C-47’s as bombers, P-51 Mustangs vs. Corsairs, the very last All-Piston-Prop Aerial War!

Feature photo no. 1

The feature photo no. 1 depicts an oddly looking camouflage applied on a Cavalier Mustang II, purchased in the USA, and converted to a fully equipped Fighter by the Salvadorian Air Force in 1969 in the run-up to their 100-hours mini-war.

Mustangs and Corsairs engaged in deadly aerial dogfights, while Dakota C-47’s flew as bombers! A Spielberg film scene? No, reality, but when was that? 1945? 1953? 1956? Forget it, that final All-Piston Prop Aerial War took place 24 years after WW II ended!

Believe it or not, this was a bitter reality in 1969 as the 4-Days War broke out between Honduras and El Salvador (in Central America). Only vintage piston-powered aircraft were engaged and shot each other out of the air.

The Honduran Corsairs F-4U’s were the winners. Major Soto,  Corsair nr. 609 ( see photo nr. 2) is now a National Monument in their Aviation Museum at Toncontin AFB. During my visit to this Museum, I also came to see the C-47’s that they had still operational in numbers, but entry to these planes was strictly forbidden.

As if we came to spy for El Salvador, the Honduran Military showed a mild form of paranoia. Maybe due to the relations between the neighboring nations that are still “awkward,” to say the least.

Imagine, the rest of the World had only attention for the Hi-Tech Supersonic Fighter Jets as Phantoms and Mig-21’s from the USA and the USSR that fought over Vietnam and the Sinai Desert. And while the NASA was just about to land the first man on the moon on July 20, 1969, there was a Mickey Mouse war in Central America that was totally ignored by the World’s Mass Media. No one wanted to miss a glimpse of the historic first step on the moon, about to be made by Neil Armstrong.

After years of tension and skirmishes between the neighboring states Honduras and El Salvador over illegal border crossing and settling of Salvadoran peasants in the larger and sparsely populated Honduras, their disputes came to a sudden climax as both National Soccer teams were running in the same pool for the World Cup 1970 preliminaries. After 3 matches, El Salvador won that selection. Consequently, riots broke out in Honduras in which Salvadoran immigrants were molested and expelled or fled back home, leaving all their properties behind.

El Salvador’s President Generalissimo Arellano considered this an aggressive act and took as retaliation the unwise decision to invade Honduras with his Army and ordered his Air Force, Fuerza Aerea Salvadorena (FAS), to make a surprise aerial attack on the enemy’s major Air Force base, Toncontin, located just next to the Honduran Capital Tegucigalpa. The HQ of the Fuerza Area Hondurena (FAH)!


_corsair_f4u-5n_FAH-609 Maj soto

photo no. 2

Honduran FAH Corsair F-4U nr 609 in photo no. 2 was piloted by Major Soto, the Ace of the 100 hours war. He also attacked in the Close Air Support the Salvadorian Troops that had penetrated on Honduras’ territory and were driven further back as the FAS was more or less wiped out with the loss of its best pilots and fighters. Note the 3 silhouettes under the cockpit for the ‘kills.’

It was a real-world of warmongers: both nations had a US-embargo on arms and aircraft export due to their outspoken offensive plans and hostile relations.

Hence, both Air Forces FAS and FAH were not exactly equipped with the latest fads as Jet Fighters, Radar, or early-warning air space defense systems. Instead, they both flew with vintage WWII piston-prop fighters. Due to a lack of bombers, they had converted their Dakota C-47 transports to make-shift Bombers, be it with a limited payload and accuracy.

In 1967, El Salvador (and Indonesia) received from the USA the Cavalier-built Mustang II with structural improvements.  That was a most interesting improvement of the WWII-era Mustang P-51D. The wing was strengthened to carry 4,000 lbs of ordnance, and additionally, large wingtip tanks and weapon hardpoints were installed, along with a new and stronger Merlin V-1650-724 aero engine. These  Florida newly-built Cavalier Mustangs also received a taller tail fin, and in many of them, a second seat for the observer/passenger was mounted.

P51 Cavalier_Mustang ps

photo no. 3

Immaculate US-based Air-Show Mustangs as this Cavalier-built Mustang II were snatched for big money and exported illegally via the ‘Banana Route’ to El Salvador. See in photo no. 3  the underwing weapon-hardpoints and 6 machine guns installed, while the wingtip tanks shown were often removed for better maneuverability in the dog fights against the Honduran Corsairs F-4 U’s.

