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MASSON’S MEXICAN MELEE

FRENCH AVIATOR Didier Masson competed in the Dominguez Air Meet, held January 10 to 20, 1910, near Los Angeles and the first international flying competition in the U.S. What with an ongoing Wright-Curtiss squabble (see www.wp.me/p2ETap-zA), the Dominguez meet was not without its own adventures. However, Masson went on to achieve aviation history in yet another way.

French

Didier Masson, 1886-1950, poses with Sonora, his Martin pusher aeroplane, 1913.

During 1913-1915, the number of mercenary pilots active in Mexico likely exceeded those flying for the fledgling U.S. Army Signal Corps Aeronautical Division. Didier Masson was one of these mercenaries.

Colonel Alvaro Obregon of the Sonoran Revolutionists could command the very best in his struggle against the Mexican Federal Government.

“Who was that French aviator at the 1910 Dominguez Air Meet?” he asked, “the one who flew his ‘Pegasus’ in Arizona.”

“Didier Masson; he’s an instructor at Glenn Martin’s now.”

“Yes, that’s the one. Go hire him, give him $5000 to buy an aeroplane and tell him I want those Federales bombed from the air as soon as possible.”

Before long, Didier Masson arrived in Tucson, Arizona, with a crated Martin pusher aeroplane, his first month’s pay of $300 and high hopes.

“I’ll get $50 for each reconnaissance flight,” he said, “and $250 more for each bombing expedition.”

Wouldn’t this be in direct countervention of the U.S. arms embargo?

“Yes, but….”

Just then, a U.S. marshal and his posse burst in.

“Hold on!,” said Marshal Johnson, “You’re all in direct countervention of the U.S. arms embargo! We’re taking you and that aeroplane of yours over to Pike’s Ranch for safe keeping.

“Deputy Hawkins,” the marshal said to a one-legged man leaning nearby, “You’re in charge of these scalawags until I get word from Washington what to do with them.”

Pas de problem,” said Didier, sidling up to the one-legged deputy, “I have a plan.”

On May 20, 1913, the newspaper headlines screamed “WAR PLANE, CREW AND ONE-LEGGED GUARD KIDNAPPED!”

Con

A contemporary report of the missing aeroplane, crew and apparently ex-deputy.

The Bisbee Daily Citizen reported “that the aeroplane crossed into Mexico yesterday afternoon in daylight, accompanied by a high-powered bomb of the gravity-contact type.”

“Actually,” said Didier, “we’ve already had a welcoming telegram from General Obregon.”

The careful reader will note Obregon’s speedy promotion, but there’s even better to come.

“He wants us to bring the machine down to Hermosillo,” said Masson, “and give some demonstration flights to help morale, then fly it over to his headquarters near Batamotal.

“It’s no problemo,” said Didier, evidently quick at picking up local lingo, “I’ll fly the Martin down and the others will follow by train.”

The others?

“Yes,” said Didier, “the crew with the high-powered bomb of gravity-contact type, and Major Hawkins.”

Major Hawkins?

“I told you I had a plan.” said Didier.

Morale

Didier Masson and his Martin pusher..

On May 16, 1913, Masson demonstrated the aeroplane as a morale booster. “Then it’s on to Guaymas and our new careers as mercenaries in service of the Constitutionalists.”

Our careers?

Correcto,” said Didier, again showing his natural facility for language, “me and Colonel Hawkins.”

Colonel Hawkins?

“I told you I had a plan,” said Didier.

mo

Sky Pioneering — Arizona in Aviation History, by Ruth M. Reinhold, Univ. of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1982.

Ruth Reinhold’s book on Arizona in Aviation History gives all the details: Amazingly enough, Didier Masson’s exploits with the crated Martin pusher, the phony kidnap and even one-legged Deputy Reuben Hawkins’ rapid rise in the Mexican Constitutionalists are all true.

On May 28, 1913, Masson targeted its bombs on the Federalist ship Morelos. Though it caused no damage, it certainly scared hell out of everyone and announced a new era of military tactics.

Preparing

The Sonora, preparing for a mission. Image from Sky Pioneering.

Masson had named his aeroplane the Sonora in honor of the Mexican state in which all this occurred. The Sonora dropped bombs and propaganda leaflets, the latter, likely with more effect. It was also used for reconnaissance duties. Masson kept this up until August 5, 1913, by which point he quit the Constitutionalists who were a month’s in arrears with his pay.

