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 (www.silverwingatsandpoint.com).
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, 75×5,500-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.
Shortly into the development of the airpark, progress came to a stop when the FAA argued that these airparks were unlawful because of the FAA’s “through-the-fence” policy. The term refers to hangar-homes that have access to a public-use airport’s taxiways and runways, but aren’t airport businesses. A residential airpark on airport property is a “through-the-fence” arrangement. From 2009, the FAA disagreed with this type of arrangement at federally funded airports, and would slap an airport with an “out-of-compliance” designation, severely curtailing sales activities at the airparks.
Natural-stone walls and timber beams adorn the interior of the luxury model home at SilverWing at Sandpoint Airpark.
In May 2011, The FAA published an interim policy allowing such use as long as the airport developed a plan to deal with the federal standards set for things as security, safety, sustainability and other issues. After much argument and complex wrangling, the FAA further refined the policy in February 2012, resulting in bill H.R. 658. The bill is part of the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act and has already passed the House and Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama in February 2012. The bill protects airports from losing federal funds due to through-the-fence agreements. This important victory gives SilverWing—and airparks like them—the green light to continue development.
We got our taste of SilverWing as the summer was heaving its last breaths and a faint crispness was in the evening breeze. From the air, SilverWing is easy to miss, with just one large structure built (the huge model home), and a curious pattern of lot outlines awaiting their buyers.
“Three lots and the completed shell hangar unit have been sold,” Mike Mileski summarizes as he gives us a tour of the model. Mileski is one of the partners in the SilverWing development. “Once 1⁄3 of the lots are sold, we have plans to start the recreational facility,” he adds. The model home looks like a Grand Teton Lodge in miniature. River rock and natural stone adorn various walls, while heavy, natural timber beams imbue the interior with a warm, “mountain home” feel. Even the colors mimic the view from the massive round portal window in the entryway.
This model is one of seven the buyer can choose from. The hangar-homes will range from 2,100 to 4,300 square feet and can be built on lots that start at about $95,000. A finished hangar and residential shell on a fee simple lot can start at $420,000, with the largest-size hangar homes on the biggest lot expected to be closer to $3 million. The fully furnished model home is listed at $1,875,000.
“We’re looking at buyers who share a common love for general aviation,” Mileski tells me. “This kind of development—an airpark right on a public airport—could probably never be built again. This is a unique opportunity.” While Mileski talks, the sound of an Antonov An-2 fills our conversation—it’s based at Sandpoint—and reminds me of the best part of SilverWing: rolling out of bed and into the seat of your favorite airplane. The taxiway is right outside the living room window, and the runway is just beyond that. For pilots, it’s heaven.
Mileski says lots are all finished and have utility connections for water, sewer, gas and electricity, with phone and cable service also available. Once lots are purchased, owners can start construction immediately using either their own contractors or one of several approved builders in the area. SilverWing also can build you a complete unit, with an empty loft space above the hangar to be finished by the buyer. Options for each abound and are only limited by a buyer’s imagination.
Sandpoint itself is a beacon for this area. The once-quiet town has grown into the Best Small Town in America, with respected music festivals, a thriving art scene, interesting restaurants and one of the best general aviation FBOs—Silver-Wing Flight services (a sister company of the development)—in the region. It’s a great place to learn to fly, or to stretch your wings into the surrounding mountains and backcountry strips. With mild temperatures that range from 80s in the summer to 20s in the winter, Sandpoint seems to offer everything a pilot could want.
We decided to rent a 172 from the FBO to see the whole area from a pilot’s point of view. As expected, the land is even more breathtaking from the air. The lake makes for an unmistakable landmark, and the possibilities of using Sandpoint as a base for further adventure become apparent. Shooting touch-and-goes, the downwind leg stretches out over the lake, and I find myself distracted by the beauty of it all.
I let my mind wander while I listen for traffic on the radio. The non-towered airport is silent. There isn’t much to Silver-Wing yet, but I can see the potential here: a beautiful hangar-home, with the chance to explore endless valleys, lakes, meadows and strips. The charm of Northern Idaho is lulling me into a stupor. Crossing over and turning downwind, I spot the model home, point to it and say to nobody in particular, “There’s our house.” And I’m not even dreaming.
SilverWing Flight Services
If you’ve ever longed for an FBO that provided services and prices like those of the golden era of general aviation flying, SilverWing Flight Services is it. Aside from that fact that their location at Sandpoint Airport is awesomely picturesque, it’s what you don’t see that counts. Their Chief Flight Instructor, Ken Larson, is a former Air Force fighter pilot and T-38 instructor. SilverWing’s pilots are intimately familiar with the surrounding mountains, the countless backcountry strips and how to handle mountain conditions.
Manager Jason Hauck runs a resource-ful operation, attending to every customer’s needs and even running the rental car counter. Silvering offers some of the best deals in aviation, with a great little 172 that can be had for $100/hour, and a clean red Cessna 150 aerobat that you can rent for $78/hour on a 10-hour block. They’ll even give you an area orientation.
For more information, visit the FBO’s website at www.silverwingflightservices.com.
|If notable individuals are a measure of an area’s character, Sandpoint, Idaho, has more than its share of it. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin was born there, and several inventors—like Tinker Hatfield, who designed the famous Air Jordan sneaker for Nike, among others—call the area home. A number of former baseball and football greats live in Sandpoint, along with Olympians, noted authors and former Nixon speech writer and movie actor Ben Stein (the teacher in Ferris Beuller’s Day Off who constantly monotones, “Bueller? Bueller?”). But easily, one of the most fascinating residents is aviator and inventor Forrest M. Bird.
