Avión Pirata en
Mar 2005
Foto: Michael Prophet




Aviation 101  


Lockheed Constellation



Specifications (L-049)


Data from the American Museum of Aviation

General characteristics


  • Cruise speed: 313 mph (503 km/h)
  • Range: 3,995 mi w/maximum fuel load
    2,290 mi w/maximum payload (6,429 km w/maximum fuel load
    3,685 km w/maximum payload)
  • Service ceiling: 25,300 ft (7711 m)


                            "El Avion Pirata"

    Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia 





Lockheed Constellation  L-049  N2520B  

 -    June 1971 El Trompillo airport      photo: ML Anderson 



Lockheed L-049 Constellation                                   c/n 2081                                                                                                                                                                                                                  


Lockheed Corporation                                                                              Built:                          1946  


Transcontinental & Western Air - (Later TWA)    N90819           - ntu                                      1946


LAV  -  Linea Aeropostal Venezolana S.A.         YV-C-AME                                       31 Oct 1946  


Braniff International Airways                               N2520B                                              5 Aug 1955  

                                 -wfu at Washington National Airport                                                 Aug 1958  

                                 - wfu at Dallas Love Field                                                                   Fall 1959  

                                 - "Fear" or "Panic" unofficial nicknames (!)                                                        

Transamerica Airlines                                                "                                                        Nov 1959  


Hubert M. Covert - (Cov-Air Aviation)                     "                                                     7 Nov 1960  

                             - Empire Supply Co.                                                                                                  

Lloyd International Airways                                      "                                                    22 Nov 1960

                            - co-chairman of the airline was Bolivian tin magnate J. Ortiz-Patino                            

Hubert M. Covert                                                       "                                                     10 Mar 1961


El Incidente en Bolivia:          30 Jul 1961  

        Artículo de AviaciónBoliviana.Net                             

Contrabando aéreo en 1961:

La Verdadera Historia del Avión Pirata

Con esta curiosa y sugestiva denominación desde hace 45 años es conocida esta clásica e imponente aeronave que no solamente forma parte del ornamento, sino de la tradición de Santa Cruz de la Sierra. En tal virtud, con la premisa de develar quimeras y especulaciones que desvirtúan este pintoresco pero a la vez trágico suceso de nuestros fastos aeronáuticos se presenta la verdadera historia del “Avión Pirata”.

© Ramiro Molina Alanes*

El resto del artículo en español se encuentra aqui: 



The Incident in Bolivia in 1961

     The more I look into this, the more intriguing the story becomes and more complex the background history of this incident is. Who was involved? Political parties? Government officials? Para-military groups, businessmen, an airline? What is known is that large quantities of merchandise were being transported between several countries of South America and Panama outside of  the normal channels of the import/export business and without the usual customs duty and taxes being paid.

     The basic facts are these: on 30 July 1961 two F-51 Mustangs of the Bolivian Air Force (FAB) intercepted a four-engine Lockheed aircraft near Santa Cruz, Bolivia and forced it to land at El Trompillo airport in Santa Cruz. In the attempt to re-direct the flight of the Constellation, one of the Mustangs had crashed in town killing the pilot. The five crew members of the cargo plane were taken into custody, four Americans (USA) and one Brazilian, and the cargo was seized.                            


     Soon more information came to light. From at least May thru July of that year one or more aircraft had been detected coming and going from El Trompillo, usually landing late in the evening and departing very early the next morning. These aircraft were referred to as the "fantasma" and later the "pirata" because of very little communication, if any, was passing between the aircraft and the control tower or other ground personnel. In fact, upon landing, the aircraft was being surrounded by a group of "para-military" guards, and any loading or unloading of cargo was done by that same group. Apparently, refueling was done by hand - using buckets.

     It seems that this para-military group or militia was under the direction or control of the local branch of the political party MNR (Revolutionary Nationalist Movement). The co-founder of the party, Dr. Victor Paz Estenssoro, was currently President of Bolivia. [I met him in La Paz in 1972 as he was traveling to the USA for medical treatment].                                                                              

     A government official notified FAB that some illegal activities were taking place at the airport in Santa Cruz and two F-51 Mustangs (P-51 in the USAF) were sent from La Paz to the Colegio Militar de Aviacion at El Trompillo. The fighter pilots had instructions to force the "piratas" to divert to Cochabamba after leaving Santa Cruz, where a military presence would await them.                        

