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My Nevada 5: The State’s High-Flying Aviators

Long before airline travel became ordinary, Nevada visionaries foresaw the critical role it would play in the state's economic health.

Business & Community  |  Mar 6, 2014  |  By UNLV News Center

Frank Burnside became the first person to fly a plane in Nevada during his July 1913 visit to Ely. (Photo via the Library of Congress, George Grantham Bain Collection)

Editor's Note: 

This piece comes from Dan Bubb, ’01 MA History. He is an aviation historian and author of Landing in Las Vegas: Commercial Aviation and the Making of a Tourist City. Currently the director of academic assessment at UNLV, he also has extensive background in student learning outcomes assessment in higher education.

Like many other Western states, Nevada has a rich history in aviation. With 500 miles separating its two largest cities, Reno and Las Vegas, the state was in need of a new and better form of transportation for its residents. The airplane was ideal for Nevada and Nevada was ideal for the airplane.

 

Frank Burnside1. Frank Burnside

In July 1913, Frank Burnside became the first person to fly an airplane in Nevada when he landed his eight-cylinder, 80-horsepower Thomas-Morse airplane in Ely, a town with fewer than 2,000 residents. The Thomas Morse Co. was invited to send one of its planes and pilots to Ely as part of the town’s July 4 celebration. Ely residents gave Burnside a hero’s welcome and were ecstatic that a machine with wings landed in their town. It was Burnside’s third and final flight.

William R. Hausler2. William R. Hausler

Seven years later, a former Army pilot and railroad mechanic named William R. “Bob” Hausler introduced aviation to southern Nevadans by building the first airport in Las Vegas (Anderson Field). Seeking to put Las Vegas on the prestigious Transcontinental Airmail Route, Hausler renovated a tract of land that offered an airstrip for Army pilots to safely land their planes and refuel before continuing to fly the mail to Salt Lake City.

Soon after World War I, the U.S. Postal Service sought safe locations along the Transcontinental Airmail Route so its pilots could refuel their planes. It especially needed a place between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, because the planes did not yet have the fuel range to make the trek nonstop. Hausler immediately began his work to make Las Vegas the best choice for the Postal Service. Thanks to the work of Hausler, aviation in Southern Nevada is one of the region’s largest and most profitable industries, and its airport, named after one of the most powerful and influential U.S. senators, is the sixth busiest in the nation, and the 15th busiest in the world.

Patrick McCarran3. Patrick McCarran

Patrick McCarran, the son of a sheep rancher, graduated from law school and briefly served as an associate justice on the Nevada Supreme Court. He was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Democrat in 1932 and quickly rose to prominence. Seeing the need for a safer, better organized air travel industry, McCarran coauthored the Civil Aeronautics Act in 1938. The legislation called for stronger regulation of the entire aviation industry and required all pilots to be certified and go through rigorous training and all passenger aircraft to undergo routine maintenance with documentation to be regularly inspected by Civil Aeronautics Board officials. McCarran, however, was not the only politician to single-handedly reform and reshape the air travel industry.

Howard Cannon4. Howard Cannon

In 1978, Howard Cannon, a former Air Force pilot who recognized the need to release the airline industry from the tight grip of the Civil Aeronautics Board, introduced legislation to deregulate it. The central purpose of the legislation sought to make the industry more competitive, affordable, and accessible to Northern and Southern Nevadans, and other Americans. In November 2013, Sen. Cannon (D-Nevada), was inducted into the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame. A plaque in his honor is among those of other individuals who also influenced and shaped aviation in Nevada, such as Marie McMillan.

Marie McMillan5. Marie McMillan

In 1978, Marie McMillan set the record for the fastest flight by a female pilot from Fresno, Calif., to Las Vegas. McMillan would go on to set 656 records, the most in the world by any female pilot. For the next 25 years, McMillan taught members of the Las Vegas community and Las Vegas Metro Police Department how to fly. She also did charity work by transporting doctors, nurses, and medical supplies to rural areas in Mexico and South America.

Bonus Fact: Western Air Express Airlines & Maude Campbell

In April 1926, the pilot of a Western Air Express Douglas M-2 transported a young secretary from Salt Lake City, to Los Angeles via Las Vegas. The entire flight took eight hours, much faster than the trains or automobiles of the day. Maude Campbell, the sole passenger on that flight, was the first female to fly aboard a commercial airplane in the United States. Soon, Western Air Express Airlines established Las Vegas as a base, offering regular passenger service from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles via Las Vegas, and vice versa.

[Main image courtesy of the Library of Congress. All others courtesy of the Nevada Aerospace Hall of Fame.]