Cochabamba is also the home of one of most successful and long-running piston engine operators in Bolivia. The man responsible for this is Rolando Canedo Lopez. He began his aviation career in 1947, at the age of 13, when he joined the mechanical school at Lloyd Aero Boliviano (LAB) as a junior mechanic. At that time LAB was operating Lockheed Lodestars and Douglas C-47s. He finished his training in 1950 and started working as an a/c inspector at LAB. One year later, during March 1951, LAB started a pilot school and Rolando was offered a pilot training scholarship. At that time, only LAB mechanics, where able to participate in flight training. During his training Rolando flew the single engine BT-13 Vultee. In December that year he received his pilot license. Based at Cochabamba he started multi engine training as 3rd crewmember with LAB DC-3s and C-46s. In March 1953 he received his co-pilot status and began flying the other aircraft types in the LAB fleet. Between 1953 and 1957 Rolando flew on the Douglas C-47s, DC-4s, Boeing B-17s, Curtiss C-46s and the civilian Liberator C-87. Both the C-87 and the B-17 were imported from the US in large numbers, and employed as freighters on the LAB network. They were mainly used to carry beef from the farms in the lowlands of the Beni to mining towns throughout Bolivia as well as carrying Brasil nuts from the Beni to the bigger cities. These old converted WW2 bombers were very well suited to the rigors of high altitude flying and despite their sleek shapes they were remarkably successful as freighters. In fact B-17s were still operational with other operators even up to the late seventies. By 1957 Rolando’s career had moved up when he became an instructor and check co-pilot for LAB. Soon afterwards he quit LAB and started working across the border in Argentina. He joined ‘Sociedad Argentina Linea de Transporte Aereo’ – SALTA, as mechanic, general manager and pilot. Most of his time was spent flying the company Cessna T-50 Bobcat on mixed passengers and newspaper flights. 4 months later SALTA was bankrupt and Rolando was back in Bolivia where he was offered a partnership in a local cargo operator based in La Paz, which operated under the name of: ‘Aerovias Condor’.
Captain Rolando started flying as pilot in command (PIC) with two C-47s, CP-639 (7375) and CP-645 (20199). Both C-47s where ex Alaska Airlines and had been purchased in Miami. ‘Aerovias Condor’ primary routes were hauling drilling equipment from La Paz to Tipuani, a small mining town 20 miles north of La Paz. The airfield of Tipuani was a small clearing in the forest of only 450 meters length. To make it even more interesting for the pilots, both ends of the strip crossed the river. This proved no real problem to the C-47 and the pilots! On the return flights to La Paz they would typically haul between 200-400 kg of gold. Captain Rolando flew some 2000 flights on his working C-47. In later years the Tipuani airstrip became disused and soon afterwards disappeared as it was swallowed up by the river. Bolivia is now also oil producing country and several oil companies such as ‘Bolivian Gulf’, ‘Shell’, ‘BP’ and ‘Occidental’ where at that time very busy in Bolivia searching for oil. The Loveland Brothers, a drilling company from Venezuela, had urgent needs to supply numerous drilling sites with heavy equipment. ‘Aerovias Condor’ secured a lucrative contract, transporting large and heavy loads to these drilling sites. In 1959 two Fairchild C-82As Packets, CP-677 (10117) and CP-678 (10128) where bought from Copesa in Costa Rica. The drilling company ensured that all equipment was especially modified to fit into the hold of the Packet. Flying operations was conducted both day and night under VFR rules.
Additional flights were made for another company called ‘Union Brazil’. One of the C-82 (CP-677) met a premature ending when it crashed on take-off at Santa Cruz in July 1959. The noise level during take off in a C-82 is so high that important call-outs are done by hand signals. In this case during the take off roll the first officer apparently mistook the captain scratching his moustache as the signal for “gear-up”. The results were as expected with the Packet sinking back onto the runway and crashing! In 1960 ‘Aerovias Condor’ had to ground its fleet due to financial difficulties. They were unable to pay their landing fees to LAB, which owned all the airports in Bolivia, at that time. The C-47s and C-82 stayed on the ground for more than a year! During that time the mining companies started working on building roads to their mining sites. This in turn diminished the need for air transportation of heavy loads.
