So I Bought an Air Force: The True Story of a Gritty Midwesterner in Somoza's Nicaragua. By W. W. Martin. Minneapolis Minn.: Two Harbors Press, 2013. Photographs. Maps. Index. Pp. 259. $16.95 ISBN: 978-1-938690-36-5
If this isn't the ultimate warbird hunter tale, it's up there among the top three. A Chicago businessman with a love of flying, Martin responded to a newspaper ad for a squadron of ex-Nicaragua Air Force P-51s in 1961. With a ready market for these popular aircraft, he arranged to fly them out of Nicaragua and deliver them to buyers in the U.S. Informed the planes were in flyaway condition, Martin expected the job would take a few months. He didn't know what he was getting into. General Somoza, the strongman ally of the U.S., ran Nicaragua in the 1960s. In return for stability and resistance against Communism, the U.S. supplied him with weapons and did not focus on his chosen leadership methods, a process repeated in many Latin American countries during that troubled era. The result was a dictatorship in which human rights were trampled and corruption was pervasive.
It was into this unsavory stew that Martin stepped off a Pan Am airliner in 1961. Soon he found the intensive maintenance required by these worn-out warplanes more than a match for local repair capabilities. The pace of work was anything but quick: control cables frayed; engines seized; electrical systems shorted out; and ancient components failed without warning. A few months stretched into two years. When he finally flew out the last few P-51s in 1965, Martin had lost seven of approximately twenty-five aircraft he had bought--not bad, considering the challenges. The warbird community was enriched by almost twenty P-51s as a result.
This well-organized, detailed book is Martin's account of his frequently perilous adventures. The incidents described happened over fifty years ago, yet Martin writes as if it were yesterday. His lively, fresh narrative leads the reader through crash landings in remote areas, encounters with machete-toting civilians, treacherous mercenaries, and obfuscating embassy personnel. More than once he was the only one in a negotiating session not carrying a machine gun. Through it all Martin maintained an air of calm composure and good humor that enabled him to prevail where others would long since have given up.
Martin valued people the most. He found Nicaraguans warm and approachable and made many friends. He generously credits their steadfast support...