Randall Henderson Becomes the First Pilot To Land In Las Vegas

Randall Henderson, April 12, 1888 – July 4, 1970, was born in Clarinda, Iowa, the oldest of five children of the local dentist. He grew up in the Midwest, graduating from high school in Shenandoah, Iowa in 1905. At 19, he rode the rails to California, where in the fall of 1907, he enrolled at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he studied economics and sociology.
In his senior year, he took a job as a sports writer for the Los Angeles Times. . Randall Henderson served in World War I as an Army pilot in the air service. He trained in the Curtiss JN-4 Jenny. After leaving the service, Henderson talked local real estate agent Ralph Seely into purchasing a surplus wood-and-fabric construction WWI Curtis Jenny JN-4H two-seat pilot trainer still in its packing crate for $5,000. Henderson assembled the plane and taught Seely to fly in exchange for use of the plane. Henderson liked to be the first pilot to land in desert towns.

Desert Magazine Editor Randall Henderson

On May 7, 1920 Randall Henderson, a WWI pilot and barnstormer, took his place as the first person to fly into Las Vegas, which at the time was a small watering stop with a population of 2,300 on the Union Pacific rail line. Flying out of Blythe, California, they refueled twice, the last time in Needles, California after which they flew along the Colorado River to Searchlight, Nevada. From Searchlight, the followed the Arrowhead trail to Las Vegas, crossing a dry lake bed where they encountered numerous whirlwinds that boosted them 500 feet and dropped them 800. They refueled two times while en route and made the first bombing run on Las Vegas when Henderson flew over the home of the brother of his passenger, Jake Beckley, a businessman from Blythe, and dropped a doll for Beckley’s niece at 120 S. Fourth St. In Las Vegas. Henderson landed his craft at a desert roadhouse (which later became Downtown Las Vegas) near the Los Angeles Highway (now known as the Las Vegas Strip). He quickly set up his barnstorming sideshow in a nearby field, where for three days he offered rides for paying customers, charging $10.00 each. One taker was a Paiute Indian chief who fainted in surprise from the dizzying heights and nearly crashed the plane. The Chief collapsed on his control stick and brought the plane diving toward earth. But the Curtis Jenny was a trainer plane with control sticks in both front and rear cockpits, so Henderson was able to accomplish some intricate maneuvering, free up the controls, and make a safe landing. Best known for his promotion of the desert southwest through the Desert Magazine (1937-1985), a monthly regional publication based in the Colorado Desert, in the Coachella Valley town of Palm Desert near Palm Springs, California, Henderson ended his barnstorming career, but not his interest in aviation. He continued to promote aviation, doing publicity for his brother Cliff, the manager of the National Air races during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Henderson later joined the Army Air corps during World War II.

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