69-year-old pilot pays $4,000/month to live in a residential airpark: 'All I have to do is taxi out and take off'

When Joe Sobczak was looking for a new home in Groveland, California, his priority was unique: he needed a property that could house his airplanes.

That’s when the 69-year-old test pilot found a residential airpark at the Pine Mountain Lake Airport. In 2017, Sobczak bought a 3-bedroom, 7-bathroom, 5,000-square-foot home with a 3,600-square-foot hangar for $698,000. He has a mortgage of $4,000 a month.

“It’s a phenomenal social environment because you have an immediate group of people who have common interests,” Sobczak tells CNBC Make It. “The services are somewhat limited, but the trade-off is easily offset by the serenity and peacefulness of [the community].”

There are about 90 homes with hangars that have deeded access to use the taxiways and runway at the Tuolumne County airport in the residential airpark. In his hangar, Sobczak keeps a Beechcraft T-34 Mentor plane he bought with another pilot for $175,000.

Sobczak bought the house for $698,000 and has a monthly mortgage of $4,000.

Katie Tarasov. Photo by CNBC Make It

The two of them split the cost of maintaining the aircraft. They save money on repairs because Sobczak is an FAA-certified A&P mechanic, so he often does the work himself.

As a test pilot, Sobczak works primarily out of the San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Instead of doing the three-hour drive, he jumps in one of his airplanes and takes a 45-minute flight to nearby San Carlos Airport and drives 15 minutes to SFO.

“The reason I feel safer in the airplane is because I have total control of my environment, as opposed to driving a car where it’s me and the 5,000 other cars that pass me by on the way to the Bay Area,” he says. “In the airplane, it’s all under my control.”

Sobczak usually flies down to work at the San Francisco International Airport in his Beechcraft T-34 Mentor plane.

Erin Black. Photo by CNBC Make It

Fueling the plane costs about $1 more per gallon than a car, he says. He pays around $120 roundtrip for aviation gas, so the cost is comparable to what he would spend driving his car to and from work.

Because the Tuolumne County airport has no control tower, residents of the airpark use a common traffic advisory frequency so pilots can broadcast their position and intended flight path.

“I don’t really have to tell anybody if I’m going flying. All I have to do is taxi out and take off,” Sobczak says. “It’s never loud …. It’s so quiet that it’s noisy.”

Part of Sobczak’s deed includes access to the Tuolumne County airport.


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