Early 1961 ‘Aerovias Condor’ decided to relocate its business to Cochabamba. Here the fleet got involved with hauling general cargo and beef. Captain Rolando was flying the remaining C-82 from Magdalena to San Lorenzo with typical loads of 6000 kg. At San Lorenzo the two C-47s would wait and transport it further to Cochabamba. Some of the beef flights would go further afield to Porto Belo and Rio Branco in Brazil. During this period ‘Aerovias Condor’ expanded its fleet with a C-46D Commando, CP-730 (33457). But in 1963 ‘Aerovias Condor’ went out of business and Captain Rolando was left without any job. But he was not a man to sit still for very long and during that same year he bought his first own plane, a Cessna 310 CP-653 and started flying as Taxi Aero Cooper. He did not have the money to buy his plane outright, so he operated as an air taxi, paying off his debt and finally becoming the owner. A year later he was approached to buy a Rockwell Aerocommander in Lima, Peru. He went out to have a look at it. Despite not having any engines or fuel cells Rolando recognized the potential of the Aerocommander. He traded in his Cessna 310 and spare parts and bought the Aerocommander CP-744 ex OB-M-573 (341-34). He finally got around restoring it back to flying status and started operating as ‘Air Taxi Rolando Canedo Lopez’ .He landed a contract, flying executives for the Bolivian Mining Corporation out of Cochabamba, a job ideal for the Aerocommander.
In 1965 he added a Turbo Commander (CP-894) to his fleet, and for almost a full year he operated both aircraft. Eventually he sold this one to the Mining Corporation. For almost 6 years Captain Rolando continued his air taxi business. In 1971 Captain Rolando started his own cargo company ‘Servicios Aereos Virgen de Copacabana - SAVCO’ and bought two ex American Airlines Douglas DC-6, CP-926 (43043) and CP-927 (43035). He used the DC-6s to transport beef from the lowlands Beni to Cochabamba. Additionally beef charters were carried out to Chili. He resold the company in 1973 to Raul Bedoya, which carried on using Douglas DC-3s and later added C-46s.
Eager to get back into the business he purchased a Fairchild C-82 Packet, CP-983 (10147) in 1976 from the ex-president of ‘Bolivia, ‘Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada’.. The odd looking Packet was one that previously operated for many years with Cruzeiro do Sul in neighboring Brazil as a freighter. The aircraft was now operated in a red color-scheme and was named ‘Moby Dick’ . He ferried the C-82 from Santa Cruz to Cochabamba for some tender loving care and then started operating beef flights to neighboring strips in the Beni. Initially Rolando had some problems finding co-pilots for his C-82. Not too many pilots had much faith in the C-82 take-off performance at the high altitude airport of Cochabamba. Most of the C-82 flights went uneventful, but one flight he remembered very well. He was scheduled to fly out a heavy drilling pump from Santa Cruz to a mining site, which weighed 7500 kg which would bring the airplane right up to it’s maximum operating weight. As is normal in Santa Cruz ‘El Tromotillo’ the wind picked up in the late afternoon and a hefty 30kts wind was blowing right over the runway when the C-82 started it’s take off. Rolando thought that this would help get the aircraft airborne but to his surprise he still needed the full length of the runway to lift off and struggled to maintain a slow rate of climb! It took a staggering full hour to climb up to his cruising altitude of 6000 ft. When they arrived it was late and the airstrip was deserted so they just closed up for the night and went to their local sleeping quarters. The next morning Captain Rolando returned to offload his C-82, only to find the C-82 had sank axle-deep into the soft ground. Re-checking his cargo manifest with the mining crew, it appeared a mistake had been made and his total weight was actually10.000kg. (This was 2.500 kg over the limit of the maximum payload!) After 1 year he sold ‘Moby Dick’ to Captain Jose Villaroel. The C-82 did not last very long. On the 24th December 1975 while trying to take off from a wet runway at San Ramon, with a cargo of 5000 kg of beef, he was unable to rotate and crashed into a tractor at the end of the runway destroying the aircraft.
In August 1979 Rolando Canedo Lopez founded ‘ - LAC’ thanks to the city of Potosi, which needed a regular air service with the city of Cochabamba. LAC’s first Douglas C-47A CP-583 (9668) was purchased from LAB. CP-583 was used on passenger flights to and from the Beni. She replaced the F-27, which was dropped from the LAB schedule. Additional DC-3s entered the fleet. These were Douglas DC-3 CP-733 (2182), CP-1059 (2173) and CP-1128 (1998). Between 1978 and 1983 the LAC DC-3 fleet was busy operating the routes between the cities of Cochabamba, Trinidad, Santa Ana, Guayaramerin, Riberalta, San Ramon, San Joaquin, Magdalena and Cobija.