Both Air Forces were in dire need of more aircraft (and guns, ammo, sights, parts) during the build-up of their evil intentions and tried to circumvent the US embargo with the most inventive ways to find the loopholes. The more aggressive FAS from El Salvador managed to buy in the USA seven P-51’s from private owners who flew those Cavalier Mustangs in the American Air-Show circuit! These aircraft were the “demilitarized” versions (Cavalier F-51D) and needed some conversion to become a “hot hatch” ready for some serious dogfighting.

These non-armed but fast aircraft went via Haiti and a handful of Banana Republics to El Salvador for a speedy conversion to a deadly fighter. Guns, sights, and hardpoints were remounted for the imminent showdown with their opponents from FAH, who flew with 10-12 obsolete but potent Vought Corsairs F-4U’s.

FAS also had 10- 12 Corsairs operational in the FG-1/ FG-1D Navy-version (built by Goodyear), all of them delivered by the USA in earlier years, to keep the balance between the nations, in numbers delivered and capability in airstrike power.  Jets were strictly forbidden wet dreams; even the mere pronouncing of the J-word was considered an offense. But FAS  had more fighters from the outset with their Mustang II’s and tried to further outnumber the Honduran FAH with the stealthy purchase of the US-based Cavalier Mustangs, in an attempt to double their P-51 fleet.

On 14 July 1969, by the end of the day, the aerial war started with a surprise attack on Honduras’ main Air Force base Toncontin. Two Dakota/C-47’s and two P-51’s as fighter-escorts were taking off from the Salvadoran Ilopongo AFB for a combined assault.

Theoretically, the Salvadorian Air Force (FAS) could have created a severe, even fatal blow to the Honduras Air Force (FAH) with their surprise raid on FAH’s major Air Force base. There was no prior war declaration, the element of surprise was 100%, and half of the Enemy’s total Air Force was parked out there in the open air without any protection!

But as often with such unreal opportunities in sight, Murphy’s Law was applicable without prior notice, and all that could go wrong went wrong! Even to the point of an almost hilarious act if this would have taken place in a film.

As a starter: for a variety of reasons, all aircraft missed their rendezvous. Finally, only one C-47 pressed on and completed its flight over enemy territory to Tegucigalpa and flew over the unprotected airfield.

The view was like arriving in Heaven, rows of Corsairs, C-47’s, T-6’s Texans, and T-28’s Trojans parked right below them. Not to be missed, but …. well, keep reading for some surprises.


photo no. 4

The Salvadorian C-47, as seen in photo no. 4, opened the four-day war with Honduras (depicted) by flying a tricky solo bomb-run
over Toncontin airport in an attempt to destroy the enemy’s pursuit planes parked out in the open air. But the DC-3/ C-47 was never designed as a bomber, and it was no wonder that their mission completely failed, considering that they had to roll the 100-pound bombs out by hand through the sideways opening of the (removed) cargo doors!

Here follows an excerpt from my book ‘The Dakota Hunter, describing the quite unbelievable flow of events during that assault.

“Once over their target, the Salvadorian pilots made a low pass over the undefended airbase, saw all of the enemy’s fighters parked out in the open on the platform, and must have concluded that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to carry out an annihilating hit-and-run.

It seemed almost too good to be true, and they probably found themselves dreaming of their arrival back in El Salvador to a thunderous ticker-tape parade/reception as national heroes.
However, although Dakotas are versatile and rugged planes, they were never designed for a bomber’s role. On the second low pass, two crew-members rolled a few bombs out by hand (!) over the threshold of the open gate-cargo doors that had already been removed.

While the bombs flashed down under their enthusiastic shouts of “Geronimo,” they quickly found out that this was not the most accurate way of hitting a target. After two more passes and with all of their 6 bombs gone, they had merely hit the runway in spots here and there but had missed every fighter-plane below! Those fighters were now being prepared for a counterattack, and as soon as the Salvadorian C-47 crew saw the pilots scrambling to their aircraft, they wisely decided it was about time to hightail it back home.”


photo no. 5

The Cavaliers arrived from the USA had to be converted to fighters in a couple of days only under very primitive circumstances, as you can see in this photo no. 5. There was a lack of parts and pilots. The FAS even hired two US pilots as mercenaries to train the local pilots in the aircraft-handling and dogfighting.

