Have you ever felt the need to get away but just couldn’t muster the energy to deal with the logistics of planning a trip? I admit that when I open my copy of Pilot Getaways, I turn first to the articles about the challenging mountain strips. Next, it’s the fun-looking cities that have oodles of new places to explore. After a hard week of working—or better yet, in lieu of one—I love to fill up my Cessna 180 with camping gear, or brand new approach plates and street maps, and head out for a new adventure. But sometimes, I just want to go somewhere easy: no postage-stamp runways, no NDB approaches, no big decisions to make, and little or no logistical planning. I found the Flying W Airport Resort in south-central New Jersey to be an ideal solution. Even a day trip for a round of golf, a dip in the pool, or Sunday brunch makes this a worthwhile trip. Some folks even fly in for an evening concert and an excuse to stay night current.
Hidden amidst the farms of Burlington County, about 20 miles east of Philadelphia, Penn., the Flying W is a one-stop destination resort complete with golf, fine dining, live music, dancing, and lounging next to their trademark, airplane-shaped swimming pool. Best of all, it’s served by a long, unobstructed runway.
The Flying W Airport (N14) is 20 nm east-northeast of Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) and 11 nm southwest of McGuire Air Force Base (WRI). Locating the airport is not a big challenge, but with Philadelphia Class B airspace to the west, and McGuire’s KC-10s, C-17s, and C-5s just a few miles east, you certainly want to keep your eyes open.
Approaching from the north, follow the Yardley VOR/DME (ARD 108.2 MHz) 176° radial for 20 nm to the airport. You should be below 4,000 feet MSL by the time you have crossed the Delaware River to remain below the outermost ring of the Philadelphia Class B airspace. Be aware that Yardley is on the southwestern edge of the Trenton-Mercer (TTN) Class D airspace, so remain above 2,700 feet MSL or contact the tower on 120.7 MHz for a transition. Beginning 10 nm north of the Flying W, you can also reach “Philly” approach on 123.8 MHz for advisories.
From the south, you can follow the Cedar Lake VORTAC (VCN 115.2 MHz) 027° radial for 25 nm. This approach will take you through the southwest corner of Alert Area 220, which is active daily, 8 a.m.–10 p.m., and extends from the ground to 4,500 feet MSL. For advisories, call McGuire Approach on 124.15 MHz.
An arrival from the west provides an excellent opportunity to exercise both your communication and navigation skills. One Philly controller suggested contacting them 30 nm west on 124.35 MHz at 5,500 feet MSL. If traffic and winds permit, expect to be sent to Modena VORTAC (MXE 113.2 MHz) and cleared through Class B airspace. If you choose this direct route, check the baseball and football schedules. Both the Phillies’ Citizens Bank Park and Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field are 4 nm northeast of PHL and have TFRs in effect during events. The other option the controller suggested was to fly to Modena then skirt Class B airspace to the south, remaining at least 15 nm from PHL and below 3,000 feet MSL.
Do not confuse the Flying W with South Jersey Regional Airport (VAY), just 2 nm northwest. The 3,881-foot Runway 8/26 at VAY runs east-west, whereas the Flying W’s 3,496-foot Runway 1/19 is north-south. Also, the Flying W is easily identified by the enormous “W” on top of the barn, a triple-peaked white tent, and, of course, the swimming pool. To remain clear of VAY traffic, patterns at the Flying W are flown on the east side, with left traffic for Runway 19 and right traffic for Runway 1. GPS approaches to both runways 1 and 19, as well as a VOR-A approach, have 353–640-foot MSL MDAs with one-mile visibility.
On clear summer days, the Flying W is often busy, but if you keep your eyes and ears open and fly a normal traffic pattern—45-degree entry and all—there is seldom a problem accommodating everyone. Automated weather is available via the VAY ASOS on 119.325 MHz or 609-267-1176.
