Diaz La Estrella Errante / Wandering Star
In the 1940s, Benigno Diaz put together Cuba’s first homebuilt, assembled from plans in Popular Mechanics, with the help of a childhood friend, Roberto Gude. In 1938, Diaz and Gude used wood from fish crates and poplin from a fabric store to begin constructing the island’s first experimental aircraft. “It took us years,” Gude says. “We had to beg for every nut and bolt and piece of fabric and wood. Everything on that plane was improvised.”
The landing gear was crafted from automobile exhaust pipes. One friend, a pilot, donated a 65-hp Continental engine and the tires off a Piper J-3 Cub. After seven years, the airplane dubbed La Estrella Errante (Wandering Star) was finished. Diaz’s father was there for the 1945 maiden flight. He approached his son, put his arm around him, and said, “Benigno, are you sure you tightened all the bolts on that thing?” Diaz nodded. He climbed into the cockpit, turned the aircraft onto the grass field, and gave it power. Gaining speed, the little airplane bounced and lifted off. “It flew very well,” says Diaz, who still has a small model of his handiwork. “It was the first flight of the first homemade plane on the island.”
In 1999, the fate of that homebuilt airplane was unknown. Some say it was shipped to a military airfield in Cuba. “We heard it was there in mothballs, but we don’t know for sure. Someone else said the plane had been left outside on a tie-down and simply rotted.” Covered with house paint, its primitive construction “would not have stood up very long outside”.