From Bogota to the skies of Suriname: Captain Martinez's unyielding flight path

Did you know that one of the earliest records of a Hispanic American in aviation is a man named Augustin Parla? Augustin was born in Cuba but immigrated to the United States during the Spanish-American War. He learned to fly at the Curtiss School of Flying in Miami in 1912, and only a year later, he became the first man to fly from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba.

National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place from September 15 through October 15. During this time, we commemorate and celebrate the contributions Hispanic men and women have made in the world of aviation by breaking records, exploring new bounds, and influencing what is possible in aerospace. Many of them began their careers in service through the military and established themselves as trailblazers who have opened many doors for future generations. 

As part of our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, we're profiling Captain Gilberto Martinez, who lives in Bogota, the capital of Colombia, but operates offshore oil and gas flights out of Suriname. 

Martinez 's aviation journey began when he joined the Colombian Air Force. “For some reason, I was attracted to military life," says Martinez “I joined the Air Force because a friend of mine was applying, and once I was there, I fell in love with helicopters. As a cadet, I was introduced to fixed wing, and once I graduated as an officer, I got to choose the type of aircraft I wanted to fly. Without a doubt, I knew helicopters was it for me." 

All his hard work and dedication paid off. After four years in the Air Force, Martinez accomplished his goal of becoming a helicopter pilot. Six years later, as his time in the Air Force was coming to an end, Martinez started thinking about his future. 

“Once I retired from the Air Force, I started flying for an oil & gas company in Colombia. I wasn't told about any civilian helicopter companies during my time in the military, but once I was out, I started hearing about a few, Bristow being a top choice." Martinez spent 15 years focused on oil & gas exploration and production and then Covid hit. 

The company downsized, and Martinez 's position was affected. Determined to continue flying, he explored other options. “I tried looking for other companies in Colombia that I could work for but realized, it wasn't going to happen, so I went to the Emirates.” He was only there for five months when he got an unexpected call from a friend with some exciting news.

“Give me your CV, Bristow is hiring for an international position that is perfect for you. I couldn't believe it." For Martinez, this was the moment he had been waiting. “I received a call to do an assessment and then everything started falling into place.” 

Martinez joined Bristow in June 2022 and still finds it to be an incredible experience. “Sometimes, I'm still can't believe it. When I put on my uniform and badge and look at myself in the mirror, it's an amazing feeling and I am very proud of it.” As for flying out of Suriname, Martinez says “It's amazing. The people are wonderful, it's diverse, and there are so many different cultures to experience.”

After 25 years in aviation, Martinez still wakes up excited to fly. “You're always learning something from the people around you. Whether it's from another pilot, instructor, first officer, technicians or even the helicopter landing officer, you keep learning.” 

His biggest inspiration are his wife and twin daughters. “My daughters don't like it when I am gone, but I do this for them. I want them to know that with hard work and determination, you can achieve anything. Even things that seem out of your reach.”