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Birth of Bonanza Airlines



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     Story by Doug Scroggins (c) 2000 - 2013

Bonanza Air Services (BAS) was formed in early in 1945 by Edmund Converse, a former lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy; Charlie Keene, once an operator of a small charter operation in Santa Paula, California; and June Simon, daughter of "Pop" Simon the former secretary-director of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. BAS located its home base at the Sky Haven Airfield, now known as the North Las Vegas Air Terminal, and began operating with just one single-engine, four-seat Cessna. The company offered charter flights to several small Nevada towns but needed a place to promote its product. The trio struck a deal with  the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino to set up a ticket counter in the lobby.

Late in 1945 the trio set in motion a plan to expand the business, changing its name from Bonanza Air Services to Bonanza Air Lines (BAL) and incorporating the company. The home base was moved to Alamo Field, now known as McCarran International Airport, in early 1946. As the operation grew, additional aircraft were acquired including two single-engine Piper Cubs and three military surplus twin-engine Cessna T-50 Bobcats for the charter services. In addition, a Stearman biplane was acquired for the new flight school division.

Bonanza Air Services first passenger 
fleet of Cessna T-50s.

Scroggins Aviation photo


The operation grew quickly in 1946 when BAL secured a contract to ferry merchant marines from California to New Jersey. In order to fulfill the contract, BAL leased it's first Douglas C-47 from the War Assets Administration in March of 1946.
Bonanza's Douglas Co. 
C-47 (DC-3)

Lost Birds / Scroggins Aviation photo


On December 19, 1949, Bonanza inaugurated a newly awarded route between Reno and Phoenix with stops in Carson City, Hawthorne, Tonopah, Las Vegas, Boulder City, Kingman and Prescott. Shortly thereafter, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) approved BAL's request to provide mail service on the route with U.S. Mail Permit No. 105. Also granted was a federal certificate to engage in interstate commerce and the exchange passengers, air express and air freight with other federally certificated airlines.

BAL's new routes and services required the addition of still more aircraft and personnel. McCarran Field, formerly Alamo Field, did not have enough hanger space to accommodate the newly acquired fleet, so Bonanza purchased a surplus military hanger at Reno, then dismantled and transported it to McCarran Field. The entire operation, completed in less than a month, allowed use of the hanger by June 1950.

Passenger cabin of a
onanza Air Lines DC-3

Lost Birds / Scroggins Aviation photo


With the additional space it was again time to look at expansion, this time to California. The first route was awarded in July 1952, from Phoenix to Los Angeles, via Ajo, Yuma, Blythe, El Centro, San Diego, Oceanside and Santa Ana-Laguna Beach. This was the first of many new segments awarded in the years that followed.

BAL was flying 10 DC-3s by 1957. AS the route map grew, it became even more evident that this fleet was outdated. Eight of the company's top executives, including Edmond Converse, flew to Europe and meet with the Fokker aircraft in Holland, inspecting the manufacturer's new F.27 turboprop airliner. This aircraft featured speeds well in excess of the DC-3, and seated 40 passengers in pressurized comfort. BAL placed the order in May1956 for three Fairchild F-27As with an option to purchase three additional aircraft, all could be delivered in 1959. Fairchild built the Fokker variant on license in the United States (Friendship With a Difference, November/December 1997).

Bonanza's Fairchild F-27A "Silver Dart" seen here at the Los Angeles airport.

Lost Birds /AMA Photo.


With the airline's rapid growth, additional F-27As were purchased and quickly put into service; a total of 11 would eventually be acquired. Meanwhile, the last DC-3 was phased out in November 1960, causing a huge media promotion. A logo proclaiming Bonanza as the "First all jet-powered airline in America!" was applied to everything from the Silver Darts to flight schedules and bumper stickers. The complete transition from DC-3 to F-27A had taken only 20 months. With it came some fairly lengthy nonstop flights, such as Las Vegas­Reno, 344-mile segment flown in two hours and 15 minutes.

Wreckage of one of Bonanza's "Sliver Darts"

Lost Birds / Scroggins Aviation Photo.

35th Anniversary of Flight 114.

Local newspaper features story of crash.

CLICK HERE: BAL #114 to view story


1964 was the most profitable year in the companies history, however the year took a terrible turn with the loss of the first plane. November 15, 1964, flight 114 (N745L) crashed 10 miles north of Las Vegas killing all 29 persons aboard. Inbound from Phoenix, Arizona during a snow storm the plane struck a mountain top less than 5 minutes from the airport. After years of legal battles, U.S. District Court Judge Pierson Hall concluded that the landing charts provided by Jeppeson were the "main proximate cause" of the crash. However, the lower court finding was appealed.  It was “reversed and remanded.”  642 F.2d 339 (9th Cir. 1981)
Tail section of the Silver Dart lies on a mountain top south of Las Vegas.

Lost Birds / Scroggins Aviation Photo.


BAL ordered three DC-9's with an option to purchase three more. Once again BAL chose a distinctive name for the new additions to the fleet, the DC-9's would be known as the "FanJet". On December 21, 1965 the first DC-9 (N945L) was delivered and made it's inaugural flight on March 1, 1966. With the addition of the DC-9's BAL would need a larger facility that would accommodate the height of the vertical fin. BAL submitted a plan to Clark County for a new facility but was turned down.
Bonanza's first Douglas Co. DC-9 "Funjet" (N945L)

BAL Photo

The City of Phoenix made BAL an attractive offer to build a new headquarters and maintenance hanger at the Sky Harbor Airport. They would design the buildings around the new DC-9's specifications and BAL accepted the offer. On June 25, 1966 Charles Murphy, Chairman of the CAB, officiated at the opening ceremony for the new facility.

Mexico was the next and would be the last route BAL would be awarded prior to a planned merger. On April 28, 1968 the inaugural flight was made from Phoenix, Arizona to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with stops in Tucson, Arizona and La Paz and Mazatlan, Mexico.

In mid 1967 discussions were underway for a merger with West Coast and Pacific Airlines which would create Air West, Inc. In August of that year BAL announced it had reached an agreement with the two carriers, and on April 17, the merger was granted by the CAB and President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson. The merger would place the new corporate headquarters of Air West in the Pacific Airlines office in San Francisco, California, and the BAL headquarters in Phoenix was turned into the maintenance facility for the fleet.

Bonanza Air Lines was the aviation pioneer in the western United States and proved to be a vital link in the air transportation industry. In it's 23 years of operation BAL growth continued up until the time of the merger. Bonanza will be remembered as a successful airline.

Please send your inquiries to: museum@BonanzaAirlines.com  or write to the address below.




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Mailing Address:
Bonanza Airlines, c/o American Museum of Aviation - 5840 West Craig Road. - Box No. 120-262 - Las Vegas, Nevada 89130 USA