In the days that followed, the Salvadorian Army and Air Force suffered most from FAH’s counter-strikes.  The Honduran Air Force also launched a bomb run on Ilopongo AFB in El Salvador with a C-47 later that same night, but with even worse results. No damage or even a bomb-crater was ever found, while the pilots seriously claimed to have blown apart the Enemy HQs!

But the FAH Corsairs did better, they were able to knock out a larger part of the enemy fuel storage tanks on the Salvadoran airport and seaport, and FAH Major Soto became the Ace of that war by shooting three FAS Fighters out of the air in less than the 100 hours that this war lasted.

Piper PA-48 Enforcer , Mod P-51 D

photo no. 6

 A magnificent tribute to the original Mustang design: the Turbo Prop Cavalier P-51 MUSTANG III. The genesis of the Cavalier Mustang II in the late 1960s was not even the end of the development of USAAF’s most successful WWII fighter. What you see here in the photo no. 6  is the very last of the line: The sleek Turbo Prop Cavalier Mustang III, intended to operate in a role as Close Air Support/Counter-Insurgency Aircraft for the many countries that could not afford the expensive Jets to fight their Guerillas/ Rebels.

Cavalier was sold, and the ultimate Mustang came under the label of Piper as the PA-48 Enforcer. With a Rolls-Royce Dart 510 turbo-prop mounted in a Mustang II airframe, it had a radically increased performance and payload. Despite numerous sales pitches to the USAF, neither the U.S. military nor any foreign operators purchased the Turbo Mustang III.  

Note the absence of the underbelly air scoop. That radiator air-duct was needed to cool the original Old-School RR V-12 Merlin. But with the Turbine engine, the radiator for cooling the engine was skipped. A more modern full-feathering propeller, with “fat” paddle blades for more thrust and better takeoff and landing characteristics, was mounted plus huge wingtip tanks for more flight range. Enigmatic is the removal/ photoshopping of the original marks on the vertical and horizontal tail with an N-registration barely visible.

With the maiden flight of the North American Mustang on 26 October 1940 now 80+ years ago, it is a tribute to the design of this beauty that could fly as an operational fighter/interceptor for so many more years after WWII, quite probably one of the longest-surviving war-made piston-powered fighters in military service.

While the aircraft started its initial career (for the RAF) even before the USA entered WWII, the very last P-51 D’s flew in the service of the Dominican Air Force operational until 1984! Bravo for this icon of US Craftsmanship and Technology.


  1. The Dakota Hunter: My first book describes my travel experiences of more than 20 expeditions all over the globe, that have been condensed into 320 pages, 250 photos. The book reads like an adventure film. I searched for the last and lost DC-3/ C-47, whereby I also had odd encounters with many other vintage aircraft that survived in this world. The aircraft that I met and the pilots, the operators, and last but not least, the Military, the War/ Drugs Lords, and a handful of crooks and swindlers.

You can order the book directly at this website at Amazon. Read the very positive reviews at Amazon, Order, and Review of the Dakota Hunter

Review from Amazon customer John C. H. 

     2.80 Years, a tribute to the PBY Catalina is the title of my new book, describing in 400 photos (many never published before), 288 pages on Hardcover Landscape format A-4, the full history of the legendary Catalina/ Canso in both careers, as a Miltary patrol boat (in the war years) and later in its role as a Coast Guard SAR aircraft, as a Firefighter and as a pax/ cargo hauler to remote islands and rivers. See my website for preview pages, reviews and ordering at http://www.catalinabook.com

5-Stars Review from Edwardo Beretta — Canada

“80 years, a tribute to the PBY Catalina” is “THE” BOOK about this legendary aircraft. The author did incredible research and put together an impressive collection of pictures (those 1944 / 45 COLOR photos are unique). I have been a big fan of Seaplanes for a long time, have several publications about them, and this is the best book I have purchased so far. It is EXCELLENT.
Please extend my huge complements to Hans Wiesman, the author, and also thank him for the extra color photo included in the book .”

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You can follow my blogs on my website http://www.dc3dakotahunter.com


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