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Lake County Airport, Leadville, ColoradoLake County Airport, Leadville, Colorado

America’s highest airport offers a Rocky Mountain high

John Denver—the singer-songwriter and pilot—wrote lyrically about Rocky Mountain highs in Colorado.
Pilot Briefing July 2020

If, like Denver, you want to get high in Colorado (and touch down at a higher elevation than you usually cruise), navigate to Lake County Airport at Leadville, Colorado, America’s highest airport.

Leadville Airport

At 9,934 feet msl, Lake County Airport (LXV), often called Leadville Airport, is North America’s highest elevation airport. It’s a great fly-in destination—besides earning bragging rights for making the highest landing in North America, Leadville is a gateway to all-season outdoor recreation and spectacular mountain scenery. In the winter, skiing and all the other chilly sports are accessible nearby, while summertime offers visitors hiking, camping, mountain biking, or sailing on glacial lakes. Whatever brings them to the Rockies, all flyers who touch down there will receive a certificate commemorating their landing.

From the 1960s to 1990s Rocky Mountain Airways provided passenger flights to Lake County, making it the highest airport in the United States to have airline service. Unfortunately, you can’t leave the flying to others anymore, so brush up on your mountain flying skills and head for the hills.

Are you dense?

When flying into Leadville—which is at an elevation that’s (literally) off the takeoff and landing distance charts for most GA aircraft—you must be deadly serious about calculating the density altitude and the performance of your airplane. Generally, double all distances required at a sea-level airfield.

High density altitudes degrade the effectiveness of all aspects of an airplane’s performance—the wings, propeller, and powerplant. Takeoff and landing distances, and true speeds, are increased, and this is no place to be overweight, especially on a hot summer day. Know how to lean your engine’s mixture for optimum performance. When landing, precise airspeed control is vital—while the indicated airspeed will appear as it does at sea level, the true airspeed increases significantly, causing much longer landing rolls. Don’t leave any usable runway behind.

High flight training

Being the highest airport in North America, Leadville has become the place to train pilots for flight in high-altitude conditions and mountain flying, and for testing aircraft performance. Much of the training focuses on helicopters used for mountain rescue, but fixed-wing training takes place there, too, including military training.

Rota Aviation Co. (RAVCO), a helicopter flight school, operates from Lake County Airport and it has numerous additional landing zones available for training throughout the mountains, including one mountaintop site at 14,036 feet. It offers courses in basic and advanced mountain flying, covering topics such as mountain weather, power management, white-out landings, special mountain flying maneuvers, and search and rescue operations.

Many aircraft manufacturers test their aircraft there, including Bell, Airbus Helicopters, and Sikorsky.

Summer and winter fun in Leadville

Lake County Airport is a great spot to start a winter vacation trip, with numerous ski resorts in the area, including Vail, Aspen, and Arapahoe Basin. The airport website boasts that its snow removal team keeps the runway clear, so fly in and bring your skis.

It’s equally good for a summer vacation, when the Rockies are warm and welcoming for hiking, camping, and sailing on the mountain lakes. Leadville, at an elevation of 10,152 feet msl, is the highest city in the United States. This old mining town, named after the lead mines that operated in the 1800s, is one of Colorado’s best-preserved old towns. With 50 historic structures, eight museums, and several walking tours, there’s plenty to see and do.

Dennis K. Johnson is a freelance writer and pilot living in New York City.

Dennis K. Johnson

Dennis K. Johnson is an aviation writer and pilot living in New York City.

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