Late in 1959, Eastern Airlines Capt. William (“Bill”) C. Whitesell bought a small airstrip in Lumberton, N.J., on the outskirts of Philadelphia, so he could commute to work at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) in his Bonanza, avoiding what he felt was a dangerous drive on the New Jersey Turnpike. He had the ultimate pilot’s dream: commuting to work by airplane. Eastern Airlines was even going to let him park his plane in the corner of a hangar. In the summer of 1960, just weeks before he and his family moved to their new airport home, irony and destiny met when Bill was critically injured in an automobile accident on the very road he wanted to avoid.
Shortly after the accident, while still in the hospital recovering from his injuries, he was unceremoniously fired since he could no longer pass a flight physical. Lying in a hospital bed with no job, a young family, and a recently purchased airport, Bill hatched the idea of “The West, Back East.” The Whitesells set out to create an Old West atmosphere and fly-in destination loosely patterned after the Ponderosa Ranch in the television program Bonanza, hoping that it would draw aviators and guests from around the country. In 1961, the Whitesells constructed the trademark airplane-shaped swimming pool, followed by a small motel and a restaurant.
For many years the airport, now renamed the Flying W (for Whitesell), was a beehive of activity. While the Western-themed oasis—complete with restaurant employees donning Western boots, hats, string ties, and gingham skirts—did draw visitors, most of the activity was generated by the charter, freight, maintenance, and aircraft sales operations. As Bill’s son Jeff recalls, “Dad was about 30 years ahead of his time with the themed airport idea, but this was still a busy place. We had C-46s and DC-3s hauling freight, and a Martin 404 for executive charters. Pilot and TV/movie star Bob Cummings was a regular visitor at our house, and Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, Howard Cosell, and Muhammad Ali were frequent passengers in the Martin.”
In 1970, following an ill-fated deal with corporate investors, Bill left the company and shortly thereafter the corporation went bankrupt. The restaurant and motel were closed, and for the next several years the airport had a number of owners and switched between public and private use. John and Dawn Cave purchased the property in March 1996 and resurrected the Flying W, building on Bill Whitesell’s original vision.
The beauty of the “W” is the number of activities available on or adjacent to the airport. The most apparent feature is the famed airplane-shaped swimming pool, which lies just 100 yards west of the airstrip and is the centerpiece of the Landing Strip Beach Club. The beach club also has two regulation-sized volleyball courts and four horseshoe pits. The pool is open to motel guests at no charge and to beach club members. Non-members may purchase a day pass at the flight ops desk, $10.
The multi-level wooden deck next to the pool is home to the full-service Tiki Bar and a dozen or so umbrella-covered tables where you can enjoy snacks and drinks. Across the pool is the Snack Shack where burgers, hot dogs, and other snack foods are available to bring to your table or poolside lounge chair. The Flying W Bar also serves a variety of bar food items (see Where to Eat).
During the summer months, the outdoor Tiki Bar features live music, ranging from country to rock and jazz, beginning at 7 p.m. on some Friday and most Saturday nights. Regular local favorites like Don’t Call Me Frances and the Five Dollar Shakes draw a healthy local and fly-in crowd for a night of dancing under the stars or in the covered pavilion; most of these performances are free. Wednesdays are Open-Mic Nights, while Thursdays have Karaoke, 7–11 p.m. The Flying W also schedules occasional summer concerts, such as Brett Michaels with a $65 advance purchase price, 609-267-7673. For a list of music events see the resort’s website.
Aviation-minded kids ages 7–13 will enjoy the summer Aerospace Camp, held during three separate weeks in July and August. Certified teachers provide instruction on aeronautics, navigation, and rocketry. Participants use a Fly It Simulator, build their own rockets, and take them out later for launch. On Friday, students get an airplane flight, courtesy of the Young Eagles. One week sessions including lunches Mon–Fri 9 a.m.–3 p.m., $300, extended care from 7:30 a.m. until 6 p.m. includes supervised swimming and snacks for $75, 609-267-7673 or 609-351-4341.
The Flying W occasionally hosts a car show, where local car owners bring their hot rods and other unusual vehicles in for car enthusiasts to admire; call to see if one is scheduled. A motorcycle show is usually held in October, free, 609-267-7673.
