In Florida's Horse Country, A Community with Jet Appeal: Jumbolair

John Travolta has a thing for airplanes. He likes flying them. He likes hearing them. When he wakes up, he likes looking out the window and seeing his Gulfstream II jet and Boeing 707 in the front yard.

OCALA, Florida (AP) -- John Travolta has a thing for airplanes. He likes flying them. He likes hearing them. When he wakes up, he likes looking out the window and seeing his Gulfstream II jet and Boeing 707 in the front yard.

As it so happens, whenever Travolta steps out _ say, to a movie set or one of his other homes in Maine or California _ he hops into one of his jets, taxis on down the street to the community runway and lifts off, unfettered by autograph junkies, Sunday drivers or road hogs.

Ah, the joy of residing in Jumbolair Aviation Estates, an exclusive, 550-acre (220-hectare) ''fly-in community'' with a $6 million (euro4.7 million) runway - the largest, paved, private airfield in the United States.

Once a home to African crocodiles, elephants, white rhinos and a 400-pound (180-kilogram) gorilla named Mickey, Jumbolair is fast becoming a sanctuary for comfort creatures whose most common desire is to eat, sleep and play within shouting distance of their flying machines.

The idea of parking one's wings next to one's abode is hardly novel; there are roughly 400 airparks across the United States where homes with private hangars are built around tarmacs and airstrips.

But some fly-in communities rise above the rest.

There's ''Spruce Creek,'' in Daytona Beach, Florida, which offers 18 holes of golf, a clubhouse and a flying school; there's ''Mountain Air'' in Burnsville, North Carolina, which has an 18-hole mountaintop course, an award-winning clubhouse, lodge, and eight miles (13 kilometers) of hiking trails through the Blue Ridge Mountains; there's ''Lajitas,'' in Lajitas, Texas, between the Big Bend National Park and the Texas State Park, which has two championship golf courses, quail hunting grounds, equestrian activities, tennis courts, a spa, and gourmet dining.

And then there's Jumbolair.

Carved into the hilly horse country of central Florida, this retreat markets itself as America's ''premier residential aviation community.'' For day-trippers, it promises ''extreme luxury''; for homebuyers, ''a lifestyle and a dream that few people will ever experience.''


There's a Nautilus Center, a wet bar with billiard table, Olympic-sized pool, tennis center, conference halls, 9,000-square-foot (810-square-meter) ballroom (where two gourmet cooks, Sean and Farrell, spoil guests at tea-time with sweet-potato pancakes layered with salmon, poached eggs and dill hollandaise), stables, and, for residents who walk their stallions daily, several hundred acres (hectares) of untrammeled pasture.

Along a sandy road lined with monstrous, 200-year-old oaks and a meadow of grazing thoroughbreds, stands a white, Old South-style mansion decorated with fine-art antiques: the Jumbolair Inn and Country Club.

There are five suites at this inn. Each has a huge bathroom with stuff like bright red, claw-footed soaking tubs, gold-plated fixtures, porcelain tiling. Two share a balcony with vistas of meadows, horse barns, and, not to forget, the mansion of Mr. Saturday Night Fever himself.

What makes Jumbolair the envy of all airparks is not Travolta, though; it's the runway.

This one is 7,550 feet (2,265 meters) long, 250 feet (75 meters) wide, and elevated (100 feet or 30 meters, to keep the runway from flooding during downpours). At the north end is a 10-acre (4-hectare) landing pad. Along its sides, there is ground lighting, for night owls.

Taxiways lead to the pilots' homes. (To avoid chance run-ins between aircraft and four-wheeled vehicles, each home-site has a street in the front and a taxiway at the rear.)

And, although commercial airports often build runways longer than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters), a private airstrip the magnitude of Jumbolair's isn't likely to be duplicated soon, the pricetag being the main inhibitor.

Terri Jones-Thayer, a one-time model (Revlon's perfumed ''Charlie'' girl of yore), and her husband, Jeremy Thayer, owner of an upscale custom-jewelry outfit, are developing Jumbolair together. They take a certain pride in knowing that any jet, fighter or otherwise, can land just a few hundred yards (meters) from their mailbox.

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