Early 1994s LAC purchased an ex FAA C-47 from the Brazilian Airforce museum at Campo dos Afoncos in Rio de Janeiro. This C-47, CP-2255 (25951) was used as a calibration a/c and LAC removed some 1800-kg of cables and radio equipment from it. It was restored to flying status and painted it in the familiar dark blue LAC colors complete with polished skin. CP-2255 was leased to Caribbean Flights (Venezuela) from 1992 to 1994. This company was based at Maracai and only made 2-3 flights before they went out of business! Caribbean Flights refused to pay the lease costs and failed to return the a/c to Bolivia. To this day Rolando has been unable to retrieve his C-47 from Venezuela due to bureaucracy and red tape! The C-47 still lingers on at Valencia Airport carrying YV-912C markings. Between 1993 and
1996 LAC expanded its network and took over some of the LAB routes previously flown by F-27, this time covering the whole of eastern Bolivia. 1997 saw the arrival of a new type for . Captain Rolando was in the US looking for suitable Douglas DC-3s when he was approached to buy five ex USAF C-131 Convair from a Davis Monthan storage yard. A certain gentleman Mr. Robert Smirnow (a former dentist in the USAF) had bought 15 Convair airframes and offered them for sale. Captain Rolando visited Tucson and inspected the Convairs. They where in excellent condition
He lacked the funds to buy 5 aircraft’s so a deal was struck to purchase one C-131, CP-2236 (215). 30.000 $ Dollars was needed to prepare the a/c and ferry it to Cochabamba. Soon after a second Convair CP-2237(228) made its way to Bolivia. Both Convair where restored to full passenger configuration and painted in the familiar LAC ‘navy’ blue house colors. The polished skin Convairs where even used by LAB (between 2000 and 2001) to fly certain passenger routes into the Beni. The passengers favored the Convair over the Fokker F-27 for its spacious cabin and low noise level. Not only did the Convairs perform reliably, with no serious delays encountered, they also enjoyed a much better payload than the younger Fokkers. This due to the much-reduced performance of turboprop engines at high elevation airports.
In addition to the LAB flights the Convairs were also used on ad-hoc charter flights for local casinos in Santa Cruz, Cordoba, Santa Fe and across the border to Salta, Argentina. During 2001 an American aircraft broker offered the 2 Convairs for sale…which was very strange because Rolando never agreed to this beforehand! The advertisement did not go unnoticed and a telephone call came from a certain Mr. Rohan Vos from South Africa wishing to inspect the Convairs. Upon viewing the impeccable Convairs a deal was soon truck. Now flying under the wings of Rovos Air, both C-131s continue their career on the African continent.
Over the years Captain Rolando noticed a forgotten passenger market which needed to be served again. For this he needed an aircraft, which would serve the low lands Beni, with its numerous short field airstrips. Many people in the Beni do their shopping at the larger cities such as Trinidad. Many small settlements and villages have no road, the only way to get large and heavy item at their destinations is by air. The only aircraft that fits that bill is the immortal Curtiss C-46 Commando, with its 40 seats capacity and maximum payload of 5000 kg. Several C-46s still linger on at La Paz. The famous beef haulers ‘Carniceros’ have all gone out of business and the ex Frigorifico Santa Rita C-46D CP-973 (32941) was offered for sale. Captain Rolando purchased it in 2001 and ferried the C-46 to Cochabamba and began working on it. Work started by generally cleaning the aircraft by opening all panels. An estimated 300 kg of dirt and dried beef was removed from every possible nook and cranny. Currently the restoration of CP-973 is 85 % finished. The cockpit and cabin have been fully restored. All systems have been refurbished or made new. Both engines and props are zero timed. Once ready the C-46 will be flown in a 30-seat configuration plus up to 2500kg of cargo. Acc to Captain Rolando and his son Roberto Canedo (pilot and general manager) the C-46 will become operational later in this year. Another C-46 has been purchased; this is the CP-1080 (26771) also ex Frigorifico Santa Rita, which is currently stored at La Paz airport. Ultimately this C-46 which join CP-973 flying in the Beni although no time table has been given
