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POMPANO BEACH (CBSMiami) – In the mid-1960s, the CIA financed a clandestine air force in the congo. The mission: drive Russian and Chinese communists and Che Guevera’s Cuban troops out of the mineral-rich country.
Who flew those planes? Cuban exiles, many of them veteran pilots from the Bay of Pigs.
“We got a second chance and we reversed what happened at the bay of pigs,” said Freddy Flaquer, a Makasi pilot.
At the end of the day, the mission was a success. Cuban troops led by Che Guevara were driven out of the Congo. The communist takeover failed and the pilots went their separate ways, many continuing with the CIA.
But some of their planes were left behind. In particular, #255, which was damaged at the end of a runway in the heart of the Congo.
“We land in formation and all of a sudden the airplane disappeared in front of me,” said Juan Peron, a Makasi pilot.
Repaired, eventually, #255 made its way to the United States, unbeknownst to the exile pilots who had flown her.
The plane looks a lot different almost 55 years later. It’s the same plane, restored in U.S. Navy markings but carrying the logo of the Makasi, the nickname for the secret CIA air force.
“This airplane is part of my life,” said Dario Filpes, a Makasi pilot. “Today I am 80. I feel good but I can’t fly anymore.”
The T-28 is owned by two pilots who said they had no idea what they had purchased.
“We started digging into the history,” said Greg Santz. “It was overwhelming what these guys did in the 1960’s for our freedom.”
The Makasi pilots don’t fly anymore but the trusty #255 does, giving a couple of veterans the chance to relive the days of long ago when they went across the world to save an African nation from a communist take over.
The restored T-28 is now based in Pompano Beach.