By Bob Shane
To mark the special 100th anniversary of Las Vegas, the Boyd Gaming Corporation sponsored a unique aerial parade above the Las Vegas Strip. The flight included 16 vintage aircraft and World War II Warbirds plus a pair of Navy F-18 Hornet jet fighters (now you know why all the car alarms were going off).
The procession of airplanes, flying in trail formation, flew in from the west at 3,600 feet MSL (about 1,500 feet above ground level). They intercepted the Las Vegas Strip at the Bellagio, turning north and flying over Las Vegas Boulevard, past the Stratosphere Tower, continuing on to the downtown area, where they proceeded west, then south to make a second flight over the strip.
The flyby took place on Saturday, May 7, at 10 a.m. This rare sight kicked off a week of celebratory events including Helldorado Days, all leading up to the city’s birthday on May 15, and the cutting of the world’s largest birthday cake, weighing in at 130,720 pounds.
Las Vegas has grown so tremendously due to aviation,” said Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, during a press conference at North Las Vegas Airport (VGT), the day prior to the momentous flyover. “I’m very pleased we’re getting a chance to honor the anniversary of flight in the city. I’ve witnessed a lot of memorable things over the past couple of weeks honoring the Las Vegas Centennial, but seeing those aircraft fly right above the strip will be quite a sight.”
“He then issued a proclamation that there would be good weather for the event. The special flyover was actually celebrating three events: the 100th anniversary of Las Vegas, the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, and the 85th anniversary of the first person to fly into Las Vegas, on May 7, 1920. Randall Henderson, a WWI pilot and barnstormer, flew from Blythe, Calif., landing his surplus Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny” at a desert roadhouse near the Los Angeles highway that later became known as the strip.
The idea and sponsorship for the one-time aerial parade above the Las Vegas Strip came from the Boyd Gaming Corporation. Dan Stark, the director of marketing, was the energetic force that made the flight a reality. High on top of the roof of the Stardust Resort and Casino, a Boyd property, was the world renowned air show announcer Gordon Bowman-Jones. His narration of the anniversary flight and the participating aircraft was broadcast live over KQOL 93.1 FM, a local radio station.
A total of 18 aircraft participated in the Las Vegas Centennial Fly-by. They included a Pitts S2C, two Navions (L-17), two Swifts, a T-6, a Decathlon, a Stinson, an Ercoupe, an N3N, two Stearman biplanes, a Waco, a Beech Staggerwing, a DC-3, a B-25, and a pair of Navy F-18 Hornets.
“Rose, the DC-3 that participated, has a distinguished combat history, having dropped paratroopers in the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Built by Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica in 1943, it served with the 8th Air Force in England until September 1945. From 1946 to 1956, Pan American World Airways operated it in Central and South America. It was subsequently converted to a civilian corporate aircraft in 1957, and purchased by its current owner, Dream Flight, based in Corona, Calif., in 1997. It’s currently used for tours and special events.
Because of all of the airspace restrictions and the need for special waivers from the Federal Aviation Administration to be able to stage such an event, it probably will not be repeated. Boyd Gaming put on a successful show benefiting the centennial celebration.
Happy Birthday Las Vegas!