Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Idaho Airpark Living

SilverWing at Sandpoint is a gateway to mountain adventure

Sometimes, it seems unfair that we pilots have more convenient access to the most beautiful spots in the world than ground-locked souls. There are some places that beg to be explored by air, yet only a few of us get to witness the grandeur there just because we fly. The mountains of the West are one of those spots. If you've never experienced the soft rush of grass rising to meet the tires of a small general aviation aircraft, you're missing one of flying's most sublime sensations. To do so among craggy mountain peaks is even better. Only a handful of states can boast this kind of experience, and of them, Idaho might be the best place to bring out your backcountry pilot's soul. If Idaho is mountain-flying Valhalla, then the gateway must surely be SilverWing at Sandpoint (

Airparks like SilverWing usually only exist in the imagination. Maybe, like me, you've woken up from a dream, where you roll out of bed and amble down to a cavernous hangar where all your ideal aircraft await—all of them in annual and perfectly maintained. Buoyed by the familiar aroma of 100LL, aircraft oil and leather seats, you plan the day's activities to include some fly-fishing to a secret alpine lake, a jaunt to a fabulous lunch spot with a manicured grass strip and then some lazy floating in a crystal lake. There, you take turns leaping from your seaplane's front seat directly into the bracing blue water, with nothing around but the hiss of the wind through the tall pines and the sound of moose calls. Like me, you probably always wake up shaking your head, wondering if such a place exists.

SilverWing is a residential airpark whose 44 lots sit squarely on the west side of runway 1 at Sandpoint Airport (KSZT), in Sandpoint, Idaho. The airpark is the creation of a group of developers who saw in Sandpoint the perfect combination of characteristics to draw in pilots who love the outdoors almost as much as flying. The 7,400 permanent residents of Sandpoint know a great thing when they see it, and many moved from all over the United States to call the tiny quaint town their home. Silverwing is an extension of the beauty here—an airpark with multiple roles as both a home and a destination. For pilots, SilverWing is a place to launch a thousand adventures.

Sandpoint, Idaho, is itself a jewel among mountain towns. It was once part of the home of both the Kootenai and the Kalispel tribe of Native Americans, whose lands extended up into Canada and east to Montana. The town is nestled on the northern shore of expansive Lake Pend Oreille, which means "ear pendant" (because of its shape). Just 60 miles south of the Canadian border, Sandpoint is cradled by the Selkirk Mountains, with vast forests of Douglas fir, alder and mountain hemlock stretching green to every horizon. Settled by fur traders and homesteaders, timber harvesting sustained the area's economy until the 1960s when skiing and tourism took over. Today Sandpoint is synonymous with outdoor recreation, boasting some of the best hiking, boating, fishing and just about every other activity you can add "ing" to.

It was here that visionary John McKeown and his partners chose to build a special airpark. Sandpoint airport was already in place, with its jet-capable, 75x5,500-foot runway and instrument approaches. The whole state is friendly to general aviation, with both Quest and Aviat based in Idaho. The people of this area—like those in Alaska—recognized the essential value of aviation long ago. Many of the most pristine and picturesque spots in the state can only be reached by airplane, and people here use aviation as a tool for crossing great expanses of rugged mountains in the fastest way possible. From the flat farmlands of Southern Idaho through the Tetons and up to the postcard lakes of Northern Idaho, this place was made to be seen from the air.

If you've heard the name "SilverWing" before, it's because the airpark has been in development since McKeown purchased the land in 2007. He had specific criteria for building an airpark, and imagined a place where residents could enjoy the beauty of the area but not be so far away from world-class amenities that they would feel isolated. McKeown and his team put in sewers and electrical, and set out to divide the parcel into lots. They worked with architects and designers to imagine the eventual development of what they term "fly-in units," which are hangar-homes. Chosen from seven custom models—or designed by the buyer—these homes will feature hangars on the bottom floor, with an enormous loft space above to be built to the customer's taste. Ten-thousand square feet of community and common areas will allow for a recreation center, pool, gym and other facilities on the 18-acre property.


Add Comment