One of the bright yellow Cessna seaplanes used in that Hollywood adventure comedy — "the one that didn't crash," he says — was purchased by pilot Rob Ceravolo. He painted it white with blue waves and used it to found his dream company, Tropic Ocean Airways.
"I love the freedom of the seaplane," said Ceravolo, whose pilot credentials stem from a much better source than PlayStation.
The Fort Lauderdale native is a U.S. Navy fighter pilot who flew 41 missions and earned two Air Medals in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He flew the last F-14 flyby for the Fort Lauderdale Air and Sea Show, graduated from TOPGUN in 2009 and remains on active Navy duty in Tampa.
Flying has fascinated Ceravolo for as long as he can remember. His father, also a pilot, used to take him for rides on a four-seater Rallye plane. At age 6, Ceravolo sat on a cushion in the cockpit and got to take turns at the controls.
"My father used to love to tell the story that when I was flying over a freighter off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, I rolled the plane over in a dive, like I was bombing it," he said.
After graduating from the University of Florida and spending two years flying commuter planes, Ceravolo entered the Navy. In his nearly 10-year military career, he said, he has flown "just about every jet in the Navy's inventory."
But while he loves the rush of piloting a multimillion-dollar machine traveling 1.8 times the speed of sound and the power of catapulting off an aircraft carrier, Ceravolo said he always has been enamored with laid-back seaplanes and their ability to fly low and slow over the ocean.
In 2008, he began seriously thinking about starting his own seaplane business. The next year he went to the world acclaimed Jack Brown's Seaplane Base in Winter Haven to get his seaplane pilot rating.
His instructor was Nick Veltre, who was hit with the aviation bug while flying missions as a crew chief on CH-53E helicopters during his six years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps. Those missions included humanitarian relief efforts to East Timor in Indonesia.
Veltre, 33, said it was a "little intimidating" instructing a TOPGUN pilot.
Ceravolo chimed in: "Nick's the best. He still blows me away on the water."
Veltre taught Ceravolo the intricacies of reading water, wind, waves and tides like a sailor for water takeoffs and landings.
"We are flying around, and he's like, 'Yeah, take your shoes off and put them in the back of the plane,"' Ceravolo said. "So we're flying around barefoot with the door open from 500 feet, at about 65 mph, checking out the alligators around Central Florida.
"That just sold me right there."
In 2009, Ceravolo incorporated Tropic Ocean Airways. Veltre became a partner and vice president. The two navigated the time-consuming process of getting the Federal Aviation Administration's approval to operate a charter airline in the United States. In June, they got approval to operate in the Bahamas.
Tropic Ocean Airways became the third seaplane company to now operate out of the Southernmost City. Key West Seaplane Adventure, whose parent company operates in Alaska, has the only National Park Service seaplane permit to provide service to the Dry Tortugas, 70 miles west of Key West.
Key West Seaplanes, owned by two longtime Key West residents, provides charters around the state. But earlier this month, its Cessna amphibian crashed in Arcadia with five people aboard. All escaped without major injury.