Jack Phillips and Karen DeBord shared an interesting idea to transition to retirement from the full-time workforce. Their thought was that, if they opened an on-airport bed-and-breakfast, they would not only be able to retire but also enjoy their passions at an elevated level while simultaneously sharing them with others. Phillips, a flight instructor and experimental aircraft builder, and DeBord, a lover of the arts and literature, decided to earnestly jump into this endeavor after building a timber-framed home that would become a B&B more than 10 years ago.
The married couple’s new roles as proprietors of Bedford Landings in Moneta, Virginia, have hardly left them the time to focus on their former professions. Nor would they want to, as they are more than content mingling with their guests and ensuring their stays are memorable.
“We first bought the property on Smith Mountain Lake Airport [W91] while living in Raleigh, North Carolina,” said Phillips. “We had been dating for about three years, working these professional jobs, and were ready to do something entirely different. I was a mechanical engineer, working in a medical device company, and Karen was a university professor. Both of us were ready to move on to something new.
“We bought this property because it was on an airport, where I wanted to be, and she wanted to return to Virginia, as she grew up about 75 miles west of Smith Mountain Lake in Blacksburg. A friend of mine, who knew I always wanted to live on an airport, called me one morning in January of 2006 indicating that he had some lots for sale on the airport at Smith Mountain Lake. As we were free that weekend, we hopped in the airplane and flew up here.”
DeBord picked up the remaining portion of the story, pointing out that their initial goal with the property wasn’t to operate a B&B.
“We didn’t have any idea that was what we wanted to do with it,” she said. “Somewhere along the line of when we first saw the lot, made an offer, and closed on it, we had the idea that we could retire early and run a fly-in bed-and-breakfast. The idea came from the fact that pilots are always looking for a place to go for the weekend.”
From the beginning, Bedford Landings was designed to be a bed-and-breakfast. The pair’s work didn’t only include attending workshops and reading books on the subject of running an inn. They also were heavily involved throughout the overnight accommodation’s construction process.
After living in a travel trailer within their hangar for a year and a half, the B&B opened on the 110th anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first flight. In 2023, it celebrated 10 years of operation.
“It’s been a really good business,” Phillips said. “We estimate between 1,000 to 1,500 people a year come through our doors. So, in 10 years in business, we have had at least 10,000 people stay at Bedford Landings. And we estimate that about 20 to 25 percent of that number have been fly-in guests. That number is increasing each year, but it is hard to advertise to potential fly-in guests because they can come from anywhere.
“What has worked well for us, though, is word-of-mouth [advertising] from those who have stayed here. Also, social media has brought us guests. Actually, we find a lot of our pilot guests that have found us lately on ForeFlight, as well as a couple of different aviation social media sites. These folks are delighted when they can find a place where they can fly, tie down, and be able to see their airplane out the window.”
The husband-and-wife duo added that while the close proximity to the runway—a short taxi from Runway 5’s approach end—is a major plus, it’s not the only reason that pilots choose to spend time at Bedford Landings. They said that Smith Mountain Lake is a major tourist area, so recreational opportunities aplenty are close to the property.
“The big draw is the lake itself,” DeBord says. “The airport is on a peninsula within two coves on Smith Mountain Lake, which is a good-size lake. It’s 22,000 acres, and there are 500 miles of shoreline. It’s a truly beautiful sight when you fly over it in your airplane. It’s just gorgeous because there is both water and mountains.”
Phillips jumped in to finish the summary of local attractions.
“There is a rental [business] at the airport ($20 per day), so people that fly in here can rent a boat to enjoy the lake, for example,” he said. “As far as other things to do in the area, the National D-Day Memorial is in Bedford, Virginia, which is only 20 miles from here, and that’s worth seeing. The Booker T. Washington National Monument is right on the other side of the lake, [and it] has an educational and enjoyable tour. There is also horseback riding, alpaca farms, and a lot of other things to do around here.”
The lake is a tourist attraction year-round, but summertime remains Bedford Landings’ busy season.
“Typically, we have somebody here every night,” he said. “It’s a seasonal lake and, of course, the height of our popularity is from Memorial Day to Labor Day. For example, this past July, we had 74 room nights. So, on average, we have at least two rooms occupied every night. We will usually have one or two rooms with guests each night of the week and then all four booked on the weekend.
“It’s a deep lake. It’s 285-feet deep at the dam, and it’s still 120-feet deep at the bridge that’s 8 miles away from the dam. Because of the depth, the water doesn’t cool off very quickly, so you can still swim in October. And there are less tourists here then. I’m one of the seaplane instructors at the airport, and I will similarly tell people the best time to come get their seaplane rating is October. During the summer months, the lake is often too busy for float operations—as there are too many gawkers. Seaplanes are boat magnets.”