Kevin Sloane’s been teaching flying since 1993, but you are more likely to have seen his yellow plane capturing images for Squaw Valley over the Funitel or flying low over Lake Tahoe. He’s been photographed for STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) Magazine, the bible for pilots who fly the types of planes Sloane flies. This past February, in his Super Cub, he was part of a group of planes that attempted a Guinness World Record of plane water skiing for 30 miles on Lake Tahoe. Plane water skiing, also known as skimming, involves flying so low that your wheels gently kiss the water. The group is still awaiting confirmation on the world record from Guinness.
The Backcountry Super Cub, which Sloane had hand built to his specifications with extra features such as RockShox on the back wheel, is designed for quick takeoff and landings under rugged conditions. It’s the kind of plane that can land in the back country on a patch of dirt or on the surface of a glacier or frozen lake. Sloane takes her out just about every morning, so it didn’t take a lot of arm twisting on my part to get him bring me along.
“The ride was smooth and we were low enough to appreciate the contours and dimensions of every tree, every house, every yard. He waved at each familiar fishing boat or paddleboarder.”
When I arrived at Truckee Tahoe Airport on a crisp, spectacular fall morning, Sloane and I seemed to be the only people there. It became quickly apparent to me that after his wife and two kids, this Super Cub airplane is another love of his life. Within a few minutes, he’d pushed the plane out of the hanger and was chatting away on the radio with the air controller and other pilots getting ready to fly. Truckee Tahoe Airport is a friendly and informal place, and Sloane loves to fly there.
We started out at the end of the runway, however, once he pushed the stick, we were airborne within a matter of seconds.
“Some planes are designed to fly fast and high; this one is designed to fly slow and low,” Sloane said.
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It’s the perfect sightseeing and search and rescue plane. Once we crossed over Brockway Summit and floated over Lake Tahoe, we were cruising along at a leisurely 45 miles per hour. He can keep it in the air at speeds as slow as 18 mph.
The ride was smooth and we were low enough to appreciate the contours and dimensions of every tree, every house, every yard. He waved at each familiar fishing boat or paddleboarder, who all looked excited and intrigued to see this plane slowly cruising by above them.
There are many ways I’ve admired the wonder of Tahoe: an early morning kayak from Bliss to Emerald Bay, sunset cruising in the alpenglow and quietly contemplating life along the shoreline, but this just might have been my favorite way in which to see the lake. We were going low enough and slow enough to truly appreciate the water and the mountains around us. It was like a fast hot-air balloon with much better control.
Behind the stick of his plane, Sloane is a happy man. He says that he and the plane are one and often proclaimed excitedly: “Do you realize how lucky we are to live here?”
I surely do — and this ride was an excellent reminder. He also told me that while his plane is capable of flying just about anywhere, he is sure to follow all the laws and makes sure that he is sensitive to the environment as to where and how he lands.
To demonstrate the plane’s capabilities, we dropped low and he let the tires softly touch the surface of the water. The water was harder than I expected. It felt similar to hitting a concrete runway. While it was an amazing experience, his co-pilot was not ready to attempt a new water skimming record, so we rose up above the lake, water dripping off the tires and flew north toward Prosser, Boca and Stampede reservoirs.
As we passed over the reservoirs, Sloane pointed out landing sites that he had used in the past. Along the shore of Stampede Reservoir, we flew by what he calls Coffee Point, because once when he landed, folks from the campground nearby were so enchanted that they came to visit bearing a cup of coffee.
Shortly after Coffee Point, Sloane picked a flat piece of land where we landed, gently bouncing to a quick stop. He says that he sometimes brings a fishing pole to ply the waters of whatever lake he drops down to. After a brief break to watch the eagles, osprey and swans, we hopped back in. In just a few seconds, we were rolling along on the dirt, flying over Stampede and back to Truckee. When coming in for a landing at the airport, he chose the dirt strip next to the runway, instead of the concrete one, since he said, “Landing on concrete is hell on plane tires.”
In Sloane’s other life, he spends his time running Marg’s Restaurant in downtown Truckee. His family owns and runs three other Marg’s in Colorado, as well. His focus at Marg’s is on producing a great restaurant experience at a reasonable price and he is looking forward to deep discounting for the locals now that it is off season.
After our flight, Sloane hopped on what he calls his drought paddleboard, a huge skateboard, to roll over to the airport terminal, before racing to Marg’s to open for the day. This guy understands the importance of carpe diem and the simple joy of flying an airplane.