The P-51 was the Cadillac of the sky for about a decade. They swept the air over Europe from the Nazis, then went on to mix it up with Russian MIGs over Korea in the 1950s. The last operator of the P-51D was the Dominican Republic Air Force (or FAD- or Fuerza Aérea Dominicana) who did not retire it from service until 1984 – 40 years after its operational debut.
Being formed in 1932 they flew just a handful of planes until signing the Rio Treaty in 1947. Then the Dominican Republic received large quantities of aircraft, including 25 P-47D Thunderbolt fighter-bombers, 18 P-51D Mustangs, and 30 AT-6 Texan trainers from the United States. To this were added 42 De Haviland Vampires acquired overseas.
The first Dominican P-51 was delivered on 29 September 1948. The first FAD Mustangs were flown by Brazilians mercenaries, veterans of World War II, who provided training to local pilots.
The Dominican Republic received 32 more surplus P-51D’s from Sweden 1952/1953 as an addition to a few aircraft purchased from the U.S. during the late 1940’s, and kept them in continuous service for over 30 years until finally retired in 1984 ! During that long service-life, the aircraft saw several IRAN’s (Inspection and Repair as Necessary) and upgrading, mostly done by TFA / Cavalier at Sarasota, Florida. A few aircraft were added from other sources to replace losses, and some aircraft were cannibalized for spare parts.
The last Mustang ever downed anywhere in the world in battle occurred during Operation Power Pack in the Dominican Republic in 1965. There a US military force shot down a FAD P-51.
The FAD P-47s were all retired by 1957. The Vampires, their jet engines worn out, by 1974. This left the last P-51 Mustangs flying in the world as combat aircraft as the FADs only armed fighters. It was then that the P-51s took on their camo warpaint.
The final combat operation took place in 1983 when a Cuban intelligence ship refused to leave Dominican waters and the Mustangs strafed it. In retaliation, Cuba sent MiG-21s to attack the Dominican airfield. Knowing the better part of valor, the Mustang pilots did not try to fight off the MiGs. As one Dominican pilot recalled, “We went inside and hid until they went away.”
After several Cuban MiGs humiliated the FAD, playing and taunting with the old Mustangs off the Dominican coast, the government requested US assistance. The A-37B Dragonfly attack jet was the only model cleared for the FAD, and suitable fighters, such as the supersonic F-5E Tiger II was not offered. However, the Dragonfly would go on to replace the tired Mustangs in the COIN and light attack role, with eight aircraft delivered. The Dominican Dragonflies had its first operational intercept in 1985, when one shot down a Beechcraft D-18 during an anti-narcotic operation.
From the May 1999 issue of Aeroplane Magazine (article had the same picture I posted above):