At dinner, Armando tells me that in Caracas his family owned a large flea market that was nationalized by Hugo Chavez’s government. He also once worked as a personal computer guy for the country’s former first lady, Doña Blanca, who had been his neighbor when he was growing up.
I ask how he got into flying, and he says that ever since his father sailed solo from Florida to Venezuela when Armando was a boy, he had dreamed of making the same trip by air.
In the late 1990s he got serious about it, and through the Internet, he hooked up with hang-gliding legend Mark “Gibbo” Gibson, who manufactures his high-performance GibboGear ultralights near Houston.
Gibbo taught him to fly but forbade him from attempting the Venezuela trip for at least a couple of years. In the meantime, Armando says, Gibbo would call him up on days when there was a tornado warning and say, “You want to fly across the Caribbean? Today is a good day to practice.”
He finally got Gibbo’s blessing, and after a trial run to the Bahamas, he made his dream flight to Venezuela in 2004, skipping from island to island with only his optimism and trust as a flight plan.
Early the next morning, Armando and Sergio fly the Mosquito to Maui while I jet over to grab a rental car and a can of fuel. When I catch up with them at the small commuter airport in the Kapalua resort area, the Mosquito is sitting in the airport’s tiny parking lot, and Armando and Sergio are surrounded by airport officials and security guards.
It turns out that private aircraft aren’t allowed at Kapalua, so in order to get permission to land, Armando had to declare a fuel emergency. “I call the guy in the tower, and he tells me, ‘I’m sorry, sir, you’re not allowed to land here,’” Armando tells me. “Then he says, ‘Sir, where are you? Who are you? What are you flying? I can’t see you!’”
When the security guards came out to scold him, Armando charmed them into instant allies. Now they stand around joking and grinning like school kids as he refuels and waits for a passenger prop plane to come and go. One smiling woman in a TSA uniform keeps saying over and over, “That is too cool!” Armando invites them all to come flying with him any time. When he finally jumps back into the Mosquito and flits off into the blue, they all stand on the runway, waving goodbye.