1962 was a banner year for aviation. Tirso I, the first meteorological satellite was launched. The Piper Cherokee debuted and Shady Acres (3B8), one of Washington State’s first airpark communities, was created.
On August 13, Airpark residents and friends celebrated the 60th anniversary with a barbecue and plane wash. Among the guests were 60 Civilian Air Patrol cadets, representing units from across Evergreen State. For the CAP, it was overnight camping.
“Shady Acres has always been kid-friendly,” says Marianne Scott Lincoln, who, along with her brother Jim and sister Judy, grew up at the airpark. Their father, Bill, was a pilot. Jim and Judy became pilots. Marianne flies a drone and her son, Aaron Krizek, is an Air Force pilot.
Judy Scott, who is in her sixties, still lives at the airpark. She played the hostess of the weekend celebration. His Cessna 172 Lady Falcon is a few meters from his front door – the plane and the door to the house are painted bright orange.
Several pilots participated in the event, exhibiting their aircraft. The collection included a Stearman, the 1950s Cessna 172, a Cessna 150 and a Kitfox. Later that day, a CAP Cessna 182 arrived from Joint Base Lewis McChord (KTCM), the Air Force base a few miles west of the field.
Shady Acres residents Suzy Omegna and Mike Gibbons fired up their industrial-size barbecue grill, whipping up hot dogs and burgers. A buffet was served under the cover of an open-air masted shed. According to Scott, it’s much the same as life in an airpark: “People help each other, we know our neighbors.”
Shady Acres early
According to Lincoln, Shady Acres began as an idea discussed among pilots who were members of the Western Travelairs club. In the late 1950s, they met monthly at what is now Pierce-Thun County Airport Field (KPLU), a towerless field a few miles east of Shady Acres .
“There were enough of them who wanted to live in an airport with their airplane. The Aeropark was born out of those conversations,” says Lincoln.
It took a few years to go from conversation to business, she adds. “On April 19, 1962, Harold LeMay, Jack Brown, and William ‘Bill’ Black filed Shady Acres Corporation in the office of the Washington State Secretary of State.”
The airpark started out as 40 acres which were subdivided into 2.5 acre plots for the pilots to build their homes and hangars.
Usually the shed came first, Lincoln notes.
Some of the founders have become famous locally. Harold LeMay started a waste management business in the area after World War II. In addition to aviation, the LeMay family was interested in vintage automobiles. Their private collection has grown so large that in June 2012 they opened a museum in Tacoma to house the collection. His grandson, Eric LeMay, still lives at the airpark.
Slim Lawson, one of the original residents of Shady Acres, was also a flight instructor. For decades, you’d be hard-pressed to find a pilot in the Seattle area who didn’t have his name in his logbook.
Grasslands, forests and farms
When the airpark was established, Pierce County, located south of Seattle, was dominated by grasslands, forests and farms. Tacoma was a large city, with smaller communities of Puyallup and Spanaway to the east. The Army was the largest employer with Joint Base Lewis McChord then known as McChord Air Force Base and Fort Lewis Army Base housing the troops.
Shady Acres was carved out of 40 acres located south of McChord and east of Fort Lewis. Today, both bases are in Class D airspace and have control towers. It is not uncommon to see military aircraft flying over Shady Acres.
The airpark grew to 47.75 acres. Farms gave way to cookie-cutter housing estates and industrial parks. The southern end of the airpark is crossed by a road. At ground level, there are warnings about low-flying aircraft. The farm that lined the north end of Shady Acres disappeared decades ago. The property is now occupied by the Frederickson Industrial Area which primarily serves manufacturing and distribution companies such as Boeing (NYSE: BA), Tacoma Guitars and Medallion Foods.
Enter and leave
Shady Acres can be a technically difficult airport. Runway 16/34 is 1,800 feet by 20 feet. It is basically a strip of asphalt placed in the center of a grass field. There are obstacles (trees, fences, roads, etc.) at both ends. Pilots who train at Shady Acres learn short-field takeoffs and landings and soft-field takeoffs and landings from day one.
According to airnav.com, there are 21 aircraft based at the airport, a towerless facility with a unicom frequency. A tee and windsock are placed in the middle of the field, and as the airpark is surrounded by trees which can block the wind, pilots are advised to get a weather briefing from nearby McChord and Thun Field before take-off, as the trees act as a windbreak. so the windsock can be misleading.
When taking off from Runway 34 at Shady Acres, pilots are warned to turn east a few degrees to avoid cutting into McChord’s Class D airspace, but not so far east that they fly over the Boeing factory – the large fans at the top of the facility’s buildings are there to remove heat from the furnaces. They generate updraft and turbulence which can be a life changing event. Additionally, McChord is a C-17 base, and it’s not uncommon to see the giant plane hovering over Shady Acres a few hundred feet above model altitude.
To the east is the busy, towerless Thun Field. The airport has three flight schools, and it’s not uncommon for their CFIs to bring their learners to Shady Acres to practice short-field takeoffs and landings.
On the approach from the south, pilots are warned to keep an eye out for road traffic as the short approach takes you over a town street which is perpendicular to the runway. In the past there was talk of putting the street in a tunnel, but this idea was rejected as its cost was prohibitive, so instead there are road signs warning of low-flying aircraft . The pilots do their part by respecting the staggered threshold on the track.
The airport is not isolated from the surrounding community. On occasion, there have been times when people impaired by aviation have come onto the property in cars, bicycles and motorcycles and created a hazard by entering the property and running on the track as if it were a drag strip. When this happens, often one of the residents will come out to let them know they are encroaching on an active runway.
The airpark is private property, but for public use. The airport is a corporation and the owners are shareholders. They pay an annual fee for the upkeep and general maintenance of the airport. Because it is for public use, pilots can fly, but if they create any danger or nuisance, they are asked not to return. Sometimes the troublemakers are filmed.
Suzy Omegna moved to Shady Acres four years ago before she got her private pilot certificate because she “wanted to live in an airport where I could fly just a few steps from the front door.”
Current residents are happy when they have new pilot neighbors. The biggest concern, says Omegna, is that the shares can be sold to non-pilots, who might not see the value of the runway out their back door — until a Life Flight uses the airport to emergency flights and that people see the value of the airport in the neighborhood.
The airport has already been disputed. In the early 2000s, home goods giant IKEA announced plans to build a 65-acre distribution center just off the extended centerline of Runway 34, resulting in an encroachment on the airport overlay. The residents of Shady Acres hired a lawyer and successfully fought the location. The distribution center was still built, but moved so that it was no longer directly under the flight path of Runway 34.
Another challenge faced by residents of Shady Acres is when their non-flying neighbors see a plane in the sky and automatically think it’s from the airpark and the pilot is doing something dangerous or illegal.
Omegna tells the story of a person posted on a neighborhood app complaining about a plane turning “2,000ft overhead, pilot must have put it on autopilot – waiting for it to be at out of gas” and fearing it would crash. Other neighbors intervened, saying to call the FAA. A search on flightaware.com showed the aircraft to be a Cessna 206 Stationair. A little more research revealed that it wasn’t someone from Shady Acres – it was law enforcement orbiting a traffic accident.