Book Review: So I Bought an Air Force…

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Mustang #44-84634, N351BD, was one of the P-51 Mustangs imported from Nicaragua to the U.S. by Will Martin and MACO Sales Financial Corporation, originally in 1963.

OK warbird fans, how many of you enjoy a good flyby by a North American P-51 Mustang? As of early 2020, upwards of one hundred fifty Mustangs are mentioned on the FAA’s civil register, and believe it or not, at least one sixth of that total didn’t come out of the U.S. military’s aircraft boneyards in Arizona. A very interesting read and a different side of history awaits you when reading “So I Bought An Air Force: The True Story of a Gritty Midwesterner in Somoza’s Nicaragua” by Mr. W.W. Martin (© 2013 Two Harbors Press, Minneapolis, MN).

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Book Cover

Will Martin answered an advertisement in Trade-A-Plane in the early 1960s for the sale of a large number of World War II-vintage aircraft for sale in Nicaragua. This group included Republic P-47s, Beech C-45s, and North American P-51s, all being retired from the Nicaraguan Air Force as the military branch received modern replacements. What should have been, by American business standards, a straightforward deal ultimately became complicated due to personalities and certain events that were beyond his control. Still, Mr. Martin purchased many airframes and facilitated their entry into the American market.

N51JB, #44-73029 is another MACO import.

Will Martin’s memoirs in this book detail his long attachment to aviation, from initial flying experiences to warbird operations (he originally planned for other, more experienced pilots to fly the purchased planes up to America for him). The process to rejuvenate and fly the aircraft he purchased from Nicaragua to Texas (to clear U.S. customs), and then up to the Chicago, Illinois area where he lived, offered plenty of logistical roadblocks which the author had to overcome. Will Martin ended up flying many of the aircraft on their northerly delivery flights, including many Mustangs. 

#44-63675, N1751D, arrives at the 2019 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh.

This book reveals how the warbirds were imported from the Central America country and soon entered the civilian aviation world in the U.S.. Along the way, Will crashed three of the aircraft, and lived to tell the harrowing experiences.

N51EA, owned and flown by Don Davidson in the 1980s, is #44-72483. It is now based at the Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, Virginia.

A few of the chapters of the book include: Bitten By the Flying Bug, Machine Guns and Mercenaries, Of Transports and Trainers, B-26 Bronco-Busting, Wheels Up, Thunderbolt Down; the first chapter is entitled Crash. Don’t be misled by the chapter titles, not everything went badly in this story, but there’s plenty of excitement and insight by this now well-experienced aviator. In fact, Will Martin flew one of his imported Mustangs, named “El Gato Rapido” for many years after he began the import business.

#44-72483 on the grass at Westfield, Massachusetts in the 1980s.

I found the book fascinating on multiple levels. Doing business before the age of cell phones, electronic funds transfer and GPS sure seemed complicated, and took some time to complete each step of the aircraft importing process in the 1960s. Commercial air travel, like his first Pan American Airlines DC-7 trip to Nicaragua, sounded more luxurious than today’s “buses” in the air. Politics in the Central American country didn’t always operate “by the book”, leading to some frustration and apprehension. The Mustangs represented what seemed to be a good investment, with eager buyers here in America looking for a mode of high-speed executive travel before the days of corporate jets. Add to that many short stories and anecdotes about warbirds in service with another country, and their care and maintenance habits makes great reading for any warbird enthusiast, and indeed anyone interested in aviation.

#44-63675, N1751D parked in the Warbirds area of the EAA’s 2019 AirVenture.

According to the research book Warbirds Worldwide Directory, at least twenty six P-51s were imported to the U.S. by Will Martin’s company, MACO Sales Financial Corporation of Chicago Illinois. More than a handful are still flying, more than fifty years after their international journeys ended in America. I’ve included photos of four aircraft that I’ve seen that are part of the group of Mustangs that Mr. Martin imported.

Thank you Will W. Martin, for writing your memorable book, and thru hindsight, (since the P-51 is a favorite of mine) thank you for bringing so many aircraft back to the warbird community.

Editor’s note: RIP Jeffrey Pino and Nick Tramontano, who perished during a crash of Big Beautiful Doll – in the cover photo – in February, 2016.

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Ken Kula

Assignment and Content Editor, writer and photographer A New Englander all of my life, I've lived in New Hampshire since 1981. My passion for all things aviation began at a very early age, and I coupled this with my interest of photography during college in the late 1970s. I spent 32 years in the air traffic control industry, and concurrently, enjoyed my aviation photography and writing adventures, which continue today. I've been quite fortunate to have been mentored by some generous and gifted individuals. I enjoy contributing to this great site, and working with some very knowledgeable and equally passionate aviation followers.

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