There's nothing like being able to walk out your back door to your hangar and into your airplane," says Spruce Creek, Fla., resident Jack Hirn, summing up the number-one reason that the residential airpark lifestyle captivates pilots of every stripe. And the neighbors are often as much of an attraction as the aviating. "Not everybody in the world gets aviation," says Mike Ciochetti, developer of Heaven's Landing, an upscale airpark in northern Georgia, "but those who do tend to be fun-minded people. They live a full, action-packed life—they're not waiting for life to come to them. Those are the kind of people you see in a fly-in community."
We might also add there has never been a better time to make the move if you've ever dreamed of living with your airplane. No, we don't know whether the housing market has bottomed out or that the economy has stabilized. But we're sure none of us are getting any younger, and while prices of residential airpark lots and homes have rebounded off their lows, there are still great deals and a greater variety of airparks than ever.
A residential airpark also can make financial sense when you consider the money you're now spending on a hangar, and the cost and time of getting to and from the airport. Of course, as with any real estate transaction, do your homework. Carefully check the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that define architectural guidelines, access and ownership of the runway, and other critical ownership factors.
Think about it: If you're not living with your airplane, are you really living? Here are some examples of the residential airpark communities you could be part of.
Gateway to a four-season outdoor adventureland, Alpine Airpark (46U) in Alpine, Wyo., 30 miles south of Jackson, was founded more than 40 years ago. But it looked more than its age when Bill Wiemann, then scouting for a residential airpark to call home, bought it and began rebuilding in 2006. He resurfaced and widened the runway (5,850 feet), put in a fuel farm with avgas and Jet A, and economy be damned, began building homes—beautiful, rustic, upscale homes. In true "(air)field of dreams" fashion, they've come. Forty-eight of the 65 homesites have been purchased, and 42 homes built ($450,000 to $2.5 M), in addition to executive hangars with sleep-in facilities.
"You can see the Tetons on final," Wiemann said. Residents are decidedly outdoor types. Set on the Palisades Reservoir where it's fed by the Snake River, residents go boating, fly fishing, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and, of course, exploring the backcountry in bush planes.
The nation's largest Husky dealership (Wiemann's) is located here, and several residents learned about the airpark while shopping for Husky aircraft. Scot Cook, who lives here with wife Andrea and son Pete, is among them. Cook's aircraft fleet includes a Maule M5, Cirrus SR22 and Citation 501SP. With all the activities, what does he like best? "Absolutely, a sense of community," Cook said. Dennis Demers and wife Kathleen also discovered Alpine while Husky shopping, and now commute here from their home in Spruce Creek in a Citation CJ3. "We refer to it as a camp," he said of his Alpine residence. "That's how we use it." Stan Darkis stopped to visit a friend here while on an air tour of National Parks with some other pilots in 2008, and built a second home here that fall. He commutes from St. Paul, Minn., in a turbonormalized SR22, and flies his Husky with 31-inch bush tires while here. "Every day is an adventure," Darkis said. "Maybe you're out flying in the morning, come home at 10 o'clock, and someone decides it's time to kayak the Snake River, and you stop on a sandbar for lunch. And then there's fly fishing in the evening."
Big South Fork Airpark
Situated adjacent to Eastern Tennessee's 125,000-acre Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and with through-the-fence access to Scott Municipal Airport (KSCX), Big South Fork Airpark (BSFA) is "an equestrian community as much as an aviation community," said Bill Armstrong, one of the developers. "Our residents are outdoors folks. They love the idea of hiking, fishing in the river, camping and horseback riding. The idea that you can land your plane, taxi into your hangar, call the barn and have two horses brought to your home and go trail riding, that's pretty unique."
Founded in 2006, today Phase I of the 450-acre development is complete: The equestrian center, welcome center, roads and utilities are in. Thirty of 55 homesites ($89,000-$280,000) are sold, and seven homes have been built. Karl and Connie Rogers of Nashville own one. "We looked at the place, and it was so serene. The air is so rich in oxygen, I thought, 'Why doesn't everybody who has an airplane think of this?'" Rogers said. An oncologist, Rogers came to flying relatively recently, and now owns a Piper PA46 Matrix he uses strictly for pleasure flying. But while flying brought him here, what the couple enjoy most about BSFA are "the incredible people who are my neighbors," Rogers said. "When everybody is there, it's like a big, happy community family."
