Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Husky Dawn Patrol

Aviat’s new Husky and the Northern Idaho backcountry make a perfect pair

SilverWing Dreaming

One of the best experiences we've had with any FBO was at SilverWing at Sandpoint. As it is, Sandpoint Airport in Idaho is a throwback to a golden time in aviation when FBOs were more concerned with a pilot's needs than making a profit, because both were intertwined. SilverWing Airpark owns SilverWing Flight Services—the only FBO at Sandpoint Airport—and their philosophy of attending to the client permeates everything they do.

On the airpark side, SilverWing is truly unique. A luxury fly-in community conceived just a few years ago, SilverWing sits on the west side of Sandpoint Airport with an array of lots that have some of the most majestic views around. Northern Idaho is easily one of the best-kept secrets in aviation, with mountains that climb gently from Lake Pend Oreille, a 65-mile-long freshwater lake the Kalispell Indians named because its shape resembles a person's ear ("pend oreille" loosely means "ear pendant" in French). Much like Alaska, the entire region is friendly to general aviation having recognized its value in these mountains. SilverWing is just minutes from the lake, so doing pattern work at the airpark puts you over the lake on downwind, making for the most picturesque landing practice you can imagine.

SilverWing Airpark is still in the imagination stage, meaning some 44 lots are ready to go, with three sold and several more under contract, but only two structures have been built. Developer John McKeown—who originally purchased the land in 2007—set out to create a fly-in community with three essential requirements. First, it had to be on a public airport with paved runways and instrument approaches that could accommodate private jets. Second, it needed to be in or near a town. McKeown wasn't interested in a remote development where residents had to travel far for essential services. Finally, it had to be near world-class recreational activities. Sandpoint, Idaho, meets all the bullet points.

"The people we want at SilverWing are those who share a common love for general aviation," says Mike Mileski, one of SilverWing's developers. "And we're unique because we sit on a public airport." Mileski explains that the newly enacted FAA Long Term Reauthorization Act and the FAA's change in policy on existing "through the fence" agreements means that the Sandpoint airport is in compliance.

Sandpoint, Idaho, is a rare town that preserves the backcountry feel of the surrounding Bitterroot Mountains while offering amenities typical in a much larger city. It's the home of both Quest Aircraft (makers of the amazing "Kodiak" turboprop) and Coldwater Creek—the women's apparel company. The town is famous for its music festivals and burgeoning art scene. Schweitzer Ski Resort is a few minutes away, and a vast array of camping, mountain climbing and lake sports awaits.

The area is perfect for pilots because it offers real backcountry experiences that run from gentle to challenging with everything in between. A pilot doesn't have to jump from the big city to a 500-foot crenelated sandbar with one-way approaches to get the backcountry experience. There are plenty of beautiful, well-groomed grass strips that offer pilots some of the best flying in the west. Sandpoint is the perfect home base.

Mileski says buyers have their choice of five hangar-home designs and can choose from three approved builders for the lots that start at $95,000. The architecture of the airpark takes its cue from the surrounding mountains, integrating exposed wood beams, natural stone and panoramic windows that take in the breathtaking views. "Buyers can also purchase a lot and decide later what kind of residence they want to build," Mileski adds. "They can also use their own builders or create a custom design." Lots are ready with utility connections, and plans are being made for maintenance hangars and other amenities for aviator-owners as the airpark develops.

Plane & Pilot got to stay in the model hangar-home and it was quite an experience. The convenience of being able to live above your airplane and taxi right out to an active runway while being surrounded by Northern Idaho's considerable beauty is spectacular. The airpark blends into the mountains to create a cohesive whole. Sitting out on the veranda at SilverWing, watching all kinds of interesting aircraft take off and land started to lull me into a kind of euphoric stupor. For any pilot, this is living. Visit

Labels: Piston Singles


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