COLLIER COUNTY — There are hundreds of golf course communities in Collier County. Boating-friendly neighborhoods dot the county’s coastlines and canals, too. And if you seek an enclave that caters exclusively to the more mature, it can easily be arranged.
But there’s only one airpark, only one place where a pilot can pull his or her plane into a personal hangar after landing it on the community’s privately-owned runway. That place is Wing South, a gated community located off Rattlesnake-Hammock Road and founded in 1972 by developer Dewey Polly.
Polly’s dreams for Wing South were sky-high, although the reality turned out to be somewhat more grounded. Originally, Polly planned 450 units on 160 acres; today, there are 59 homesites within the gates, 38 of which are built on. Outside the gate, there are 11 more homesites, eight of which are built on and also have runway access.
Growth at Wing South is slow, but it is steady. In 2005, there were only 34 homes built within the gate and six homes outside.
Now, Collier County has approved a PUD offering five oversized lots along the runway, also outside the gate. The lots, acquired by Wing South about a decade ago, were bought as a long-term investment. (The lots are for sale; call Realtor Susan Bible, 455-4551 or 269-9008.)
Proceeds from the sales of the lots are expected to help replenish the community’s reserve fund, which it dipped into when the neighborhood recently chose to repave its almost 40-year-old, 4,400-foot lighted runway, taxiway and tie-down lot. A new north taxiway was also added.
The cost of the improvement was less than $300,000, but Wing South community leaders believe it was timely, since the construction slowdown helped make materials and labor more affordable.
“It’s very important to us, because we’ve been saving this money,” says Jon Fay, a pilot and the Wing South homeowner’s association president. Fay and his wife Catherine moved to the community four years ago.
While Wing South may not be what Dewey Polly initially envisioned, it’s ideal for many of Naples’ professional pilots and airplane enthusiasts. The community is big enough to be efficient, but still small enough to be cozy, a sentiment that’s not often used in the same sentence as “airport.”
“It’s a great place to live,” says Catherine Fay. “It’s quiet most of the time.”
The Fays own an airplane charter company, Naples Air Incorporated, and like most Wing South residents, they are plane people. But there’s nothing plain about Wing South, Catherine explains.
“It’s kind of a diverse mixture,” she says.
Some residents are professional pilots and their families. Others are retired pilots. Some simply have the aviation bug. Not everyone owns an aircraft, although the majority do: Catherine’s estimate is that Wing South homeowners possess a total of 45 aircraft, including biplanes, helicopters, aerobatic planes and twin-engine turbo props.
A few residents are building their own aircraft in their private hangars, which are attached to their homes like supersized garages. The community is arranged in the shape of a giant horseshoe; to reach the runway, a pilot taxis out by using the community’s roads.
Signs remind drivers to share the space.
“There’s no danger here,” Catherine says. “We have a frequency, and we talk on the frequency before you take off, just like you would do at a controlled airport like Naples.”
Adds her husband, “It’s relaxed, but it’s not casual.”
One thing Wing South homeowners are not doing is living the high life, says resident Tracy Edmondson. Well, maybe a different kind of high life. But Edmondson is actually referring to affluence.
She’s occasionally greeted with the perception that owning her Piper Cherokee 180 must make her some sort of millionaire — and that owning in an airpark is only further evidence of her status.
Edmondson dismisses that notion. She’s a helicopter pilot for Collier County Emergency Medical Services Medflight, and her salary is a matter of public record. It’s easy to find out what she makes, she notes politely.
“It’s no different than if you went out and bought a Mercedes or a fancy Bass boat,” she says of living in Wing South. “It’s a matter of hobbies. It’s a matter of priorities.”
So she’s definitely not a millionaire, but certainly a lifelong lover of aviation. Although her father wasn’t a pilot, he served in the United States Air Force. At age 19, Edmondson woke up with a bad case of aviation fever and decided she was going to learn how to fly.
She joined the United States Army and served on active duty from 1981 to 1994. Later, she served in the National Guard, and in August 2008 was deployed to Iraq for 15 months, where she flew a Chinook helicopter.
Now it’s time for the next phase of her flight career. She has given her notice to the county, and will join her husband, Peter Bolton, in Texas, where he is a flight instructor. She plans to do the same.
Edmondson and Bolton recently purchased a home at another airpark in Texas. They’re not selling their Wing South property, though. All in all, the couple own three airpark homes; the third is in North Carolina.
To a non-pilot, living at an airport might seem unusual.
To Edmondson, it’s deeply satisfying.
“It’s just kind of neat to be standing in my kitchen and look out and see an airplane going by, or a helicopter going by,” she says.