The Return of a Legend: 1934 Stinson Reliant SR-5A Flies Home to Mexico City

Capt. Bob Schneberger (US Airways, Ret.) remembers when he first laid eyes on the 1934 Stinson Reliant SR-5A in the summer of 2013 at the EAA AirVenture Oshkosh fly-in and convention.

The former Eastern, Trump Shuttle, and US Airways pilot immediately fell in love with the airplane and introduced himself to the Stinson owner, Keith Swalheim, to inquire about purchasing the airplane. As a result, Schneberger became the next in a long line of the airplane’s titleholders.

Upon returning to his home in McLean, Va., Schneberger received an e-mail from Ray Sinatra, a documentary producer who was working on a film about Aeroméxico’s first flight in celebration of the carrier’s 80th anniversary. Sinatra was looking for a Stinson Reliant for the part. He asked Schneberger if the Stinson was flyable and if he'd be willing to fly the airplane to Mexico City.

Schneberger declined, but during the exchange he disclosed that according to the aircraft’s paperwork, one of the previous owners, Antonio Díaz Lombardo, had been a resident of Mexico City. Knowing that Lombardo was the founder of Aeroméxico, Sinatra asked for the airplane’s tail number, and it was soon determined that Schneberger’s Stinson was the same aircraft used to fly Aeroméxico’s first flight.

Efforts to make the documentary fell through, but after the correspondence Schneberger felt compelled to notify Aeroméxico of the discovery. The airline flew representatives to Virginia during the summer of 2015 to see the airplane and confirm its provenance. 

This set into motion a historic journey to fly the Stinson to its original home in Mexico City, where it first departed from 82 years ago. 

The Stinson's flight home began on May 26, 2016. Schneberger departed from the Manassas Regional Airport in Manassas, Va., accompanied by Aeroméxico Capt. Alejandro Garfias, a B-737 pilot and Asociación Sindical de Pilotos Aviadores member. 

The pair immediately hit it off and shared numerous laughs and adventures on their multi-leg journey. Upon landing in Matamoros, Mexico, Schneberger signed the paperwork for the Stinson Reliant’s return to Aeroméxico before continuing on to Tampico and Santa Lucia, just north of Mexico City.

Due to airport restrictions, the Stinson's final trip to Mexico City International Airport didn’t occur until five months later, once Aeroméxico had worked with Mexico’s aviation regulatory authority to verify that the airplane’s commercial certificate and paperwork were valid.

The SR-5A made its historic return to Mexico City on Feb. 5, 2017. Three days later, nearly 1,000 Aeroméxico employees and guests crowded into an airline hangar for a special ceremony to honor the “return of the legend.” Schneberger and Garfias taxied the Stinson, which had been repainted in its original livery, in front of the exuberant crowd.

A documentary, Stinson: El Regreso de Una Leyenda (YouTube), by Spanish director and screenwriter Miguel Catalán tracked the historic aircraft’s journey home. The 1934 Stinson Reliant SR-5A is currently on display at the Santa Lucía Air Force Base Museum, north of Mexico City.


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