Eventually, 142 homesites will be planned. For those who want to learn more about ownership opportunities, BSFA will host one of its quarterly Adventure Weekends on March 10-11, 2012. Guests will be put up in the Welcome Center lodge, tour the property, enjoy outdoor activities like ATV rides, fishing, horseback riding, and meet residents at a group dinner in the lodge.
NASCAR driver Mike Ciochetti intended to make Heaven's Landing, in northern Georgia's Appalachian foothills, his private fly-in retreat. But a crash at Talladega changed his career and his plans for the property. "We broke ground in 2001," Ciochetti said. Today, the 635-acre gated community is home to owners who arrive in everything from Piper Cubs and Stearmans to Citations and a Falcon 50. The 5,069-foot concrete runway (GE99) is overlooked by the 13,000-square-foot community clubhouse, which hosts regular gatherings like holiday and Superbowl parties, and has a fitness center and racquetball courts.
Lots, some backing onto National Forest, are taxiable and nontaxiable. More than half the 300 homesites (all approximately 1.5 acres; $100,000-$275,000) have been bought. "The irony is, 90% of owners have purchased nontaxiable lots by choice—they prefer views and want a hangar on the field," Ciochetti said. Fourteen homes ($450,000-$2.5 M) constructed of natural materials and more than 40 executive hangars have been built. Just down the road are golf courses, Mayberry-esque downtown Clayton, and big-box stores.
For John Cokinogenis, a South African native, finding that combination near his adopted Florida home base seemed truly heaven sent. "For years, I was looking all over: Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, California—I never thought to look in Georgia," Cokinogenis said. "To me, it was flat. Then I went to have a look." He bought property here two years ago, and today has a house and three hangars for his Cessna 210, turbine Lancair, Glasair Sportsman and Panzl S-330 aerobatic airplane. Cokinogenis, who flies around the country servicing Walter turbine engines, and his wife now plan to make Heaven's Landing their primary residence.
Stop in on your way to or from Sun 'n Fun for Heaven's Landing's Top Off Your Tummy And Your Tanks promotion. "We'll take them to lunch in Clayton or feed them at the clubhouse," Ciochetti said.
Mountain Air Country Club
Mountain Air's breathtaking mountaintop runway in North Carolina (the highest public-use airport east of the Mississippi) makes this one of the most photogenic and recognized fly-in resorts. Residents and developers note this is more of a country club with fly-in access than a fly-in community: There are no hangars or runway access from homes, and most of the houses and condos are vacation properties. But the runway is the prime attraction for the many owners (about 25%) who fly in and out.
"A lot of our pilots are professionals who like to have an escape and have very little time," said Becky Stiles, a sales agent. "It's just a wonderful means of arrival and departure. They leave their family here during the summer, and fly back and forth to work." In addition to golf and tennis, popular activities include hiking, fly fishing, white-water rafting and stargazing. "It's like camp for big kids," Stiles said.
The active Mountain Air Pilots Association raises money for local scholarships and other worthy causes, and has online video training tools for pilots who want to fly in to the 2,875-foot runway. (Nonresident pilots are required to carry $1 million in liability coverage.) About 600 homesites have been sold, with lots starting at about $100,000. Condos are priced from about $200,000, while homes range from $400,000 to more than $2M.
Insurance agent Buzz Tarver, who like numerous owners lives in Florida, bought a condo here with wife Colette five years ago after visiting during a local vacation. "I originally thought I'd be there two or three weeks a year. Then I started staying a month, then a month and a half," Tarver said, who often brings grown sons Jordan and Michael, who are also pilots. "The more we use it, the more we enjoy it."
Selected Residential Airparks
Every state in the U.S., except for Rhode Island and a few foreign countries, now have at least one residential airpark. Here are a few new and established fly-in communities worth considering when looking for a home where you can park your wings.
