Spruce Creek's architectural codes specify that hangars must be built in the same style as the adjacent home, so the community looks nice, too. Most hangars are connected to the houses by lanais, which are screened enclosures that ordinarily protect patios from Florida's seasonal invasions of insects. Plain hangars these are not. As the 21-year-old community has grown—it really began to take off in the late '70s—and as some residents have moved a second or third time within it, usually trading up, Spruce Creek hangars have become ever larger and better appointed. Common features now include air-conditioning, electric hangar-door openers (some operated remotely) and front and back doors so that you don't have to turn the airplane around to exit. Many have small "pilot lounges," with big-screen TVs, VCRs and stereos. Private hangars running to 120 by 50 feet no longer raise eyebrows.
"Living in Spruce Creek is paradise," says Lowe, as his plane climbs above the clouds. "It's the same idea as the boat lover living with his boat instead of having to drive 50 miles to the lake. To me, there's no better indication you've arrived than to swim in your pool and sec your plane through the window of your hangar."
Lowe's hangar has an elevator to take him to its second floor, where he has an office as well as a guest facility. The elevator ascends to a third-floor observation lounge. From up there, Lowe can go even higher. An outdoor spiral staircase winds to a roof deck, which affords a fine view of the landing strip. From the deck, Lowe can watch NASA shuttle launches at Cape Canaveral, some 29 miles distant.
Elsewhere in Spruce Creek, retired FAA air-safety investigator Joe Zacko beds his red-and-white, two-passenger, single-engine Great Lakes biplane inside an absolutely immaculate hangar. Workbench and tools are hidden behind louvered doors. The floor has linoleum tiles around its perimeter, then AstroTurf and then, at its center, a big gleaming square of parquet that might well have been lifted from Boston Garden. "You just can't do anything with a concrete floor," says Zacko. "You paint it, it chips."
Zacko's floor, it should be noted, is not just for the plane. "We can get 200 people in here easy," he says. Zacko has hosted a wedding and several dances in the hangar.
On a recent evening 200 Spruce Creekers visited the hangar of Peter and Nancy Gulbrandsen for a benefit. They sat on folding chairs and listened to selections from La Boh�me and Rigoletto performed by the Central Florida Light Opera Company. The audience enjoyed a not-so-light array of homemade pies and cakes at intermission.
Hangar parties are not the only terra firma settings for social life in Spruce Creek. A small grassy triangle just off the town's main runway has a few picnic tables and a solitary oak tree. The tree provides welcome shade, and the triangle serves as a general store-like gathering spot on Saturday mornings. "It's like a little town meeting," says Bob Tortajada, who is, of course, a pilot.
When the townsfolk meet, they bring coffee and doughnuts and swap—what else?—flying stories. The most prolific teller of tales is 62-year-old Harvey Barnett, a former chief pilot for Pacific Alaska Airlines. He has a store of stories from his days way up north. Barnett is also as good a mechanic as there is in Spruce Creek. He's currently rebuilding a 1946 Swift, which will be something like the 50th plane he has owned through the years. "Anything that blackens the sky, I would buy," he says with a hearty laugh. "It's great fun. Everybody here has at least one airplane, and most have two or three. For a mechanic like me, this is the world's greatest place."
Barnett tends not only his own aircraft but also a number of his neighbors'. He makes house calls in his golf cart, charging $8 an hour. That, as any aviator can attest, is dirt cheap for a plane doctor.
If there is a cloud in this pilot's paradise, it's the occasional deafening roar of one of the community's four jets. The jets, each of which is privately owned, are the only aircraft in town that cause any consternation whatsoever. "Some people don't like the jets," says Zacko. "But if you live on an airport, you shouldn't complain about airplane noise. To me, it's music to the ears."