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Author Topic: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936  (Read 50891 times)

Ric Gillespie

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Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« on: October 04, 2016, 09:37:10 AM »

TIGHAR researchers Dan Brown, Bill Davenport and I have been trying to figure when an interesting series of photos was taken (see August 10 1936 on the Google Docs timeline).  August 10 was Dan's initial best guess but we now agree that that can't be right.  Below are my thoughts.

I agree that all of these photos were probably taken on the same day. They’re the only photos I’ve seen in which AE is wearing that blousy jacket.
I think these are very early photos. The ship was registered by Lockheed in the Experimental category on July 19, 1936.  Elmer McLeod made the initial test flight on July 20. There are no photos known to have been taken that day.  The first photos of the completed (or sem-completed) airplane were taken at the press event/photo op on July 21 when AE introduced the airplane to the media. For that event it carried the incorrect and technically illegal registration markings NR16020.  By August 2, when McLeod and AE flew the airplane to San Francisco, the markings had been corrected to X16020, so these photos predate August 2.

In the July 21 photos I can’t see a wire on the belly antenna masts.  I suspect the radios had not yet been installed.  That same day, July 21, in a letter to Locheed, Earhart authorized Paul Mantz to accept delivery of the aircraft in Las Vegas on her behalf.  Although the letter is dated two days after the airplane was inspected, a day after its first flight, and on the day Earhart first flew in it, the letter of authorization says "you are hereby authorized to deliver when completed Electra airplane No. 1055 which you are now constructing for me …"  Apparently Earhart did not yet consider the airplane to be ready for delivery.

But in the iconic photo of AE striding in front of the plane, the antenna wire is clearly there - so these photos were taken after July 21 but before August 2.
Also, wherever these photos were taken, it wasn’t at Union Air Terminal, Burbank.  This is a small scruffy airport.
The Purdue website has the arms-spread photo date February 12, 1937 but that's clearly wrong.  February 12, 1937 is the date AE announced her world flight at the Barclay Hotel in Manhattan.  The photo was probably released to the press that day.

My best guess:  Contrary to her plan on July 21, she decided to ride along with McLeod and Mantz on July 24 for the flight over to Las Vegas to take formal delivery of the airplane. While they were there, Elmer took a few photos for her.  She’s clearly exuberant in the photos.  It’s her birthday and her new airplane is officially hers.  It’s also possible that on another day she and Mantz took the airplane somewhere, but I don’t think Mantz was yet checked out in the airplane.  McLeod goes with her to San Francisco on the August 2, not Mantz.

If we can find a photo of what the airport in Las Vegas looked like in 1936 we may be able to see that dumpy little hangar or find that mountain in the background.
« Last Edit: October 04, 2016, 09:40:45 AM by Ric Gillespie »
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2016, 11:16:09 AM »

Can't help you pictures of the airport (yet) but that sure is a sizeable dent in the side of the fuselage of a brand new airplane just forward of AE in the "striding" photo.  Oops!!  :o

Here's a link to some history of airports in Las Vegas.  Seems the field she would have used is now (was) the parking at the Sahara Hotel/Casino.

http://www.ellejet.com/aviation-history-las-vegas.php

Here's all I can find about Anderson Field/Rockwell Field.  No pictures unfortunately.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anderson_Field_(Nevada)

Here's a site with pictures.  Check out the  picture at the bottom.

http://knpr.org/knpr/2015-08/las-vegas-takes-skies

Attached now is a picture of Rockwell Field from same place as Karen's.  I has a piece of a building in it.  Oops! It got cropped when I copied it from the site.  Go to Karen's picture, search on airplanes and it's on page 4 of the images (#153).

Bill Mangus
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« Last Edit: October 04, 2016, 01:01:27 PM by Bill Mangus »
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Karen Hoy

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2016, 12:12:25 PM »

http://digital.library.unlv.edu/objects/pho/7582

The University of Nevada at Las Vegas has a few pictures of Rockwell Field, probably from the 1920s. This one shows the background in the most detail. No mountain or building or much of anything else.

I'll contact the library there if you want and ask if they have better pictures.

Karen Hoy #2610CR
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Harbert William Davenport

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2016, 01:03:18 PM »

According to one source, Rockwell Field was closed in 1930, and Western Air moved to a different field, but where?  Stay tuned?
H. Wm. (Bill) Davenport
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2016, 01:16:35 PM »

I think they moved to Alamo Field which became the first McCarran Field which then became Nellis AFB.
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2016, 01:44:45 PM »

Might help if we could figure out who took the pictures.  Mantz?  McLeod?   ???
Bill Mangus
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2016, 02:00:11 PM »

Can't help you pictures of the airport (yet) but that sure is a sizeable dent in the side of the fuselage of a brand new airplane just forward of AE in the "striding" photo.  Oops!!  :o

No dent.  That's a reflection of the left engine.
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2016, 02:06:27 PM »

Might help if we could figure out who took the pictures.  Mantz?  McLeod?   ???

It wasn't Mantz.  He's in one of the pictures.  (There are several more pictures on the Google Docs timeline. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1EWWg4KlVwc0s07Fv6MLoiWORRe-pAJI1ZPBpQ_raux0/edit#heading=h.cy8bw8srook1
See August 10, 1936
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Bill Mangus

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #8 on: October 04, 2016, 02:32:10 PM »

Given the different source attributions (Purdue, eBay, White Star Lines) it looks as if the pictures were taken by an unknown third party.  Cannot think of any reason for the White Star Line connection.  Can anyone else?  Does Purdue have further source information? Negatives?
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #9 on: October 04, 2016, 02:46:35 PM »

Given the different source attributions (Purdue, eBay, White Star Lines) it looks as if the pictures were taken by an unknown third party.  Cannot think of any reason for the White Star Line connection.  Can anyone else?  Does Purdue have further source information? Negatives?