After selling his Convairs Captain Rolando was once more searching for suitable airplanes in the USA On one of his previous trip to Tucson (Arizona) scra-yards and storage facilities he noticed many ex military Super DC-3. Always looking out for a solid and sound airplane to operate in the hot and high conditions of the Bolivian Andean Mountains he considered using a C-117D. Checking for suitable airframes, he came across an ex Dominican freighter, which was for sale in South Florida. Considering the improved benefits of the Super DC-3, more streamline appearance, new outer square wingtips, new tail assembly, new and tighter engine cowlings and redesigned landing gear fairing and doors, which increased the top speed significantly. Coupled with the powerful Pratt and Whitney R-2000-D7 (14-cylinder radial) or the Wright Cyclone R-1830-C9HE (9 cylinder single row) it gave the super DC-3 superior operational advances over the normal DC-3. Considering the bargain price of the C-117 Captain decided to buy the aircraft
The history of this particular aircraft can be traced back to 12 April 1944. Originally built as a standard Navy model R4D-5 (c/n 12979) She was delivered to the US Navy NATS VR-3 and VR-4 squadron. She was part of a batch of 100 aircraft’s to be converted to Super DC-3 status known as R4D-8, which in turn became the C-117D. Converted in 1962 she was delivered to the USMC at Beaufort as H & MS 27 ‘QF’. She ended her naval career and moved to Davis Monthan storage yards Tuscon (Arizona) from September 1976 to February 1977. In November 1983 she began her new civilian career with Hawkins & Powers Aviation Inc. as N4505W. Not sure if H&P used her for cargo operations, but by the mid eighties she was sold to Trado/Trans Dominican Airways as HI-545CT. I personally photographed this aircraft on the ramp of Las Americas Airport, Santo Domingo, in between cargo flights. Acc to the records she was leased to Aero Nicaragua for a short while, before returning to Trado. After the cargo scene at Santo Domingo airport collapsed the Super DC-3 was sold to the US and was seen December 1993 at Opa Locka and later at Tamiami Airport (FL), still in bare metal look registered as N545CT. Registered to Robinson Air Crane she was noted at Deland Airport (FL) May 1998 with a ‘For Sale’ sign in the cockpit window. In May 2002 she was still seen at Opa Locka airport being worked on, she now had a different set of propeller blades belonging to a Grumman S2 Tracker?
On the 27th August 2002 Lineas Aereos Canedo purchased the Super DC-3 and registered it CP-2421. (Her US registration was cancelled on the 24th September 2002 and mention was made as ‘exported to Bolivia’) Still in bare metal colors, CP-2421 was seen at Curacao ‘Hato’ Airport (Dutch Antilles) during February 2003. Apparently an engine had failed and the ferry flight was diverted to Hato, where the crew had to change the offending engine. After the successful ferry Cochabamba, LAC initiated a complete restoration in order to bring this former freighter back to a passenger carrying aircraft. 56% of the aircraft skin had been replaced, while the whole cabin was refurbished with brand new cabin lining, window panels, a rear toilet and stowage area. The rebuilt took one and a half years and cost roughly $300,000 dollars.
In July 2004 Aerosur (Bolivia leading airline) launched a new concept of air travel in Bolivia, by introducing ‘Nostalgic Flights’ using a vintage Douglas DC-3, in this case a Super DC-3 as known as a C-117D (military designation). CP-2421 was completely refurbished to carry 31 passengers in a very comfortable cabin with leather seats and ample legroom, which includes a lavatory and a small galley. Cool drinks and meals are served by Aerosur flight attendants in classic 50’s style uniforms. The highly polished Super DC-3 is leased to Aerosur, which now offers two very unique flights in South America. Linking the major cities La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz with Salar de Uyuni and Rurrenabaque two of the most important tourist destination in Bolivia. Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt lake in the world. At an altitude of 10.000 ft and with its surface of about 7.250 sq miles the desolate and moonlike landscape is popular with the tourist. Rurrenabaque located in the lowlands beside the Beni River is the starting point of varies trips and expeditions into the pampas and Amazon forests.
During our second visit Roberto Canedo introduced me to some of his friends, which turned out to be three lovely sisters. I asked them if they would be interested in doing a photo-shoot in front of the fleet as a tribute to all the Bolivian stewardesses. Sure enough a couple of days later Dany, Lucia and Andrea turned up and posed in front of the mighty Super DC-3 and the Curtiss Commando. They are originally not native Bolivian but instead born in Venezuela, but have lived in Cochabamba since early age. Below are some samples of that 2006 photo-shoot.