Strange things grow in the swampland of central
Florida--including oddball communities. There's Cassadaga, town of
psychics; Gibsonton, trailer park of circus freaks; and now
Jumbolair, a gated community for owners of honking big jets.
Like geeks and clairvoyants, big-jet owners are a marginalized
caste. Witness the persecution of Larry Ellison, who battled San
Jose officials in court for a year after they tried to prevent him
from landing his Gulfstream V in the middle of the night (Ellison
eventually won). Or of John Travolta, chased from a fly-in community
near Daytona when neighbors complained that his Gulfstream II was
too big and loud.
Jumbolair is a haven from such prejudice. On its 550 acres, 125
families will be able to roar along the 7,550-foot runway unhindered
by municipal noise ordinances or the wrath of nearby residents. So
far nine lots have been sold (one to a Hamptons socialite who flies
down in a leased Learjet) and two are pending (one to a retired
German racecar driver who owns a Russian MiG fighter). So far, the
only home constructed belongs to Travolta, whose $2.5 million,
eight-bedroom house has a cavernous dining room topped with a mock
Even among aviation buffs Travolta is considered an extremist.
He's the only private citizen in the U.S. to own and operate a
Boeing 707, a former commercial airliner. He employs a cockpit crew
of six, who along with Travolta wear navy-blue uniforms and jaunty
white caps. He named his only son Jett.
A visit to Jumbolair found Travolta's Gulfstream parked by the
runway but the 707 nowhere in sight. The day before, he had sent
wife and kids ahead to one of their other houses. The star himself
remained secluded with his entourage in the Jumbolair Inn, a B&B
on the property.
"He uses the 707 as the family van," says developer Terri Jones.
"The Gulfstream is his sports car."
Jumbolair sprang from the imagination of Jones's ex-husband,
Arthur. Now in his 70s, Arthur has at different times in his life
flown as a bush pilot in Africa, imported wild animals, and produced
wildlife documentaries. In 1969, he invented Nautilus exercise
equipment, which made him rich. In 1980, Arthur bought a former
country estate of socialite Muriel Vanderbilt Adams and dubbed it
Jumbolair. He lay down a $6 million airstrip to accommodate a fleet
that grew to include a Beech Baron, a Citation jet, and three 707s.
Five years later he flew in 68 baby elephants from Zimbabwe and
raised them alongside 3,500 crocodiles, a gorilla, and other exotic
Ever on the lookout for "faster airplanes, younger women, and
bigger crocodiles," Arthur met Terri when she was a 15-year-old
beauty contestant, hired her, and married her when she turned 18.
She took up his passions, logging thousands of hours of flight time
and eventually qualifying to pilot 747s. At 26 she flew from
Burbank, Calif., to Jacksonville in a Piper Cheyenne in just over
five hours, breaking the world speed record. She signed on as a
"Charlie Girl" for Revlon and wrote a book (How to Look Terrific in
a Bathing Suit). But in 1989 the couple divorced, the animals were
sent to zoos, and Jumbolair was put on the market.
Travolta was among the prospective buyers who decided the whole
estate was too much. "But," Terri recalls, "he said, 'If you turn it
into a fly-in community, I'd be interested in buying a lot.'" Terri
bought out Arthur, drew up a master plan, and with new husband
Jeremy Thayer began marketing lots.
The world's most over-the-top fly-in community is a work in
progress. A tour reveals a lush vista of rolling pasture
interspersed with stands of mossy oak. The asphalt taxiways to link
each backyard to the main airstrip have been laid down, as have
driveways and access roads. Apart from Travolta's, though, ground
has been broken on only one lot. And out front, the wooden jumbolair
arcing over the front gate has a few chunks missing.
All that will change soon, promises Terri. "There are going to be
four or five big names, as big as Travolta," she says, letting one
name slip: Lorenzo Lamas, who visited in December.
Once Jumbolair is all parceled out, there will be no more tours
for journalists. A wall of privacy will descend, in anticipation of
the dawning of a more tolerant era--when jumbo-jet owners can live
alongside their fellow man.