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So I Bought An Airforce: The True Story of a Gritty Midwesterner in Somoza’s Nicaragua

by W.W. Martin, Two Harbors Press, Minneapolis, Minn., 2013, $16.95

This is a book hard-working Americans will love. Will Martin takes us back to a different age, when guts, speculation and skill could turn rusting airframes into future warbirds. Pilots will love the manner in which the author introduces just-right juicy technical details into his narrative, to make it clear that he did what he claims— and loved doing it.

Already a successful family businessman, Martin elbowed his way into aviation by buying a Ryan Navion and learning to fly in it. The quick move from nonpilot to flying a complex airplane served him well when a classified ad led him to Nicaragua to buy surplus military aircraft. Once there, Martin learned he could purchase virtually the entire fleet of retired Nicaraguan warplanes, including North American P-51s and Republic P-47s—at great personal and financial risk. In addition, he could sell surplus but more suitable aircraft to the Nicaraguan air force.

Doing business in Nicaragua under dictator Anastasio Somoza’s corrupt regime was difficult, but even more troublesome was the Nicaraguan mechanics’ concept of aircraft maintenance. “Mañana” was often promised for repair or parts but rarely achieved. In Nicaragua, mañana might mean two weeks or forever, although bonuses sometimes expedited the process.

Martin delivers two great adventure stories in one. The first deals with his strap ping himself into Mustangs with virtually no instruction and proceeding to (a) deliver them to the U.S. or (b) crash. It was more often (b) than (a) thanks to the in difference and incompetence of local mechanics. Despite the hazards, Martin clearly has affection for the Nicaraguan people and disdain for the junta that ruled them.

Martin was backed by his family, especially his beloved wife Pat. She navigated for him during one Douglas B-26 delivery flight, arriving at the Managua airport within one minute of her ETA.

Any pilot would have loved to be part of Martin’s struggle. He saved many warbirds, survived four crashes and dealt with a regime where everyone but him carried an automatic weapon. This adventure story is highly recommended for anyone interested in aviation—particularly pilots.


Originally published in the September 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.