     On the evening of 29 July, a Lockheed Constellation with the US registration of N2520B landed, unloaded some cargo, refueled and at 06:30 the following Sunday morning lifted off without submitting the usual flight plan and cargo manifest, as if on a "check-out" flight; but it was fully fueled.                                                                                                                                                    

     The two Mustangs immediately took off in pursuit and intercepted the Constellation 120 kms. from Santa Cruz. The fighter pilots and the control tower in Santa Cruz ordered the big cargo plane, on the radio in Spanish and English, to divert to Cochabamba. Their response: they turned toward Argentina. Several passes by the fighters firing their machine guns in front of the Constellation finally convinced them to change course; but instead of heading to Cochabamba, (and the military reception), as instructed, they turned back to Santa Cruz; they had friends there.                                

     As the three planes approached Santa Cruz, the Constellation apparently made one last effort to elude its pursuers, and as a result one of the Mustangs, FAB-260, crashed near a major highway in the city, killing the pilot, Captain Alberto Peredo Cespedes.                                                                              

     At the airport the, crew was taken into custody, the cargo plane tires were "deflated", or shot out, to prevent the plane from taking off again and a contingent of troops from Cochabamba had arrived to secure the airport. At first, there was speculation that the Mustang had been somehow shot down by the Constellation, but no evidence of this was found.                                                        







Photo by Rolando Grasso Alfaro

This photo was taken on 15 Sept 1960 in Carrasco, Uruguay and shows four Bolivian Air Force pilots with Tte. Alberto Peredo Cespedes on the far right in front of the same F-51D Mustang FAB-260 that he piloted on the day he died.  







     After the incident, an investigation was ordered by Pres. Paz Estenssoro that led to the arrest of 85 military personnel and the dishonorable discharge of 130 others. The four crew members of the Lockheed Constellation were charged with homicide, piracy, violation of international laws and the transportation of contraband. Their names: the pilots William Ray Robinson and William Friedman, co-pilot Salvatore Enrique Romano (Brazilian), flight engineer Bertrand Vinson and radio operator Gene Hawkins. For a time the five were held at the Panoptico de La Paz jail; and then three were allowed provisional freedom and two were admitted to a local hospital under the personal guarantee  of the American vice-consul at the time, Samuel Karp.                                                            

     In Nov 1961 it was announced that the crew had escaped the country. They were tried "in absentia" and in 1967 the five were given terms of ten years in prison. None of the five has ever returned to Bolivia.


     Concerning the plane: on 25 Aug 1961 a local judge assigned a FAB commander as custodian of the airplane and it's contents as compensation for the lost FAB Mustang. The customs department in La Paz intervened and had the cargo transferred to the customs warehouse in the capital. The merchandise which included cigarettes, whiskey, textiles, nylon stockings, television sets, air conditioning units, etc, had a value, at that time, of over one million US dollars.                                

     The Constellation remained in Santa Cruz alongside the main runway and next to the Collegio Militar de Aviacion slowly deteriorating until it was moved in July 1972 to a small park on the Avenida Uruguay in the city. There it was painted as a Pepsi advertisement and later in the colors of the airline AeroSur and was used for a time as a library, a store, a bank and a tourist agency. The park where the "avion pirata" is located, "Parque Boris Banzer Prada", is sometimes well maintained by the city, and at other times is neglected.


                                                                                                                                             -  check the links below:






My first sighting of "El Avion Pirata"   20 May 1971   El Trompillo airport 






Great information on the "avion pirata" in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia:


 En español: 

La Verdadera Historia del Avión Pirata - AviaciónBoliviana ...







Historia fotográfica del Avión Pirata - AviaciónBoliviana.Net ::














Operated by Braniff International Airways  1955-1959 






Photo by Andy Martin 





Avenida Uruguay  Santa Cruz de la Sierra  




Photo: Roll Out - Spotting Aeronautico del Cono Sur                     21 Nov 2014  





                            More recent photos from 2005


Old N2520B  -  Photo courtesy of Michael Prophet


Lockheed L-049 by Michael Prophet 


Great closeups of "el avion pirata" by Michael Prophet  


 I guess they don't want you to sit by the nose gear                                                              photo by Michael Prophet from Holland 






What is the current state of this classic icon of Santa Cruz ?   

  I haven't seen it since 2003. 








If you are interested in Lloyd Aereo Boliviano or aviation in Bolivia in general, check out the Facebook page "Friends of Lloyd Aereo Boliviano".                                                                            


01.07.2018 16:06

michael kane

Here's a photo from 2012. The Aerosur colors are no longer on the aircraft. https://imgur.com/a/BErMLHL

20.07.2017 17:09

Carlos Abella

Estimada gente, muchas gracias por colocar una de las fotografías de mi sitio. Atte. Carlos Abella