Matías Pérez (balloonist)

Matías Pérez (disappeared 28 June 1856) was a Portuguese-born Cuban resident who started a canopy business in Havana in the 19th century. He was fascinated with the ever-increasing popularity of hot-air balloons and became a balloon pilot, ascending at least three times before he disappeared while attempting a balloon ascent from Havana's Campo de Marte on 28 June 1856.

Matías Pérez
Disappeared28 June 1856
Campo de Marte, Havana, Captaincy General of Cuba

A few days earlier Pérez had made a successful attempt at ascending in a balloon, flying several miles. His second try, however, became part of Cuba's folklore: when somebody or something disappears into thin air, Cubans say: "Voló como Matías Pérez" (flew away like Matías Pérez).[1]

Early careerEdit

Matías Pérez, originally a Portuguese citizen, moved to Cuba and started a successful business selling canopies and awnings. He was known as the "king of the canopies" at the time. But it is said that Pérez always had an interest in aeronautics. Before buying a balloon from the French pilot Eugène Godard, with whom he had a friendly relationship, the two men had taken flight together from Havana on 21 May 1856.[2]

Interest in aeronautics and famous flightsEdit

Pérez was not the first aeronautic pilot on Cuban soil. Before him were Frenchman Eugenio Robertson, who took flight on 19 March 1828, French-born Adolfo Theodore, who made three ascensions in 1830, and Cuban Domingo Blineau (credited as the first Cuban to build a balloon from scratch and personally produce hydrogen gas for fuel).

The list goes on, and includes the famous French pilot Eugène Godard, who flew his balloon Ville de París (City of Paris) many times in the island, before selling it to Matías Pérez for 1,200 hard pesos.[3][verification needed] Godard was a reputed balloon pilot and builder. He built his first prototype in 1845, and launched several models within the following year. Godard had constructed a balloon called Ville de París in 1850, in which he gained notoriety on 6 October by flying from Paris to Gits. The aircraft Matías Pérez would buy in 1856 was also called Ville de París. Whether this was the same balloon is disputed since there exists an eyewitness report that the original was destroyed by fire in Marseille just a month after its famous flight.[4]

Once Pérez procured the ship, he sought permission to fly it in a letter to Captain General José Gutiérrez de la Concha. The first flight took place on 12 June 1856 with excellent atmospheric conditions.

The second flight took place on 28 July 1856.[5] Local newspapers reported that the wind was strong the day the flight was scheduled, causing Pérez to delay his ascent. He finally decided to ascend at sunset around 7:00 p.m. and was never seen again. His disappearance earned him a place in Cuban history and popular culture.

In popular cultureEdit

First Day envelope dedicated to Matías Pérez

His disappearance coined the popular century-old phrase "Voló como Matías Pérez" (Flew like Matías Pérez) used in occasions when a person wants make emphasis about some other missing person or object.

Coprefil, the Cuban official agency responsible for design, production and sales of stamps, celebrated Matías Pérez 100th anniversary flight with a First Day Edition, on 29 June 1956, and honored him again as one of Cuba's first pilots with two stamps, valued at three and 13 cents respectively, showing Plaza de Marte, the location from where he departed, and the Chorrera Fort, where he landed after his first successful trip in 1856.

In 1969, the story of Matías Pérez was translated into a recurring comic series by artist Luis Lorenzo Sosa. This science fiction adventure claims the pilot was abducted by an alien race and taken to the far-away planet of Strakon. It was released by Abril Publishing House on a weekly basis, in the Pionero Magazine.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Matías Pérez". Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  2. ^ "Flew away like Matías Pérez". Radio Enciclopedia. 6 October 2012. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  3. ^ "Globo aerostático". EcuRed (in Spanish).
  4. ^ "An aerostat crash at Cassis" (in French).
  5. ^ "Flew away like Matias Perez. - CMBQ Radio Enciclopedia". Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 19 August 2013.
  6. ^ "Matías Pérez". The H. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 20 August 2013.