Purdue is no help. They think the arms-stretched photo was taken ca. February 12, 1937.  They say they have the original and one duplictaed copy.

I think the best guess for a photographer is Elmer McLeod.  This was not a press event and that airport is small potatoes. "Here, Elmer, take my camera and take some pictures."
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Friend Weller

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #10 on: October 04, 2016, 03:12:09 PM »

Not that it matters much but in the "spread arms" photo, the clouds were cleverly stripped in.  All the other photos from that same "Blousy Jacket" shoot show clear skies with the exception of the one with the column of smoke.  I wonder if that had a bearing on why the Electra was turned during the photo taking or if it was turned to get better front light for the photo of her standing on the empenage??
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« Last Edit: October 04, 2016, 03:14:52 PM by Friend Weller »
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Ric Gillespie

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #11 on: October 04, 2016, 03:16:10 PM »

Not that it matters much but in the "spread arms" photo, the clouds were cleverly stripped in.  All the other photos from that same "Blousy Jacket" shoot show clear skies with the exception of the one with the column of smoke.  I wonder if that had a bearing on why the Electra was turned during the photo taking or if it was turned to get better front light for the photo of her standing on the empenage??

I hadn't noticed that.  Interesting.
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James Champion

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #12 on: October 04, 2016, 05:33:04 PM »

OK - the clouds being added now makes sense. I was trying to determine which direction the background was (N, S, E, W) by the sun angle. It looked like the sun was behind the clouds, but the shadow of the Electra was wrong.
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Harbert William Davenport

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #13 on: October 04, 2016, 07:37:34 PM »

 Online histories imply that there was only one airport in Las Vegas in the summer of 1936, the one which in 1941 was renamed McCarran Airport, but which was not in the same location south of downtown as the present-day McCarran Airport.  It was northeast of downtown Las Vegas.
   The Alamo Field four miles south of Las Vegas, which eventually became present-day McCarran Airport, was not established until 1942, and so was not operational in 1936.
   In 1930 there was "a new airfield," unnamed in this account, which in 1941 was renamed McCarran Airport and then was taken over by the U.S. Army Air Corps and used as a gunnery training school during WW2.  Since that base was re-opened by the Air Force in 1947, we may infer that its location was somewhere on the current Nellis AF base.  Since the airfield that was new in 1930 was renamed in 1941, we may infer that it was in operation during the summer of 1936, but we are not told what its name was in 1936.  Was it the same location as the "Las Vegas Army Airfield" in this 1942 photo?  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nellis_Air_Force_Base#/media/File:Las_Vegas_Army_Airfield_-_1942_-_USAAF.jpg

Here are the online histories which are my main sources so far: http://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/mccarran-international-airport and http://www.ellejet.com/aviation-history-las-vegas.php

An excerpt from the former:
   Las Vegas and Clark County joined the commercial air travel routes on April 17, 1926, when Western Air Express touched down at Rockwell Field. Western Air Express moved to a new airfield in 1930, when Rockwell Field closed. The new airport attracted the U.S. Army Air Corps and became a flexible gunnery training school during World War II. In 1941, the field was renamed McCarran Airport, honoring Nevada's U.S. senator, Patrick McCarran.
   Though the Gunnery School closed in 1945, the Air Force wanted to reopen the local base in 1947, as long as commercial air traffic could be moved to another airport. The county reviewed possible sites throughout the valley and settled on George Crockett's Alamo Field, which was about four miles south of Las Vegas on the Los Angeles Highway—today's Las Vegas Boulevard. Crockett agreed to sell his airport to Clark County, thereby retaining his business at the airport.

And from the latter, ellejet site:
   Western Air Express continued to use the airfield successfully until 1929, when they then moved to the new McCarran Field, which is now Nellis Air Force Base.
   McCarran Field was also known as Western Express Airfield and was little more than a dirt runway, a water well and an operations shack. The field was shared between the commercial flights of Western Air Express and the US military. However with conflict and war becoming inevitable throughout the world and considering that the military’s gunnery was under construction, commercial flights there became few and far between.
   There were however a few commercial flights operating at McCarran Field in 1942, when George Crockett established Alamo Airport, the site of the now illustrious McCarran International Airport.


H. Wm. (Bill) Davenport
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« Last Edit: October 04, 2016, 11:43:58 PM by Harbert William Davenport »
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Harbert William Davenport

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Re: Research needed -Las Vegas airport in 1936
« Reply #14 on: October 05, 2016, 04:49:57 PM »

I emailed Mark Hall-Patton, the administrator of the Clark County (Nevada) Museum, with our question.  He was listed in a link supplied in a previous post by Bill Mangus, as having given a talk on the history of aviation in Las Vegas.  I invited him to examine the photos posted above in this thread.  Here is his reply, dated today, Oct 5, 2016:

Your email was forwarded to me.  I do not believe these images were taken in Las Vegas.  It is true that Amelia had a gypsum milling operation in the Moapa are[a] some years before, but that is her only known tie to southern Nevada.  The airport in 1936 was known as Western Air Express Field, and was a few miles outside of Las Vegas.  In these photos, the housing in the background appears too close to the airport.  I am also unaware of any hangers like the one in one of the photos.  Hope this helps.
 
Mark Hall-Patton
Administrator
Clark County museum system
H. Wm. (Bill) Davenport
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