. This American-made Standard J-1, a military training airplane like the better known Curtiss JN-4 Jenny also used during the war if you must know, was damaged beyond repair in July 1922. And no, the Canada Aviation and Space Museum does not have a J-1 or a Jenny. This being said (typed?), it has a Canadian-made Curtiss JN-4 Canuck, currently on display. Do you remember Orvar Sigurd Thorsten “Swede” Meyerhofer, my reading friend? We met this pilot in a September issue of this blog / bulletin / thingee. Would you believe that the airplane he flew during his time with the Venice Aero Police was also a war surplus J-1?

More seriously, it is this writer’s contention that it is possible to link the father of the rigid airship, count Ferdinand Adolf Heinrich August von Zeppelin, with a well known, if potentially creepy, American movie actor and director, Heywood “Woody” Allen, born Allan Stewart Konigsberg, by using the Madrid-Barcelona / Barcelona-Madrid flights. You do not believe me, now, do you? Well, read on…. next week.

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Rénald Fortier