Monday, February 8, 2010

Ilopango Airshow in El Salvador

A few weeks ago I got a call form Skip Stewart asking if I'd like to perform in a show in El Salvador...the first thing I had to do was google map where on earth that was! After some quick maintenance on the Edge to brush away the winter dust I took my first weather window out of Northern California, left our 12 feet of fresh snow behind and headed for the desert. I stopped in Arizona to visit friends and get a few practice flights and skydives in..and of course I had to take a walk to visit my property and my one cactus!

The next stop was Brownsville, Texas. Skip returned from a Fed EX work trip at 1 AM in Memphis and flew down to meet me the same day. We worked out the paperwork (we thought) and left the following morning for both of our first time crossing the Mexico border in private aircraft.

We quickly learned that while traveling through Mexico you can't be in a hurry...

3 hours for customs, 2 hours for fuel stops, file your flight plans, everyone with a stamp is a god, don't give them bills with pen marks or folded corners and most importantly...carry a lot of one dollar bills, they don't have change! It was a good thing that we traveled in a pair because small problems in the States are big problems in Mexico such as....

"we don't take visa"
"the volume on my radio won't turn up enough"
"the air in my tire is low..."
"we don't have change"

Several very important words we learned were...

Where is the bathroom?
More Red Wine please.
Solude (cheers)
We need crowd control.
...and don't take pictures of the guys with guns without asking first!

Stop is Terminado not Finito, hahaha. This would have come in handy when on the way home an airport attendant in Mexico was putting air in my tire and didn't stop when I asked...luckily Skip was carrying an extra tube!!!

Skip taught me 2 valuable lessons while we were traveling...never pass up a chance to eat, sleep or go to the bathroom!

Our journey took us down the East coast of Mexico, across the mountains and down the western coast of Guatemala and into El Salvador. Descending into El Salvador was incredible...we went from dry cool air up high and descended into what felt like a warm pool of water...we were in the tropics! Our last hour of flight took us between pluming volcanoes and over high crater lakes...this was a land like I've never seen before!

Upon arrival in Ilopango Skip and I were greeted first by our friend and fellow airshow pilot Greg Koontz. Greg has been flying this show for over 10 years and has gotten to know his way around pretty well. Several of the airshow officials greeted us with a bouquet of GORGEOUS tropical flowers!! I only wish I could have brought them home with me.

The people of El Salvador were incredibly welcoming and treated us like rock stars during our entire stay! We had a guy from Seattle as our helper while we were there named Craig...who we mistakenly called Greg for the first 2 days. He was too polite to correct us..without him I'm not sure what we would have done!

El Salvador time was once again, don't be in a hurry. They treated us to delicious meals each evening and I'm sure would have kept us out being entertained 24 hours a day if we didn't need to sleep! Our first dinner was up on a volcano where the owner of the restaurant personally served us.

The following day it was time to fly! Skip and I practiced our solos, Tinstix and the wingsuit skydive with him circling me. Greg was stuck waiting to find an airplane to fly...they had several lined up for him and finally the day before the show they allowed him to use a decathalon.

Leading up to show day I felt like we went back to the old barn storming days when a pilot would fly over the city to attract attention then land in a nearby field to give rides and aerobatic performances...we took a "parade" over San Salvador with nearly 20 aircraft following one after the other in order to call attention to the people and remind them where to be the next day!

Come show day we are all ready to go with plenty of water and sunblock...maybe not quite enough sun block!!

We had a few issues with crowd control and not being able to get to the fuel pumps so they had to park us on the taxi way and find fuel cans and hoses in order to transport the fuel to us....eventually it all came together and the show was a great success.

Skip and I had a blast flying Tinstix together and as usual his solo wowed everyone! Greg Koontz flew his comedy routine and his acro routine and showed us all what a Decathalon really can do! And of course I can't forget to mention the hardest working people at the show, Rich's Incredible Pyro...those guys are amazing!! And a special highlight to the day was the B1 formation fly-bye!

Check out a photo from one of our photo passes with some of Rich's Pyro! The are in they field working all day long, even long after we've all put the planes away and kicked back for a cold cervesa!

I had the unique oportunity if landing amongst the crowd from my wingsuit skydive where I was surrounded by people to the point that guards had to create a circle around me holding hands to push the people away...then they rushed me out of there on a dirt bike!! I felt like Brittany Spears, haha.

We had a special treat when the President of El Salvador came to view the show and personally requested to meet us! That was officially my first time ever meeting the president of a country and his family. His wife and child were lovely and thanked me for representing the women of their country...then he asked us to do a personal fly over for them! I love El Salvador!!

An well...I guess every great adventure has to come to an end at some point. After our 2 days of flying we had a great going away ceremony where they presented us with trophies for flying the show and made us feel so welcome in their country!

All that I can say is I can't wait to go back again!

Our trip home went relatively well...despite the not so great weather on the East coast of Mexico...Skip and I got stuck over night and decided to go out to dinner at a nice thatched roof restaurant where they hang bulls from the wine bottles...literally!

But we weren't quite brave enough to try the "cockroach to the garlic"....

Back in Brownsville we were EXTREMELY happy to have made it back to the States...that is until they told us that our manifest wasn't in their files and we were each going to owe them a $5,000. fine! (Remember in the beginning when I said that "we thought" we filed our paperwork??) Anyway, after several hours of searching, Skip found a copy of the manifest that we filed and saved us both handing over our pay-checks!! We ended up having to sit in weather for a few days, Skip was able to jump seat home and passed the time watching Avatar 3D and window shopping at the mall across the the way, have you SEEN the super cool new 3D glasses???

What an adventure...and we even met Santa Claus!! Did you know he's from Iceland??

CYA next time :)

Melissa Pemberton


  1. Love it Melissa! What a great adventure!! LOVE YOU!! Muah!! XOXO Dona

  2. That is just dandy Melissa, looks like a great was had by all!!

  3. Wow... it was really an adventure.
    Hasta la Vista!

  4. Heeey Melissa this is Carlos Panama's son writing, I dont know if you remember me from the show last year. Anyways I was searching for reviews about the show on the internet and I found your blog and after reading it want to sincerely thank you for your kind words about our country! Please give my best regards to skip as well! You will be dearly missed this year! All the Best & Blue Skies!!