Passion Projects and Ramp Rat Racing at Arizona’s Stellar Airpark

Proximity to his airplanes opened up a world of opportunities for airline pilot and air racer Joe Coraggio.

Joe Coraggio’s Lancair Legacy, which he keeps hangared at his home at Stellar Airpark (P19) in Chandler, Arizona. [Courtesy: Joe Coraggio]

By profession, Joe Coraggio is a pilot for a major domestic airline. When not flying the Airbus A320, he is either busy flying his Lancair Legacy or working on his various project aircraft from his hangar home at Stellar Airpark (P19) in Chandler, Arizona. 

Coraggio’s first introduction to airpark living came in college during a time when he was starting his aviation industry career. As soon as he graduated from the University of Minnesota, he began working on and flying experimental airplanes. Last summer was transformative for him as an engineer and aviator. 

“I went to an aviation internship the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, which was intended to bridge the gap between the theory that they teach in engineering school and the practical side, actually being able to build, machine, weld, do composite layups, and things like that,” said Corragio. “Dick Keyt [with whom Coraggio completed the internship] has been a major mentor in my aviation career, both professional and recreational. I lived at an airpark, Pecan Plantation (0TX1) in Granbury, Texas, during that summer. Being there absolutely cemented the idea in my head that the coolest thing in the world that you can ever do is live with your airplane and be able to roll out of bed, fall down the stairs, make a cup of coffee, and be in the workshop in three minutes.” 

Coraggio and his spouse, Kevin James, purchased their home at Stellar Airpark last February. The residence checked the box for the duo, as the neighborhood is centered around a 4,417-foot-long asphalt runway and smack dab in the middle of the Greater  Phoenix area. 

“The biggest thing for the two of us was that I’m only home 15 days a month with my airline schedule usually, so I don’t mind if I’m far away from the city [as far as] things to do,” Coraggio said. “But the thing with Stellar is you are literally 1 mile away from a mall and restaurants. You are 15 minutes to downtown Phoenix, 15 minutes to Old Town Scottsdale, and 15 minutes to Sky Harbor Airport (KPHX). It’s a rarity to have an airpark with a major metropolitan area nearby with entertainment, shopping, and all of the conveniences nearby.”  

It may be tempting to justify living at an airpark with different means of rationalization. At the end of the day, though, the decision to move to a fly-in community is often based on personal feeling rather than reason. 

“When I was trying to make an argument to move to an airpark, I would say, ‘Well, I can get rid of 25 minutes of driving each way to the airport. I can be at least 50 minutes more productive every day I go out to the airport,’” Coraggio said. “It felt as if I was trying to justify a move to an airpark to myself and Kevin. Turns out that my justifications and rationalizations were actually underselling it. There is a compounding effect on motivation and productivity by saving time driving, being immersed in a community that values and shares my hobby, and continually having my projects in sight.”

Coraggio’s commute has been traded for time with a wrench or behind the yoke. Another noticeable difference is his neighbors. 

“The cool part about aviation, in general, and airparks even more so, is that everybody has some kind of common interest,” he said. “Even though we’re right in the middle of a big town, it gives [off] that small town feel. I can’t tell you how many people stop by when the hangar doors are open to check in on what you’re doing and how many friends I’ve been able to make through those conversations. And they’re not the kind of friends that are just acquaintances by name only.”

These friends also have been supportive of Coraggio’s passion for air racing, as he competes at various events under his team name of Ramp Rat Racing

“From the very first day that we moved in, I started working on my airplanes in the hangars before the workshops were set up,” he said. “The amount of work that we accomplished on the [Lancair] Legacy this year is what allowed us to reach all four of our [racing] goals. From February to June, which is when PRS (Pylon Racing Seminar) happens, we installed a revised electrical system architecture, new induction, new fuel injection, ignition system, some cooling enhancements, a water spray bar system, and some drag reduction.” 

Coraggio’s new neighbors helped him out with a variety of tasks in preparation for the 2023 National Championship Air Races in Reno, Nevada. A notable result of all that hard work in the hangar was a personal-best speed of 317.862 mph, 36 mph faster than his attempt the previous year. 

“We were going to get delayed in our project because we were missing a specific nut,” he said. “A neighbor was like, ‘Well, let me go and see if I can go find one of those.’ And he goes off to his hangar, scurries around and finds six of them so we can replace them all, instead of [just] the one that was damaged. Can I replace them for you?’ I asked. ‘Oh, no, I've got plenty of those.’ That kind of experience is what makes this such a great place.”

Before living at Stellar, Coraggio had kept his aircraft in three hangars at Deer Valley Airport (KDVT) in Phoenix. Now, they sit in two hangars on his Stellar Airpark property, totaling 5,000 square feet. 

He pointed out that flexibility is another positive of living at an airpark.

“[You can] choose what you have space for versus having to [find] space when you are trying to buy something,” Coraggio said. “If you’re trying to buy an airplane and can’t find a hangar, you might choose not to buy the airplane. If you live at home, you can find a way of making it work instead of having to wait 20 years for a hangar in some of the airports in the Valley.”

Even though Coraggio had previous experience living at an airpark, albeit temporarily several decades ago, there was something that amazed him about moving to Stellar Airpark.

“I think the biggest surprise to me is how little I want to leave,” he said. “And I’ve never been a morning person in my life, ever. But ever since we moved in here, I wake up at 6:30 or 7 o’clock in the morning, which some people laugh at as being morning or early morning. I’m motivated to get my day started early now because I’ve got something exciting to do that really gets my juices flowing that’s right here. If your hangar is at home, you can find a way.”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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