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Nellis AFB History

In 1929, what would become Nellis AFB was nothing more than a dirt runway, a water well and a small operations shack for Western Air Express Airlines. After surveying several areas in Utah, Arizona and Nevada for a site to locate the "first" American flexible aerial gunnery school, Maj. David Schlatter, of the U.S. Army Air Corps, settled on the Nevada site in October 1940, since about 90 percent of the area north, northwest and northeast of Las Vegas was desert wasteland.

Three months later, Las Vegas took over the airfield from western Air Express and three days later, Mayor Jon L. Russell signed over much of the property to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps to develop the flexible gunnery school. The new Las Vegas Army Air Corps Gunnery School's (located on the new Las Vegas Army Air Field) mission was defined as "training of aerial gunners to the degree of proficiency that will qualify them for combat duty."

The reasons were many for locating the school near the town of Las Vegas, then with a population of 9,000:

- Flying weather was ideal year-round
- More than 90 percent of the area to the north was unpopulated public domain and available at $1 per acre
- The inland strategic location was unlikely to be attached
- Rocky hiss, approximately six miles from the base afforded a natural backdrop for cannon and machine-gun firing while dry lake beds were available for emergency landings.

A detachment of five staff officers of the 79th Air Base Group, commanded by Lt. Col. Martinus Stenseth, took up residence in a small basement post office in the Las Vegas federal building in May 1941. A month later, the military population of LVAAF more than doubled with the arrival of five administrative noncommissioned officers and other support personnel.

During those first few months, there were no services or facilities at the new base. Enlisted men were quartered in the Work Project Administration barracks in town. The motor pool consisted of six vintage trucks and a semi-trailer often parked by the barracks. Supply and logistics had not yet been organized, and mechanics had to borrow nuts, bolts and old parts from service stations in Las Vegas and gasoline and oil from the Civilian Conservation Corps.

Construction of permanent base facilities began in earnest in mid-1941 for barracks to house 3,000 people. By December, there were 10 AT-6 "Texan" trainers and 17 B-10 "Martin" bombers. From this humble beginning, LVAAF grew rapidly. The first B-17s arrived in 1942, giving students their first chance to train in the gun turret of an actual combat plan and providing aircraft to train co-pilots in ground and transition school. At the height of World War II, 600 Gunnery students and 215 co-pilots graduated from LVAAF every five weeks, and more than 45,000 B-17 gunners were trained.

In March 1945, the base converted from B-17s to the B-29 Gunnery School and the population peaked with nearly 11,000 officers and enlisted people logged on unit morning reports. Of these, more than 4,700 were students.

As World War II ended, the base converted to the role of separating military men and women from the service. During 1945 and 1946, thousands of Soldiers received their separation physicals and final pay at LVAAF on their return to civilian life. Activities at LVAAF continued to wind down until Jan. 31, 1947, when it was inactivated.

On March 31, 1948, the base was reactivated as Las Vegas Air Force Base and hosted a pilot training wing and gunnery school - the 332 Fighter Group flying the F-47 won the first Gunnery Meet in May 1949. With the onset of the Korean War, the mission of the LVAFB changed from an advanced single-engine school to one of the training jet fighter pilots for the then Far East Air Forces.

In 1950, LVAFB was renamed in honor of 1st Lt. William Harrell Nellis, the young man from southern Nevada Killed-in-action over Luxembourg, Dec. 27, 1944. Virtually every fighter pilot and every "ace" who staked claim to a corner of Korean air space called "MiG Alley" - establishing a kill ratio of 14 to 1 - received final combat training at Nellis.

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