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Las Vegas Takes To The Skies

Aviation history
Clark County Museum/Henderson. NV

Randall Henderson (left, without hat) and his Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” on the ground in Las Vegas. The precise location isn’t known, but it was the Arrowhead Trail Highway area, which is today’s Las Vegas Boulevard. Taken sometime between May 7 and May 10, 1920. The identity of the other two people is unknown.

Nevada has a rich aviation history populated by people who had a strong entrepreneurial spirit.

One of those people was journalist Randall Henderson. He was the first person to land an airplane in Las Vegas. It was May of 1920. The plane was a Curtiss “Jenny” - a World War I military plane.

"There was a strip of land, of just raw desert, that had been scraped off in 1919." Clark County Museum director Mark Hall-Patton told KNPR's State of Nevada. 

We don't know exactly where Henderson landed his airplane, but it was somewhere in the area we now know as the Strip.

"It was not overly safe" to land since there were no lights and no radio communication,  Hall-Patton said. "You had to follow what you could see on the ground." 

Henderson recalled later that as soon as he landed it seemed that the entire town showed up to see him, which Hall-Patton said would have amounted to about 1,500 people. 

Randall Henderson is popularly remembered  as the the editor and publisher of “Desert Magazine,” which he co-founded in the 1930s at Calexico, California. The magazine then moved to Palm Desert.  But this flight into Las Vegas is an important part of his personal history and Nevada's aviation history, as well.  

Henderson's story is just one of the many that Mark Hall-Patton will tell in his “Las Vegas Takes To The Skies” lecture at the Clark County Library, 1401 E. Flamingo Road, on Thursday, Sept. 3, at 7 p.m.

One of the most legendary and tragic events from Las Vegas' aviation past is the plane crash that took the life of Hollywood legend Carole Lombard.

Lombard was returning from a World War II war bonds tour in January 1942. The TWA flight she was on was supposed to stop in Boulder City, but couldn't because it was after dark and the runway didn't have lights. 

They were rerouted to what is now Nellis Air Force Base, but was then called the Las Vegas Army Air Base. However, when they left for Los Angeles the pilot's headings were off. 

"As they took off, they were using the routing based on Boulder City and unfortunately, they ran right into Double Up Peak." Hall-Patton said. "Everybody on the flight was killed." 

Double Up Peak is part of Potosi Mountain about 30 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

For more information on Las Vegas' early aviation history check out these sites: 

Aviation Museum

Searchlight Historic Museum

Clark County Museum

Courtesy: Clark County Museum/ Henderson, NV. Airplane at Anderson/Rockwell Field, probably in the late 1920s.

Courtesy: Clark County Museum/Henderson, NV. The first Air Mail delivery to Las Vegas on April 17, 1926.  The plane flew from Salt Lake City to Las Vegas and then went on to Los Angeles. The man on horseback is Bill Morgan. The pilot is Fred Kelly, one of the first four pilots who flew for Western Air Express.

Mark Hall-Patton, Museum Administrator for The Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, The Clark County Museum, and the Searchlight Historic Museum 

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.