Anyone who knows real estate knows that location is key. Those who call Summerland Key Cove Airport (FD51) in the lower Florida Keys home are intimately familiar with this time-tested realty concept.
The site’s location is what enticed its initial developer, Henry Hudgins, to purchase the parcel of land. The $100,000 purchase, at the time in 1947, consisted primarily of “uninhabited wilderness.” This previously desolate chunk of land has since been transformed into what it is today, which includes both the airport, as well as surrounding homes and infrastructure.
The decision to incorporate marine facilities into the ocean-flanked community was an easy one. But including a runway was a little less intuitive. The decision to do so was largely inspired by Henry’s wife, Mary, who was a pilot and aircraft owner. As a result, residents of the fly-in community enjoy not only near year-round sunshine, but also backyard access to the ocean and a private asphalt runway.
Matt Stettner, a recently retired naval aviator, has called Summerland Key home since 2014. It is easy to tell from his open appreciation for the community that his time as a resident has been truly enjoyable.
“I’m never leaving because I love it here. I have a runway in my front yard, a canal in my backyard, and I can shovel money in either direction. The runway is about 120 feet from my driveway, so I just pull out the plane and go fly. It is really nice,” Stettner said.
“I personally think this community is one of the best kept secrets in the Keys. Obviously, you get to fly in and that’s great. But the other part is that my canal is just as far from where I’m standing now as the runway is. Our canals are some of the best in the Keys, because they are flow-through. They are not fed-in canals.”
Whether by air or by sea, memorable views are readily available from all angles, as is the opportunity to enjoy a myriad of pelagic activities.
“I can land my plane, hop in my boat, and soon be at Looe Key, which is one of the premier diving spots in the world,” Stettner said. “There is spearfishing, diving, and any kind of watersports that you can think of. It’s just a neat combination of those two things and how quickly it’s accessible is really nice. You get the best of both worlds here, the aviation and marine side of it.”
On top of having quick access to two of his greatest passions, Stettner, an owner of a 1963 Beechcraft P35 Bonanza, has found a way to further integrate the two into his life.
“Well just going up and flying around The Keys and looking for wildlife; sharks and even whales, occasionally [is a lot of fun]. But personally, I like to go spearfishing and diving and you can burn a whole lot of boat gas trying to find clear water. It’s so much easier to go for a 20-minute flight, go hit all the usual spots and find out where the clear water is, then go there in the boat. So, I burn maybe four gallons of fuel doing that whereas the boat (a 27-foot World Cat) would burn all kinds of gas and time doing that.”
Being on the ground at Summerland Key is reportedly not half bad either, with residents able to enjoy solitude and fair weather that The Keys offer. But it’s not always sunshine and rainbows within Hurricane Alley, and an airpark situated feet from the Atlantic Ocean is not immune from the threat of tropical storms.
“Irma was the last one and it literally bulls-eyed my house,” he said. “I mean, the track went right over the top of my house,” he said.
So the community sprang into action to help others.
“We ran a rather large relief effort out of here since this was the hardest hit area of The Keys,” Stettner said. “We just kind of opened up the airfield to let anyone with supplies who wanted to fly into here, fly in here. Every hurricane season we spin up to plan again and review what we are going to do and we keep in contact with Monroe County, their emergency management folks. Just to make sure that we are still a part of that plan.”
The runway itself at Summerland Key Cove Airport has a unique aspect to it, on top of being one of the southernmost landing sites in the country.
“We are probably one of the only fly-in communities that does not have a homeowners association or anything like it,” he said. “So, fifteen people own the runway itself and then they have absolutely nothing to do with the houses around it. Yes, [some of] these houses have hangars and they will pay us a landing license fee to use the runway. And then we have people from the surrounding islands that just want to base their airplane here because it’s more convenient. They don’t live on Summerland, they just keep their airplane here.”
There are more than two dozen airplanes that call Summerland Key home.
“All kinds of aircraft [are based here],” Stettner said. “We’ve got Bonanzas, a couple of Barons, some Cirruses, a couple of Pilatuses…every once in a while we will get a King Air that wants to come in here. We’ve also got a couple of Caravans, one that is on floats. And a couple of light sports, a Velocity and an RV-8.”
Stettner added that the 2,394 ft by 25 ft runway has a set of identified standard operating procedures. Some of these formal procedures naturally restrict the size of aircraft that are able to operate in and out of it.
“We’ve got a 10,500-pound landing weight restriction, and we require that any large twins operate in the balanced field condition. So, that kind of limits the big turbine twins from carrying much of anything.”
Some other key operational notes for the permission-required facility include:
- Runway 12 has 2,035 feet usable for landing
- Runway 30 has 2,104 feet usable for landing
- Pattern altitude is 800 feet
- Left pattern for both runways
Stettner estimated that there are around 25 hangar homes in the community and two properties are presently for sale . Additionally, “There are five lots that you can build hangar homes on. I think what we will see here is that those will be built up and then the single-story houses eventually, I’d say in the next five to 10 years, will get bought up, knocked down, and turned into hangar homes.”
For those that are interested in experiencing Summerland Key firsthand, the community is planning on holding a fly-in this November 4, 5, and 6. That is, as long as hurricanes are a nonfactor during that time.