by Jeff Lytle
“Cheers for 50 Years.”
So says the birthday banner at a Naples neighborhood where another sign also catches your eye: “Taxiing airplanes have the right of way.”
That narrows the half-century milestone to a single place, Wing South Airpark off Rattlesnake Hammock Road.
At Wing South, the sound of takeoff s and landings fail to raise anyone’s ire as they might at other airports. Instead, the traffic inspires slogans such as “We all love airplane noise,” which some residents go so far as to call “music.”
And that music does not all come from tiny putt-putt planes. The 4,400-foot runway can handle twin-engine propeller planes and small jets.
Still, one of the best parts about Wing South, says resident Fizz Papp, is its peace and quiet. “It’s a real community,” he says. “We all have common interests, and dogs are welcome, with lots of space for them to enjoy in a secure, gated community.”
The “common interests,” of course, are love of planes and flying them, often daily.
Those are passions acquired in the military and/or commercial airlines, or as bucket list hobbies later in life. With a big plus at Wing South.“
You get to live with your plane; it’s right there at your ,” explains Kevin Dey, a neighborhood leader whose work these days is blocking new development next door from fighting air traffic noise later, with help from County Commissioner Penny Taylor.
One home is even designed to resemble an airport control tower, which Wing South does not have. No one on the ground even serves as a traffic controller. Pilots at night can activate runway lights with a click of their radio microphone.
The airpark started life in the middle of nowhere. “Sure looked like a runway being built in Nowhereville,” the late Bob Ettinger wrote of a flyover in 1973. “There was not another soul insight for miles.”
Now it is in the heart of the urban area. Nearby Naples Airport is a good, friendly neighbor, actually carving a notch in its restricted five-mile airspace for planes coming to and from Wing South, Dey says.
In fact, in the days before modern GPS tracking, nonresident pilots would mistake Wing South for the airport on Marco Island.
Wing South was the brainchild of developer George Dewey Polly in an era when a go-getter could have a hand in almost everything around Naples. Polly was a Collier County commissioner and local booster, owner of The Pewter Mug. He is credited with popularizing the name Alligator Alley, founding landmark radio station WNOG (for Wonderful Naples on the Gulf) and spearheading what is now Delnor-Wiggins State Park.
Polly did not invent the airplane community concept. “Wing South and most other airparks flourished on the rising tide of the retirement of thousands of World War II aviators,” says local historian and real estate appraiser Ray Carroll, “many of whom continued working in the aviation industry after entering private life.
Polly did sense an opportunity for a niche market when Naples was spreading its wings only a decade after Hurricane Donna.
Noted local Realtor Bill Earls, with John R. Wood Properties, says Wing South and others tend to be small subdivisions catering to recreational fliers who otherwise would compete for limited hangar space at conventional airports. Pilots with larger planes require more services than fly-ins can provide, he explains, though Wing South does offer fuel sales.
Convenient fuel comes in handy for day trips, Dey says, such as jaunts to Key West for “hundred dollar hamburgers” –plane costs included. The freedom is worth every penny to Dey. “You are up there and it’s like heaven – or Disney World,” he says. “It’s clean, puffy clouds – just you and the environment.”
Wing South’s Star Myrt Rose is a standout among neighbors. She flies a mint-condition 1941 Piper Cub and owns a legacy as colorful as her bright blue and yellow plane, which she parks in her garage.
In addition to parachuting and flying helicopters too, she was a barnstorming wing-walker – upright as well as upside down.
She attracted international headlines at age 75 in 2011 by accidentally flying into the restricted airspace around President Obama, who was in nearby Chicago for a birthday party.
She made the mistake of having her radio off for a casual flight, which also let her assume the two F-16 fighter jets that forced her down were coming by to admire her “cute little plane.”
An unapologetic Rose joshed to a reporter that Michelle Obama should have baked a cake for the president and kept the celebration in Washington.