As you may know, I was extremely fortunate to be invited to fly alongside Rod Kellogg down to Managua, Nicaragua from Gulf Shores, Alabama in the Shrimp Basket’s private King Air F90 (N931SB). I didn’t really know what the purpose of the trip was, other than general charity visits and a little off-roading, but I was about to experience an eye-opening adventure that no one could’ve prepared me for. 

Here’s a video overview of our trip, from the aviation side of things: 

So let’s start with the flights from Alabama to Nicaragua; that’s what this post will be dedicated to. Check back soon for an article and video featuring the trip within Nicaragua. 

After 5 hours of sleep (following a redeye, 4 flights, and 2 days without sleep), I woke up at 6am to Rod banging on my door since my alarm hadn’t gone off. Rushing to pack up my bags, I managed to scramble everything together with plenty of time to spare for our 7am departure.

For Rod, the trip had began a few days before with the filing of paperwork for insurance, flight plans, and crew/passenger documentation for our flight to Managua (through Belize for re-fueling) from Gulf Shores KJKA. Many of the documents and emails Rod had to send were in Spanish, for which google translate came in pretty handy. In all, there were 6 of us aboard the flight – Eddie (the Shrimp Basket Owner), Sylvia, Bethany, Kevin, Rod, and myself. It was a pretty packed plane with all of our gear…

Jack Edwards Airport Takeoff:

The flight from Jack Edwards Airport Gulf Shores, Alabama (KJKA) to the Philip S. W. Goldson International Airport, Belize (MZBZ) took roughly 4 hours because of some ATC route deviations. The weather over the Gulf of Mexico was great at FL230 until we reached Mexico, where thick clouds and light icing surrounded the King Air. Along the way, I spoke with Houston Center, Merida Center (Mexico), and Gulcin Approach (Belize).

Descending into Belize, the skies were extremely hazy. When we stepped off of the plane, it felt like we were inside a literal steamer. It was hot, with light winds, and near 100% humidity. Rudy, our ground handler, met us at the airplane to make sure all of the paperwork, passports, and approval documentation was in order.

Landing in Belize:

Rudy (who truly runs the Belize Airport) took all of us into the terminal where we could go to the bathroom, without entering customs. But what happened next was really surprising … Rudy led me and Rod right past customs, through the terminal, and into a tiny pilot briefing room with a computer to check on the weather. Why check the weather you may ask? Well – over Central America, we had no weather radar (except for a 40 year old low-tech piece of equipment installed inside the plane). Technically, we had entered the country of Belize without even going through customs – that was a first! Everyone listened to Rudy, and with the wave of his hand, we navigated the airport easily.

From Belize to Nicaragua (MNMG) in about 2 hours, we flew across Honduras at FL230. During the flight I spoke on the radio mainly with Central American Control (called “Cinamair” over the radio), and with Momotombo Volcano in view, we began our descent into Managua. The weather in Managua was much better than Belize, with broken clouds at 5,000 feet and less haze.

Landing in Managua:

After landing, we were once again met by customs officials who checked paperwork and passports; we didn’t have a ground handler in Nicaragua because there weren’t any. One interesting thing Rod pointed out at the Augusto Cesar Sandino International Airport were the pill box bunkers lining the runway – remnants of the civil war during the 1980s.

A shuttle took us into the terminal, where we bypassed the normal customs lines and went to a separate station for private aircraft entry. As pilots, Rod and I showed our pilot’s licenses, exempting us from visa fees. Interestingly, the customs official didn’t stamp our passports.

Chanting “Julio Julio Julio” through the terminal (I’ll explain in another article), we began our trip with a ribbon cutting and drive to our first destination – Granada, Nicaragua.

Thanks for bringing me along Eddie and Rod!

About The Author

If you want to become a pilot, I want to make your journey just a little easier. I'm a First Officer for Envoy Air, one of the largest regional airlines in the world, and have partnered with industry leaders like the U.S. Air Force to teach about various aviation careers. For a full bio, click the "About" tab above. Use the "Contact" tab to shoot me a message.

5 Responses

  1. Bailey

    WOW!!! Lucky!!! Take it all in!… Guess Rod paid you back for all the good things you said! WOW!!! Lucky!!! What a pay back! I just started looking for a plane to rent in JKA and look what I found. A lucky kid that has a very bright future ahead. Love the posts! btw- Pack the ultra warm long underwear for ND!
    Happy contrails, I’m sure.

    • Swayne Martin

      Thanks, Bailey! You’ll love flying around JKA… It’s a great spot and is never boring. Make sure to fly out to Dauphin Island (4R9) if you get the chance.

  2. Mauricio

    Excellent swayne, congratulations, wish somebody could take me on a trip on a KA over the Caribbean. Btw, if you need an Spanish-speaking pilot, I don’t mind taking a plane up there jeje
    Looking forward for the next posts


  3. Jay (O'HareAviation)

    AWESOME job, Swayne 😉 Yes, yes… taildraggers, bi-planes and all that but I’ll take a good turboprop any day. Having some experience flying twins myself I can truly say it is one of the coolest things you’ll do, and internationally? Oh, that’s the very best.


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