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In the middle of Burlington County, on the side of a sleepy back road that snakes through the farmland, there’s a pool that’s shaped like airplane.

It follows a theme. The pool is one of the main attractions at the Flying W, a “resort” that centers around a small private airport.

Back in the 1960s, aviation enthusiast and pilot Bill Whitesell opened the Flying W, proclaiming it “Burlington County’s Gateway to the World.” Oil fields had just been discovered in Alaska, and Whitesell was hoping to cash in on the cross-continent transport of black gold by providing planes, landing services and amenities to the many pilots who’d be ferrying it back and forth. In addition to the pool, he built a fancy steakhouse and several small-goods stores, plus a motel with 47 rooms for travelers that wanted a rest after their trip.

Then the Trans-Alaska pipeline was announced, washing away Whitesell’s dreams of making it a lucrative stop on the air-supply circuit. In 1972, he declared bankruptcy and sold everything.

Wondered where the gateway to the world was? Found it
Been wondering where the gateway to the world was? Found it

A series of subsequent owners tried their hands at reviving the resort, but none were successful until Dawn and John Cave came along. John wasn’t a pilot, but was looking for a place to keep a restored antique plane. Dawn was looking for a restaurant to manage. Flying W offered both. The couple bought the property, spruced it up, and relaunched in time for the summer of 1996. It’s been hopping ever since.

On a sunny summer weekend day, the airplane pool gets between 400 and 500 visitors. Some are members — $450 per season — and some are pilots or students at the on-site flying school. But many are day-trippers.

That’s right. If you want to swim in a pool shaped like a propeller jet, all you have to do is to drive 40 minutes (from Philly) and pony up $10 for a day pass.

And there’s more to do than just swim and sunbathe, like the tiki bar, the old-school luncheonette and the restaurant that hosts karaoke or live music almost every night of the week. Make a night of it and get a reservation at the motel, just $95 a night.

Like the idea of a cross between the Poconos and the Jersey Shore? The Flying W is the place for you.

The Landing Strip Beach Club

Flying W's main buildings look like the many farmhouses around them
Flying W’s main buildings look like the many farmhouses around them Credit: Danya Henninger

Just off the parking lot, pass through the W-emblazoned gate welcoming you to the “Landing Strip” and the pool’s right there. It’s bigger in person than it looks from above, and two lifeguards watch over it from opposite ends.

An oasis of chill in Burlington County
An oasis of chill in Burlington County Credit: Danya Henninger

The water is clean, towels are available for rent and there’s beach chairs aplenty. It’s open from 11 in the morning through the evening — 7 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. (Airplane pool night swimming. It’s a thing.)

The Tiki Bar

Catch shade at the tiki (and Coors Light) bar
Catch shade at the tiki (and Coors Light) bar Credit: Danya Henninger

After settling in, stroll up the wooden walkway to the tiki bar and catch relief from the sun beneath its thatched roof as you order a drink. Dawn and John’s daughter, Heather Cave, is in charge of the booze. Nothing fancy, but everything right for a hot day in the sun. Beer taps pour Yuengling and Miller Lite, and a couple locals are available in cans. Rum drinks come fast, shaken together in plastic cups but topped with a requisite paper parasol. If you’re hungry for something substantial, give Heather your order and a burger, sandwich or plate of nachos will appear.

The playground and snack shack

Snackssssssss Credit: Danya Henninger

For quick snacks or treats to keep the kids happy, walk over to the window at a separate shack. A chalkboard menu lists dozens of kinds of ice cream, candy and popsicles, plus pretzels, chips and soda.

A lawn to run around on, swings to swing on, and snacks to sugar up
A lawn to run around on and swings to swing on

Right next to it is a giant playground set, complete with a slide and a rope swing.

The Patti Wagon Cafe

Airplane memorabilia decorates the luncheonette
Airplane memorabilia decorates the luncheonette Credit: Danya Henninger

Food truck life was weighing hard on Patti Dole, so three years ago she gave it up and bought the breakfast and lunch joint at the Flying W.

The chalkboard shows the 'family tree' of workers at Patti's
The chalkboard shows the ‘family tree’ of workers at Patti’s Credit: Danya Henninger

She elevated the food slightly — burgers made in-house, salads tossed fresh, soup made from scratch — without losing any of the old-school charm. Make no mistake, this is a diner, one of the good ones.

Pork roll on a burger. Just do it
Pork roll on a burger. Just do it

There’s breakfast all day, so giant omelets or stacks of pancakes are always an option, but when in Jersey, why not go pork roll? On a burger, even better.

The One More Grill

Between the pool and the cafe is the grill. Though it’s no longer a fancy steakhouse like when Whitesell first opened, it’s great place to relax and feed the whole family at one air-conditioned table.

Like your favorite city dive bar, but next to a pool
Like your favorite city dive bar, but next to a pool Credit: Danya Henninger

If there’s no little ones around, the bar is even better. It’s dark and cool and reminiscent of the 1970s. There’s even a steady stream of regulars, says bartender Christie Selmon, and karaoke and live music nights draw a good crowd.

Freeflight Aviation

Take a flying lesson and you can see the Philly skyline
Take a flying lesson and you can see the Philly skyline Credit: Danya Henninger

Tucked into the back of the Patti Wagon Cafe are offices for Frank Hicinbothem’s flight school. Anyone from beginners to those just a few hours away from their pilot’s license can schedule a lesson. Most instructors have tons of experience, like Shannon Wea. A native of Liberia who was inspired to become a pilot watching missionaries fly in and out of his village, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1995. He has a masters degree in business, but loves flying so much that he spends most of his time as an instructor for Freeflight.

Instructor Shannon Wea and a student who's almost got his pilot's license
Instructor Shannon Wea and a student who’s almost got his pilot’s license Credit: Danya Henninger

Intrigued but not sure if you can handle the controls? Hicinbothem offers a $198 “discovery package” for two (parent and child, most often) that includes a half-hour of ground school followed by a half-hour of hand-on flight per person.

Private events

The Patti Wagon Cafe caters many of the special events at Flying W
The Patti Wagon Cafe caters many of the special events at Flying W Credit: Danya Henninger

Family reunions are big business at Flying W, thanks to the attached motel with inexpensive rates. Weddings go down there, too, as well as company team-building getaways. There’s a big tent and two separate event pavilions. Guests can bring in outside caterers or order through Patti Doyle, who employs a cook with a knack for cook-out style grilled meats and veggies.

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Danya Henninger

Danya Henninger is director of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the...