Pilots Ab Davies and Al Lockwood teamed up to use the property as a flight training school for soldiers using their G.I. Bills (funding for soldiers to get the education they choose). They called it the Seattle Sky Ranch. At one point, it was the biggest flight training facility in the entire state, training about 125 men per month. They shut operations down in about 1955 due to increased rent and the G.I. Bill window coming to a close.
Shortly after it closed, pilot Art Banko took over management of the field for use as a private landing strip.
[Image: Ab Davies with his wife, Marjorie.]
Pilot Linn Emrich (1931-2002) leased the Pickering property in 1961. Emrich was known to be fascinated with flight as a whole—not only aircrafts, but birds as well. Born in Harvey, Illinois, his family moved to Mercer Island when he was a child, later moving to Issaquah. He got a Bachelor's Degree in Psychology from the University of Washington, but his professional life remained focused on flight; he served in the U.S. Air Force, worked as a flight engineer for Pacific Northern & Pan American Airlines, and was a co-pilot for Alaska Airlines.
Emrich was fiercely passionate about the recreational airfield, and his drive and charisma were really at the heart of the Skyport's rise to iconic status. His mission was "to encourage the use of the sky as a playground, with courage, safety, good sportsmanship, and healthy competitive interests."
At the Skyport, you could learn to soar, jump, and perform aerobatics. You could also ride in a jump plane and watch the "Skysportsmen" leap out. Towplanes and gliders were a regular pair on the grass runway. Private pilots could use the airfield only if vetted by Emrich himself. The Skyport boasted hot air balloon, parachuting, and sailplane exhibitions. There were plenty of additional exhilarating activities, ranging from Easter bunny jumps (top left); the Parachute Championships (bottom right); mock dog fights (including the Red Baron vs. Snoopy); the Lan Roberts Sky Circus in 1970; and much more.
Being such an active airfield, it was commonplace for residents to see parachutes drifting down, along with gliders floating through the valley. Images like these became part of the fabric of daily life in Issaquah; people both in and out of town came to see the Skyport as the area's defining iconic feature.
The Issaquah Parachute Center
The Skyport site also hosted a dedicated Parachute Center, ran by Jamey Woodward (left). He began his operation in the late 1970s as a subtenant under Linn Emrich. Woodward, like Emrich, was extremely passionate about sky sports and would go on to fight its closure until the very last day it was open.
A Place With Many Names
The Skyport land was recognized by several names over the nearly 50 years it existed:
- The Seattle Sky Ranch
- Seattle Sky Sports (Club)
- Sky Ranch Airport
- Issaquah Airport
- Issaquah Airfield
- Issaquah Sky Sports
- Seattle Sport Parachuting Center
- Issaquah Parachute Center
Chances are, if you said any of these to a local at the time, they would know the place you were talking about.
Extra: The Skyport & D.B. Cooper
On November 24, 1971, the infamous “D.B. Cooper” hijacked Flight 305 from Portland to Seattle, claiming he would set off a bomb if his demands were not met. Along with his infamous ransom of $200,000 in $20 bills, another demand was that he get four parachutes specifically from the Issaquah Skyport.
Linn Emrich got the call and sent the packs off to be delivered at Sea-Tac Airport (although he only sent two chest pack chutes, while a Renton firm supplied two backpack chutes). According to this December 1, 1971 Issaquah Press issue, he had a hunch as to who D.B. Cooper was, and indeed the FBI 'hounded' Emrich (misspelled in the background article) for so long that he and his family decided to take a vacation. It is suspected that, since he demanded chutes specifically from the Skyport, the hijacker may have frequented the recreational airfield.
Cooper was never caught. 45 years later, in 2016, the FBI released a statement saying they had “redirected resources allocated to the D.B. Cooper case to focus on other investigative priorities.”