This is part of the 5 Cool History Facts About The D.R. on our show Repeating The Past. If you haven’t seen the episode yet, do check it out first!
Throughout the 50s the Dominican Republic had the most powerful air force in the Caribbean and possibly Latin America, second only to the US, thanks to dictator Trujillo’s obsession with power. At its height of power the hundreds of airplanes, initially piloted by American and Brazilian mercenaries and maintained by swedish mechanics, had the theoretical ability to reach and bomb Havana within 3 hours and completely conquer Haiti within 24. The reason for his obsession with air superiority was because a private air force consisting of Dominican expatriate rebels had declared war on him. And indeed there were several skirmishes between the two air forces, all of which were won by Trujillo’s units.
After the death of the dictator, the air force fell kind of into oblivion and began to rust away. In 1984 the Dominican air force finally retired their fleet of P-51 Mustangs, having been the last air force in the world to keep these historic airplanes in service. This was a testament to the quality and durability of these fantastic airplanes (and Dominican stubbornness and cheapskates). They sold each of the Mustangs to Museums for about $300,000US — ironically the same amount Trujillo had paid for the entire fleet of 42 planes 30 years earlier.