Nicaraguan Air Arms / Fuerza Aérea - Ejército de Nicaragua
By Wim Sonneveld
República de Nicaragua
History The earliest traces of human habitation in Nicaragua are the Acahualinca-prints. Around the 10th century AD, indigenous people from Mexico migrated to Nicaragua's Pacific lowlands. The first contact with Europeans came in 1502, when Columbus sailed down the Caribbean coast. The Spanish soon colonized the region.
Nicaragua gained independence from Spain in 1821. It was part of Mexico for a brief time, then part of the Central American Federation, and achieved complete independence in 1838. Soon after, Britain and the USA both became extremely interested in Nicaragua and the strategically important Río San Juan navigable passage from Lago de Nicaragua to the Caribbean. In 1855, William Walker, a self-styled filibuster, was invited to help seize power. Walker and his band of mercenaries took Granada and he proclaimed himself president. He was soon booted out of the country but repeatedly tried to invade.
In 1934, General Somoza, head of the National Guard, ordered the assassination of opposition rebel Augusto Sandino and became president in 1937. Somoza ruled Nicaragua as a dictator for the next twenty years, amassing huge personal wealth. Although he was assassinated in 1956, his sons upheld the dynasty until 1979. Widespread opposition to the regime had been present for a long time, but it was the earthquake of 1972, more specifically the way international aid poured to the Somozas, that caused opposition to spread among all classes. Two groups were set up to counter the regime: the FSLN (the Sandinistas) and the UDEL. When UDEL-leader Chamorro was assassinated in 1978, the country erupted in violence. The revolt spread and the Sandinistas marched victoriously into Managua on July 19, 1979.
Sandinist president Daniel Ortega inherited a poor country with high rates of homelessness, illiteracy and insufficient health care. The new government established farming cooperatives, waged an education campaign and introduced an immunization program. However, military ties with revolutionary countries like Cuba and the Soviet Union were tightened, initializing huge investments in the Nicaraguan military infrastructure. Not surprisingly, the USA suspended aid to Nicaragua and allocated dollars for the organization of counter-revolutionary groups known as Contras. By 1985, it was widely known the USA funded the Contras and Congress passed a number of bills to end to funding. US support for the Contras continued secretly until the Irangate revealed the CIA had illegally sold weapons to Iran and used the profits to fund the Contras.
In 1990, Nicaraguans elected Violeta Chamorro. The economy did not revive and the Sandinistas were not completely ruled out, but civil war was over at last. Ortega ran for president again in 1996, but was defeated by anticommunist Arnoldo Alemán. In November of 1998, hurricane Mitch trampled the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua, leaving disaster in its wake. Over 10,000 people died as a result of the hurricane. The tragedy prompted several nations to cancel Nicaragua's debt in late 1999, and the country is slowly rebuilding. Although the Sandinistas regained control in the departmental capitals, liberal Enrique Bolanos was elected president in 2001, again beating Ortega. In 2002, former president Alemán was jailed following corruption.
Source: Lonely Planet
Fuerza Aérea - Ejército de Nicaragua (FA)
Military aviation in Nicaragua can be traced back as far as 1920 when four Curtiss JN-2s were acquired, although it was not until 1936 that the Cuerpo de Aviacion (aviation corps) of the National Guard was formed under Anastacio Tacho Somoza. Just two years later the name of the air corps was changed to Fuerza Aérea de la Guardia Nacional on 9 June 1938. By July 1942 lend-lease funds accounted for the delivery of more aircraft from the USA. After WW II more surplus US assets became available, enabling the air force to grow to maturity. After Nicaragua signed the Rio Treaty in 1947 it received its first combat aircraft, a batch of twelve P-47 Thunderbolts. By that time the force was known as Fuerza Aérea de Nicaragua (FAN). During the murky times which saw the CIA inspired invasion of Guatemala in 1954-1955 the FAN managed to obtain four more P-47N Thunderbolts. These were followed by 26 P-51D Mustangs and 15 T-6G Texans. In 1957, was broke out with Honduras over the Mesquita region. A cease-fire was reached and the Coco-river was recognized as the border between the two countries. The jet era started in 1962, when six T-33As were delivered, followed by one more in 1963.
From 1978, full scale civil war broke out when FSLN-revolutionaries tried to overthrow the hated Somozo dynasty. The rebels were assisted by a fleet of various transports bringing in weapons and ammunitions. In the seventies, the FAN main additions were transport aircraft, like DHC-3 Otters and CASA 212 Aviocars. When Somoza finally fled the country in July 1979, five T-33As, one B-26, six T-28s, six Cessna 337s, two CASA 212s, three C-47s, two IAI201 Aravas, one Huey, three S-58Ts, four OH-6As and various Cessnas and Pipers were left behind. On 18 September 1979 the new Sandinist government set up the Fuerza Aérea Sandinista and took over the inventory.
As soon as 1980, the Sandinist government sent seventy cadets to Bulgaria for pilots training. Russian and Cuban advisors and construction teams were flown in to expand the military infrastructure, resulting in the construction and improvement of many airbases. One large new airbase was constructed just north of Nicaragua near Punte Huete, in order to receive MiG-21s. Large numbers of Mi-8 and Mi-25 assault and combat helicopters were delivered between 1981 and 1990, although many were lost to Contra fire. In April 1983, Libyan cargo aircraft were intercepted in Brazil, intended to deliver L-39 Albatros light attack aircraft to Nicaragua. The Contras also built up a considerable air force, containing C-47s, C-123s, Cessna 337s, Pipers and various helicopters. In 1990, elections were held bringing an end to the Sandinist rule and more important, to war. The air force was renamed Fuerza Aérea Nicaraguënse soon after.
In 1992, most surviving Mi-25 Hinds were sold to Peru, alongside about twelve Mi-8MT Hips. Only about ten Hips remain in service. The name of the air force changed again in 1995 to Fuerza Aérea - Ejército de Nicaragua, after it lost its independent status and became an integral branch of the Nicaraguan armed forces. The air force currently has only two operational squadrons, a fraction of its size in the eighties. Only few aircraft were bought in after 1990. The Escuadrón de Transporte operates the remaining two An-26s, an An-2s and a single Cessna 404. The Escuadrón de Ala Rotativa is responsible for the operation of the remaining number of Hips, of which two modern versions were acquired recently for VIP duties. Both squadrons are based at Managua's Cesar Sandino airport, although the Hips can also be found at various detachments.