Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Idaho Airpark Living

SilverWing at Sandpoint is a gateway to mountain adventure

Tanglefoot Seaplane Base

"Hold the nose attitude and fly it onto the water," David McRoberts says patiently, while the darkest blue water I've ever seen rushes to meet the hull of his Lake LA-270 Turbo Renegade. "To fly seaplanes, you have to be patient," he smiles. Before I know it, the unmistakable hiss of water envelopes the craft, and a soft spray of lake water surrounds us like a million jewels. McRoberts opens the canopy, shuts down the engine and motions for us to jump into the lake—something he does without hesitation.

I'm with P&P Editor Jessica Ambats, and we're visiting with aviator and inventor Loel Fenwick. Fenwick—a developer of new healthcare systems by profession—lives in a breathtaking and architecturally fascinating home on the shoulders of Priest Lake in Idaho, just yards from Cavanaugh Bay. Having introduced the world to the modern birthing bed and birthing-room maternity system, Dr. Fenwick has used his resources to carve out an idyllic spot for himself and his wife, Olson, cradled in these beautiful mountains.

He calls this architectural tribute to nature and aviation "Tanglefoot." McRoberts is Fenwick's friend and one of many aviators who come to the Tanglefoot Seaplane Base (ID28) as a sort of mecca where an adoration for machines that fly can be nurtured. By day, McRoberts captains Boeing 757s, but today, he's introducing us to the wonders of swimming from an airplane. Prepared for the dunking, we came in our swim suits. It's an odd sensation to pilot an aircraft barefoot and in swim trunks. After a few minutes, you wonder why you don't do it all the time. We all jump in, the cold water refreshing us as it thunks against the hull of the Renegade, floating free next to us. Beneath us, warm currents from the 300-foot depths wrap around us like blankets. Before long, the sun is announcing its departure, and we head back to Tanglefoot and Fenwick.

"I imagined this house as being a part of the land, not on top of it," explains Fenwick, leading us through interior spaces open to the surrounding forest and bathed in light from magnificent clerestories. "I wanted it to seem like it was growing out of the forest." The house has become part home and part meeting space, where Fenwick's peers and guests from different walks of life come to commune, relax or just say hello. Most of them are pilots.

A brilliant and talented man, Fenwick was bitten by the aviation bug early in his native South Africa. He cultivated that passion fully, while succeeding famously in the medical field. That success has allowed Fenwick to feed his love of airplanes and flying, and to give back to the aviation world by preserving some special airplanes. From the glass walls of his living room, I can see the outline of a huge hangar door that appears to open into the lakeside forest, which leads me to ask, "What's in there?"

Soon, Fenwick is opening the tilt-up door he designed and built himself that must surely lead to a special place. Inside the hangar sits the most superlative and stately aircraft that ever graced the skies—the Grumman G-73 Mallard, two in fact. Giving my heartbeat time to stabilize, I pore over the first Mallard, touching the fuselage with my sleeve-covered hand. I recognize it (N12YZ) as the oldest Mallard still flying—serial number 2. Inside the cockpit, my enthusiasm turns into a religious experience as I touch each part of Fenwick's meticulously restored beauty. One can feel the love and care in this grand flying machine. Fenwick is working on this Mallard's annual, while heading a complete restoration of the second Mallard. He's a world-recognized expert on the type. Only 14 remain flying. Three serve an Australian pearling company and 11 are the personal aircraft of classic airplane enthusiasts.

Fenwick's wife, Olson, is the heart and soul of Tanglefoot. A superb chef, she cooks exclusively with items grown from the garden she and Fenwick created over the roof of the Mallard hangar. She imbues Tanglefoot with a calm sense of warmth and hospitality. Olson is a pilot and a great stick by all accounts, flying Stearmans and Lakes and everything in between. Always with a ready smile, she welcomes the gaggle of guests who come to the house to talk airplanes and inventions. From astronauts to celebrities to everyday pilots, she and Fenwick play host to those who love aviation. If you're lucky enough to find yourself at Priest Lake and Fenwick is at home, drop into Tanglefoot and ask him to show you the Mallards.


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