Aero Estates Airpark
Airpark Costa Rica
Cannon Creek Airpark
Grass Roots Airpark
Holley Mountain Airpark
Mazatzal Mountain Airpark
Mount Royal Airpark
SilverWing At Sandpoint
Founded in 2009, SilverWing provides through-the-fence access to Sandpoint Airport (KSZT, runway 5,501 feet), a full-service municipal facility, from its upscale hangar homes. A four-season recreation mecca, Sandpoint is minutes from 43-mile-long Lake Pend Oreille, one of the deepest in the U.S., and the Schweitzer Ski Resort. The town's restaurants, shopping, schools and backcountry outfitters are within walking distance of SilverWing. Developer Michael Mileski said SilverWing appeals to "pilots who love recreation and the backcountry flying experience, while still being able to walk to the city from their fly-in residence for a great meal, or to pick up any item they may need to work in their hangar or cook dinner that night." Underscoring its backcountry flying appeal, Quest Aircraft, which makes the Kodiak turbine-powered bush plane, is headquartered adjacent to SilverWing. The development has 44 lots (three sold, three more in escrow), and its fully furnished model home and shell are completed. (A virtual tour of the model is available on SilverWing's website.) Lots start at $99,000, and buyers can build their own home or have SilverWing handle design and construction; the hangar and residential shell above it cost $80 per square foot. "You could build the 50x42-foot hangar and residential shell, and own the land for $435,000," Mileski said. "We believe the luxury of this residential unit and construction is unsurpassed." In addition to drawing outdoor enthusiasts, Sandpoint hosts an annual vintage car show, summer music festival, horse show and winter carnival, and its historic vaudeville theater features many noted entertainers. "The location of this development is tremendous and allows for all recreational activities with the comfort of a city within walking distance, all adjacent to a public airport," said Mileski, summing up SilverWing's allure.
Skypark At Sunriver Resort
This 29-home residential airpark within Oregon's 4,000-acre Sunriver Resort (with some 4,500 residences of its own) combines the best of fly-in and resort living. Skypark lies adjacent to Sunriver Airport (S21), a private, public-use airport (runway, 5,455 feet), built to serve visitors.
Skypark residents have access to all the resort facilities and activities—golf courses, pools, spa and fitness center, marina, stable, observatory and grand lodge, along with shops and restaurants, and events such as concerts and festivals—all within biking or free shuttle distance.
Twelve of the Skypark residences are hangar homes, the others have views of the Deschutes River out back. "If the people on the river want a hangar, they can have a hangar at the hangar complex by the runway," said airport manager Stephanie Hartung.
Owners are an even mix of full-time and part-time residents, operating aircraft from Piper Cubs to a Citation Mustang, with some homeowners commuting around the West in their airplanes. Mount Bachelor ski area is minutes away, and this time of year typically boasts excellent Spring skiing—a good excuse to see the community in person.
Sunriver also has hotel rooms and vacation condos, providing ample opportunity for prospective buyers to book a getaway and see the property. (Ask for the pilots' rate when making your reservations.) Most Skypark homesites have been bought, though homes come up for resale, the most recent listing priced at about $800,000.
Chris Christensen and wife Millie previously had vacation homes at Sunriver Resort, but moved to Skypark full time in 2005, drawn by the four-season climate and opportunity to enjoy fully their Bonanza and Super Cub on Tundra tires. "It's got everything most of us who want to stay active want—we like to fish, ski, bicycle and play tennis," said the retired executive. "We just want to continue to fly."
Selected Residential Airparks
Piney Creek Airpark
Rocky Mountain Airpark
Sandy's Airpark At Sporty's
Port Orange, Fla.
Spruce Creek on Florida's northeast coast is the largest and most fabled residential airpark, with more than 1,200 homes and 600 based aircraft on the 1,100-acre property. The gated community includes a country club with golf course and clubhouse, and has an adjacent equestrian facility, but aviation is the community's overriding passion. Residents include many current and former aviation professionals, along with plenty of "normal mom-and-pop pilots," said Lenny Ohlsson, resident for more than 20 years and owner with wife Pat of Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty.
The weekly Saturday-morning fly-out breakfast gaggle routinely draws 50 or more airplanes, and residents provide aerial entertainment for numerous local events.
"It's like living at an air show," said Brian Norris, Sean Tucker's crew chief, who bought a "very reasonable" town-house condo with his wife Devan, an airline pilot, in 2009, fulfilling a lifelong dream he thought he'd never be able to afford. "Unless you have something against airplanes, golf, guns, motorcycles, nice cars or drinking, you'll be fine," Norris said of life at Spruce Creek.
Jack Hirn, who moved here full time in 2005 from a residential airpark near Chicago, noted, "If you are inclined toward building airplanes, it's a builders' mecca. Every tool you can possibly imagine is in somebody's hangar at Spruce Creek. I know half a dozen people that have full machine shops. It's just amazing."
About 40% of homes are on taxiways with hangars. Town-house condos range from $139,000 to $700,000 (latter with hangar). Lots from $125,000-$250,000 for nontaxiway; $250,000-$400,000 for taxiway lots. Homes $200,000-$750,000 without hangar; $450,000-$3.5M with hangar. Nearby schools, big-box stores, the city of Daytona and the Atlantic Ocean make this a practical primary residence.