Socked In On a CAVU Day

You can just see the runway peaking out from under the clouds – it was probably VFR ten minutes after this shot.

Lake Tahoe can be a funny place. Surrounded by gorgeous countryside, it salutes the forested western slope of the Sierra on its California side, and the deserts of Nevada’s Great Basin to the east. The lake is deep and cold, and on a beautiful warm(ish) winter day, the air and water can conspire to form a dense low layer of cloud in the basin, while all around it, birds are singing, bicyclists are rejoicing, and airplanes are flying – all for the shear joy of it. Everyone knows winter will set back in tomorrow. Seriously – that’s in the forecast!

See that airport symbol for KTVL (South Lake Tahoe Airport)? Right underneath you can see a touch of red where the Garmin was flagging low IFR conditions. Now take a look out the window (or the picture of what it was like out the window. Half the runway was covered by the edge of the clouds, half was in the clear.

Unfortunately, for airplanes with standard performance, this is really a one way in and out airport – land and depart over the lake, due to rapidly rising terrain to the south. And of course, that would mean landing out of those clouds, or departing straight in to them. If you have great climb performance (at altitude), no problem! If not – better land down in Minden and rent a car if you just have to visit the lake on a day like this.

Looking north up the Carson Range, with the Tahoe basin in cloud, and Nevada clear and a million.
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Paul Dye
Paul Dye, KITPLANES® Editor at Large, retired as a Lead Flight Director for NASA’s Human Space Flight program, with 40 years of aerospace experience on everything from Cubs to the Space Shuttle. An avid homebuilder, he began flying and working on airplanes as a teen and has experience with a wide range of construction techniques and materials. He flies an RV-8 and SubSonex jet that he built, an RV-3 that he built with his pilot wife, as well as a Dream Tundra and an electric Xenos motorglider they completed. Currently, they are building an F1 Rocket. A commercially licensed pilot, he has logged over 6000 hours in many different types of aircraft and is an A&P, FAA DAR, EAA Tech Counselor and Flight Advisor; he was formerly a member of the Homebuilder’s Council. He consults and collaborates in aerospace operations and flight-testing projects across the country.


  1. That was a weird day. Learned to fly at KTVL 20 years ago. Been flying from there ever since

    Can’t remember a day with that fog in 20 years. Stop by I’m at the hangars almost every day. Just ask for the backwards airplanes at the fbo.


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