Of course, many summer travelers don’t feel a getaway is complete without a few rounds of golf. The Caves acquired the Golden Pheasant Golf Club, just a mile east of the airport, in spring 2001 to add yet another dimension to the Flying W experience. The 18-hole, par-72 course is known for significant tee box-to-green elevation changes. Seemingly secluded by tall trees and lush greenery, the course is a cozy oasis from the surrounding flat farmlands. The front nine begins with a wide open, albeit long, 555-yard, par-five hole. Don’t be fooled by this benign start, however; number four, the toughest hole on the course, has a very tight, tree-lined fairway that ends at a vast green that will challenge your putting prowess. By the time you’ve reached number eight, you’re looking uphill 40 feet to a green with an unfriendly water hazard to the left. Senior golf pro Jim Bergen claims the course “will make you use every club in your bag,” because of the diversity in length and shape of the holes. “We strive to make people feel at home here, make you feel like a regular,” Jim told me. From my time with him and other members of the W staff, I can see that this certainly isn’t your grandfather’s snooty golf club.
A free shuttle can be arranged for the three-minute drive from the airport if you call ahead. Reservations can be made up to one week in advance, but are not usually necessary, greens fees with cart 18 holes: $35–$60, nine holes: $22–$30, 141 Country Club Dr., 609-267-4276.
The original accommodations of the 1960s were a bit rustic, and years of inattention took its toll, but the Caves changed all that. The guestrooms of today’s Flying W Motel are easily on a level with three- to four-star hotels. During the motel’s renovation, John acquired lighting and fixtures from Donald Trump’s then-defunct hotel in Atlantic City. And through a little research and ingenuity, he brought in the same mattresses that are found in most of the highly rated New York and Philadelphia business hotels. From the outside, the building appears to be a typical small-town motel, but inside the rooms are exceptionally clean and tastefully decorated with soft lighting, warm drapes, quality linens, and flowers. All rooms have a telephone, microwave oven, refrigerator, coffee maker, and new television. Of the 28 rooms, twelve have two queen beds; the rest have one queen or king bed. Upstairs rooms are preferred; they have balconies facing the sunset, rooms $95, 609-267-7673.
At the Flying W, the choice for the early crowd is most often the Patty Wagon Café in the center of the Flight Ops building. With its gleaming wood floor, high, open ceilings sporting dozens of model airplanes, and large picture windows facing the runway, it’s an ideal spot for a pilot’s breakfast or lunch. The last Sunday of the month is all-you-can-eat pancakes day, $10. The Ops crew recommends the breakfast burrito (not on the menu, but you can ask for it) with eggs, cheese, and sausage, $7.50, and, for lunch, the buffalo chicken cheese steak, which includes chips or fries, pickle, and a beverage, $7.50, open daily 8 a.m.–3 p.m., 609-265-2233.
With its large wooden bar, knotty pine walls, and wooden beam ceiling, the Flying W Bar offers a limited bar food menu in addition to liquid libations. Try the chicken wings, which are meaty and served with a choice of three sauces, $9. There’s also a Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich for $8, and chicken quesadillas, $7. If you need a diversion after your meal, the lounge sports a pool table, an air hockey table, and a great jukebox, open weekdays 3 p.m.–close, weekends noon–close, 609-267-7673.
While my own reason for a trip to the W is simply to indulge in their hospitality and escape the outside world, some might prefer a little added adventure. The sights and nightlife of Philadelphia are just a 30-minute drive to the west and Long Beach Island, one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches on the Jersey shore, is about 30 minutes to the east. If such excursions appeal to you, Enterprise Rent-A-Car will pick you up at the Flight Ops building for no additional charge, $37–$128, Mon–Fri 8 a.m.–6 p.m., Sat 8 a.m.–12 p.m., 609-914-0481.
We pilots fly for a variety of reasons: challenge, adventure, practicality, and sometimes simply to escape life’s daily pressures. While my flight instructor conscience won’t allow the suggestion that any flight is easy, I can comfortably say that some trips are less challenging than others. The Flying W, with its rich history, unique atmosphere, and the variety of on-premises conveniences makes for a wonderful, low-logistics destination.