Bird is a biomedical engineer who invented the ventilator used in hospitals around the world to help patients breathe. Born in 1921 in Massachusetts, Bird became enamored with aviation as a child after being encouraged by his father—himself a World War I aviator. At 14, Bird was soloing aircraft, going on to serve in World War II with the Army Air Corps as a pilot, and flying nearly every aircraft in the inventory. His love of aviating and inventing continued for decades, culminating in today’s modern medical respirator—among a slew of related medical inventions—and an impressive collection of some of the most interesting aircraft ever manufactured.
In 2007, Bird decided to bring his collection to the public when he opened the Bird Aviation Museum and Invention Center just a few miles outside of Sandpoint. Bird lives on the 300-acre complex, which functions as an office, airport, museum, laboratory and farm. It has become a respected destination for both pilots and inventors, hosting Aviation Hall of Fame dinners and Inventor’s Hall of Fame inductees.
For pilots, the Bird Museum (and its adjacent Bird Ranch Airport) is an excellent destination, just a 10-minute flight from Sandpoint Airport. It’s a private strip open by invitation only, so you’ll need special permission before you land there. The Ranch is a 1,900-foot paved runway with a good downhill slope to the south and a seven-degree eastward curve about mid-field. Pilots are advised to land to the north and takeoff to the south, and are directed to divert to Sandpoint Airport if the wind is unfavorable. Deer frequent the runway, and a ridgeline of 80-foot trees makes go-arounds challenging. In short, bring your “A game,” or just rent a car in Sandpoint and make the gorgeous 30-minute drive over to the museum.
Once there, you’ll be rewarded by some unique photo collections of Bird’s adventures, along with some superb examples of interesting flying machines. Bird’s private collection numbers some 20 aircraft, including a vintage Bell 47 “bubble-canopy” helicopter, a fully restored Piper J3 Cub on floats that spends winters in the museum and summers out on Lake Pend Oreille and a 1967 Alon A-2, among others. Most of these are flying, and Bird—who’s in his 80s—still flies when he’s not too busy inventing. The upstairs area of the museum includes a vast collection of Bird’s medical inventions and an Inventor’s Hall of Fame wall with notable people and the products they invented.
Far from a mothballed collection, the Bird Museum is a living, breathing tribute to innovators and aviators who took a chance. The surroundings are just as breathtaking. For more information, visit www.birdaviationmuseum.com.
|Idaho is full of interesting destinations that reward pilots with much more than an average $100 hamburger. One example is Cavanaugh Bay. Cava-naugh (FAA identifier, 66S) is a nicely groomed 3,100-foot turf strip that requires rudimentary piloting skills to manage, and is only 17 nm from Sandpoint. Though the field lies at a 2,500-foot elevation, it’s wide (120 feet), with an open approach over Priest Lake. The spot is picturesque enough that it merits some 375 aircraft operations a month—quite a number for a mountain strip.
Cavanaugh Bay is tailor-made for camping under the wing. The State of Idaho owns the strip and has taken great care to ensure pilots have a good experience. A tree-sheltered area next to the grass runway accommodates campers, and the field is attended around the clock during summer months. They even have loaner tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear for pilots who forget their own. Probably the best amenities are the hot showers and free firewood! Talk to Allan, the caretaker, for anything. In addition to a former stint as an Elvis impersonator, he’s a really nice guy and knows everything about the surrounding area. Like other spots in this aviation-friendly state, pilots are encouraged to explore. It makes me scratch my head why other states don’t follow Idaho’s example.
A short walk will reward you with some gourmet-class dining and cushy lodging. Just 100 yards from the camping area, on the north end of the strip, beckons Cavanaugh’s Restaurant and Lodge. Stop in for a lunch you won’t forget, sitting on their wooden deck beneath blood-orange umbrellas set against the deep-blue, crystal waters of Priest Lake. Try the mouthwatering mahi-mahi tacos or the delectable pork-and-seeds, with hot huckle-berry mustard and wasabi sesame seeds. It’s no backwater greasy spoon, for sure.
If you can divert your eyes from the postcard vistas over the lake, rent a boat at the marina near the restaurant and take a dip in the refreshing water. Noted for its extremely clear water fed by streams cascading from the high Selkirk peaks, Priest Lake extends north-south about 19 miles, and has lots of quiet coves for swimmers or anglers. If fishing is your thing, mackinaw (lake trout) is the predominate species in Priest Lake. In 1971, someone caught a 57 pounder, so trophy-size fish aren’t uncommon.
If you do plan on camping under your wing, you can find groceries in nearby Coolin (take the rental car, it’s only a few dollars). From Sandpoint, Cavanaugh Bay is a 20-minute flight, depending on your speed. Announce your position on the CTAF (122.9), and approach over Priest Lake to runway 15. The edges of the strip are marked with white rocks and are easy to see. Though fierce backcountry skills aren’t needed to fly into this bucolic spot, that all changes if it’s windy. If you have any doubts about your grass-strip skills, grab an instructor at SilverWing FBO at Sandpoint and have them give you a “Cavanaugh 101” tour. It’s one of those spots you’ll remember long after you push that throttle on your way home.
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.