The Jet Set Welcome to Jumbolair, a fly-in community where everyone's trying to keep up with the Boeings.
By Jeff Wise

(FORTUNE Magazine) – 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 control tower.

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 fauna.

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.