But the exploits of the Sonora continued. On April 15, 1914, now piloted by Gustavo Salinas, it actually hit and damaged the Federalist ship Guerrero at Topolobampa. Alas, 17 days later, the scrappy Martin pusher was “washed out,” as they said in those days (i.e., damaged beyond repair), at Mazatlan.

General Alvaro Obregon went on to become President of the new Mexican government, 1920-1924. Didier Masson had a rich career in aviation—in Hawaii, Canada, the U.S., France and eventually back in Mexico—until his death there in 1950. It’s not disclosed what happened to Colonel Reuben Hawkins. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2013

10 comments on “MASSON’S MEXICAN MELEE

  1. carmacarcounselor
    September 3, 2013

    Thanks for the very entertaining account.
    I note though, that like most gringos, Masson committed the Terminator 2 error. As anyone with a smattering of high school Spanish (*ahem!*) will tell you, It’s “no problema.” Even in Spanish, all problems are feminine.

  2. simanaitissays
    September 4, 2013

    Ha. A good one.
    Being a Frenchman, Masson would have probably been too gallant to ascribe all problems to feminine.
    By the way, later in life, he returned to Mexico, got married and worked for Pan American World Airways.

    • carmacarcounselor
      September 4, 2013

      Thanks for the postscript.. It’s good to know he continued a successful career in aviation. Dad came in later, shortly after Taylor moved to his hometown of Bradford, PA.

  3. R Tyler
    May 7, 2016

    It’s to bad his left his wife Marian destitute in Santa Barbara California. My grandmother used to check in on her and found her trying to survive on dog food so she would take her groceries. My sister has some amazing needle work that she gave my grandma to repay her

  4. Hello nice post I am write you from Hermosillo Sonora as you, I am interest in Didier Masson participation in the international chapter of the Mexican aviation, I am looking for a picture who has include airplane pilot Manuel Bauche Alcalde, and Didier this pilots Masson and Bauche bring the Curtiss Martin Pusher to the rebel state of Sonora . even with the great important in Sonora state are well unknown so my history mission, is to rescue this unknown couple and bring them in the chapter of honor please if you can help me rodsagem@yahoo.com Rodolfo Sanchez Gonzlez

    • simanaitissays
      August 22, 2017

      Thank you, JRSG, for your kind words.
      I’m afraid I can be of no help in your photo search. I believe my primary source was the book “Sky Pioneering.” Other photos may have come from Internet public domain sources.
      Good luck in your search.

    • Kentop
      August 4, 2018

      Captain Alcalde was not on the plane when Masson bombed the Tampico and Guerrero in Guaymas harbor. James Dean, from Australia was the bombardier who also constructed the bombs and the releasing mechanism that dropped hem. The plane was not a Curtiss Martin pusher, it was simply a Martin Pusher at that time. The name when the citizens of Hermosillo first saw the plane was “Amarillo Pårajo”, yellow bird because it had Goodyear rubberized coating on the wing fabric, which was yellow.

  5. Kentop
    August 4, 2018

    I am late to this party but there is much more to tell. With all due respect to Ruth Reinhold, whom I hold in high regard, misses the story. Glenn Martin took Curtis’ design and created a plane capable of lifting three people into the air. Masson, a pilot for Martin in California, agreed to take the massive plane to Mexico with the intent of flying two people and a load of bombs equaling three people ( at 150 lbs each) to stop the federal gunships in Guaymas Bay, Mexico. Masson, and his mechanic, James Dean from Australia, smuggled the plane from California through Tucson, Arizona, south towards Nogales, when they were apprehended by the local police, who had been tipped off by the federal government to seize the airplane for violating the war powers act which prohibited the sale of weapons to Foreign countries. There was an actual trial against Glenn Martin brought by the State Department. The records are In Tucson. the pilot, Didier Masson, who later flew with the Lafayette Escadrille in WWI, wound up working for TWA as the station manager for them in Mexico, where he is buried.

    • Kentop
      August 4, 2018

      oops, I meant Pan Am. He was actually the station chief in Belize for a time where he and his wife ran a hotel.

      As a post script, James Dean moved to California with his wife and she has the original contracts he and Masson signed. They are in Spanish. She moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. She had children who may have the original documents.

      James Dean had a brother with him when he came to America and hooked up with Masson. who was also involved in maintenance on the Sonora.

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This entry was posted on September 1, 2013 by in Vintage Aero and tagged , , , , .
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