Monday, March 23, 2015

Book Review: "So I Bought an Air Force. The true story of a gritty midwesterner in Somoza's Nicaragua."

It's been awhile since I've reviewed a book, but this one certainly warrants it.

So I Bought an Air Force: The True Story of a Gritty Midwesterner in Somoza's Nicaragua

This is the story of Will Martin, a man who, in 1960, on the rebound from the collapse of a family business, got the idea to travel to Nicaragua and buy that country's obsolete air force, consisting of 21 North American P-51D Mustangs and two Republic P-47 Thunderbolts. The US had just given Nicaragua new T-33 and P-80 jet fighters and the World War Two prop fighters were considered scrap.

The basic premise seemed simple: Martin would purchase the aircraft, the Nicaraguan military would get them ready for the ferry flights home, and Martin would pay as he took them and re-sell them back in America to get the money to keep buying the rest of the Mustang fleet. "You can fly a plane a week out of here!" the Nicaraguans promised.

And so began a tale of Martin's life in Nicaragua, a tale spanning the net two years of his life as he fought to overcome the inefficiency and corruption of the Nicaraguan military and the Mexican government, unqualified and incompetent ferry pilots, unscrupulous aircraft brokers in the States, and even the vengeful and politically-connected machinations of expatriate American Jerry DeLarm, who is famous in warbird circles as a mercenary pilot who flew for pretty much everybody with a grudge against anyone else in Central America back in the 1950s.

Martin managed to get most of the Mustangs back to the US eventually, with he and his ferry pilots crashing several--and both of the P-47s--due to mechanical problems. And it was truly heartbreaking to see aircraft like that--worth millions of dollars today--casually destroyed or abandoned where they were set down with only minor damage just because there was no cheap or easy way to recover them. Martin also flew several T-28 trainers and A-26 bombers from America down to Nicaragua (and those flights tended to have their problems as well), and the most amazing thing is that he pretty much taught himself to fly all of these aircraft types by studying the manuals before jumping in and taxiing them to the runway. It was an adventure that I'm admittedly jealous of as I put the book on my bookshelf, having finished it. And to think that all of these aircraft were cheap (a few thousand dollars could get you your choice of a flyable one of most any type) and plentiful in the 1960s and 70s. If there was ever a reason for a time machine...

But if you love history, vintage warbirds, or simply tales of people overcoming obstacles and getting things done, you'll love this book. I know that I sure did.


  1. Oh man, I am adding this to my list and shared your post on Facebook!

  2. I vaguely remember reading it... I need to find another copy.

  3. Anonymous7:08 PM

    I will add this to my reading list