OXFORD TWP. – If you’re a millionaire who has ever dreamed of owning a private airport in a country setting, today is your lucky day.
Sky Ranch, a 155-acre piece of property at 4173 Noble Rd., is for sale. It’s bordered by Noble Rd. to the north, Delano Rd. to the west and Addison Township to the east.
It’s listed for $4 million with the Birmingham-based Dan Gutfreund Realty Group of Signature Sotheby’s International Realty.
“We’re basically marketing to the 1 percent of the 1 percent here,” said real estate agent Dan Gutfreund.
Owned by Philip Handleman and his wife, Mary, since 1988, Sky Ranch features two airplane hangars – one is 1,519 square feet, the other is 1,581 square feet – and two grass runways, both of which are 2,550 feet long and 150 feet wide.
The airport is registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.
Handleman, who’s a pilot, aviation enthusiast, photographer and author, said it’s been “a pleasure” and “a joy” spending the last 30 years preserving “the spirit of flight in our little corner of the world,” but he and his wife are now at a point in their life where they want to live in “a warmer place.”
“A part of my heart will always be here,” he noted.
Located in horse country, the property, which is zoned agricultural (20-acre minimum lots), has functioned as an airport since the early 1980s.
It was established by the previous owner Pierce Woodworth, who originally wanted to open a commercial airport there, but then had its use restricted to private status by a 1981 court order. Woodworth’s development of the airport spawned protracted, costly lawsuits involving Oxford Township and surrounding property owners.
But, according to Handleman, those bitter battles and all that bad blood are relics of the past.
“Here we are all these years later and things are just fine . . . We went out of our way to engender good relationships with everybody,” he said. “We have to say that 99.99 percent of the folks living in this area are just wonderful.”
Over the years, Handleman noted it wasn’t “uncommon” to have “great numbers” of local folks lined up “bumper-to-bumper” along his Noble Rd. frontage to observe the various ceremonies and flying activities at Sky Ranch.
“It was like having a private air show in their backyard,” he said. “We just got such positive feedback over the years.”
Sky Ranch has welcomed countless guests, according to Handleman, including a Medal of Honor recipient, Tuskegee Airmen, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist, U.S. and foreign military leaders, high-ranking government officials, astronauts, test pilots, fighter aces, veterans, prisoners of war, the daughter of a legendary aviation pioneer and members of the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbirds, U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels and U.S. Army’s Golden Knights.
“We are very proud to have hosted events where we have honored some of America’s aviation luminaries and military heroes,” he said.
Handleman declined to mention their names on the record because he didn’t wish to be seen as using their notoriety for the purposes of self-promotion. He simply said, “We have brought a lot of great patriots to the community and we’re very proud of that.”
In addition to famous folks, Sky Ranch has also opened its hangar doors to students from local schools, scouts and disadvantaged, inner-city youth, who experienced their first plane rides there.
“It isn’t all just big wigs,” Handleman said.
Sky Ranch contains a main house and carriage/guest house, totaling 4,789 square feet (above grade) and built in 1990. There’s also 3,472 square feet of basement space.
“We left the basement unfinished, but it’s a full basement with a high ceiling, so that could be finished,” Handleman said.
Attached to the main house are the hangars, plus a two-car garage. The guest house has a three-car attached garage.
There’s no shortage of natural beauty on the spacious grounds of Sky Ranch.
“We’ve installed more than two dozen extravagant flower gardens and you can see them from the road,” Handleman said. “We have the entire (half-mile) frontage of Noble Rd. lined with beautiful bright orange tiger lilies.”
He noted people who are just driving by often stop to compliment the property’s appearance. “We’re just so happy about that and just so proud,” he said.
“The geographic centerpiece” of Sky Ranch is a pristine wooded area, spanning nearly 40 acres, with trails for hiking and horseback riding. “There’s not a fallen branch,” Handleman said. “It’s been maintained at the level of a finely-manicured urban park.”
“It’s a pretty spectacular property,” Gutfreund said. “(Handleman is) a very meticulous homeowner so everything that he does is not only prim and proper and prime, it’s planned out.”
To Gutfreund, one of the property’s main advantages is the rural setting makes “you think you’re somewhere up north,” yet it’s within easy commuting distance to popular destinations like downtown Birmingham.
Gutfreund noted the property is “not just for aviation.” For example, the hangars could be converted into horse stables or used as extra garage space to house a car collection.
Whether the property continues to be used as a private airport will be up to whoever purchases it.
Handleman said he’s “agnostic” on the subject of who he sells to, but he hopes it will be someone who understands and appreciates the importance of “little airports like ours.”
In his view, small airports are “the foundation” of “America’s aerospace preeminence” because that’s where “so many of the great figures . . . like (astronaut) John Glenn learned to fly.”
“If we expect to have the best airline captains and the best fighter pilots and the best astronauts, we have to realize that they start somewhere. In almost all of the cases, it’s been (at) little airports like this,” Handleman said. “There is a part of me that believes strongly that we need to keep those little airports alive.”
Handleman noted the “freedom to fly” is something “that’s not enjoyed by many other individuals in other countries.”
“Here we have this freedom and it’s a freedom that has not come cheaply to us,” he said.