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Nellis Air Force Base

The Military History of Nellis Air Force Base

It all started about eight miles north of Las Vegas in a small operations shack next to a dirt runway. This was the original site of today's Nellis Air Force Base.

Time Line:

January 25, 1941
Las Vegas mayor, John L. Russell, transferred the property to the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps for development of a flexible gunnery school for the Army Air Corps. The Las Vegas Army Air Corps Gunner School, renamed later to the Las Vegas Army Air Field, purpose was to achieve "training of aerial gunners to the degree of proficiency that will qualify them for combat duty."

May 1941
Five officers began residency in a small basement room in the Las Vegas Post Office building. They were staff officers of the 79th Air Base Group, commanded by then Lt. Colonel Martinus Stenseth. Within a month, the military population of Las Vegas Army Air Field more than doubled when five administrative NCO and other enlisted men arrived.

First months of the Air Field produced no services or facilities. Enlisted men were quartered in the Work Project Administration barracks in Las Vegas.

Motor pool consisted of six aging trucks and a semi-trailer. A skeleton crew was the real beginnings, mechanics had to borrow nuts, bolts, and old parts from service stations in Las Vegas. They borrowed gasoline and oil from the Civilian Conservation Corps. Supply and Logistics had not yet been organized.

At this time, Las Vegas had a population of approximately 9,000. The weather was idea for flying, year-round pilots enjoyed above average conditions. A sparsely populated area with more than 90% area to the north was public domain wasteland. Thus, eliminates the normal residential restrictions. The inland strategic location was excellent, rocky hills found six miles from the base afforded a natural backdrop for cannon and machine gun practice. Additionally, many surrounding dry lake beds were available for emergency landings.

December 1941
Constructions neared completion of permanent base facility’s barracks to house 3,000 people.

The Las Vegas Army Air Field (LVAAF) received the first B-17s. Thus giving students, their first chance to train in the gun turret of an actual combat plane. These planes also provided training of co-pilots in ground and transition school.

Every five weeks, at the height of World War II, 600 gunnery students and 215 co-pilots graduated from LVAAF.

February 1943
First aircraft hangar was completed at a cost of $190,000. They extended the 3,425-foot runway the same year in anticipation of the soon-to-arrive B-10 bombers and AT-6 trainers.

March 1945
The base converted from B-17s to the B-29 Gunnery School. The base population reached its peak in early 1945 with nearly 11,000 officers and enlisted people.  More than 4,700 members or the 11,000 populations were students.

At this time, thousands of soldiers received their separation physicals and final pay at the LVAAF on their return to civilian life.

January 31, 1947
LVAAF was winding down after World War II, until an order put the field on standby status.

They reactivated the base as Las Vegas Air Force Base and held a pilot training wing. With the beginning of the Korean War, Las Vegas Air Force Base changed from advanced single-engine school to training jet fighter pilots for the then Far East Air Forces.

They renamed the base in honor of 1st Lieutenant William Harrell Nellis, a young man, 28-years of age, from southern Nevada, killed in action over Luxembourg December 27, 1944. A fighter pilot, Nellis had sixty-nine missions to his credit.

Virtually every fighter pilot and every "ace" of the Korean War received final combat training at Nellis. The famous Korean air space called "Mig Alley" helped prove the value of Nellis training, they establish a kill ratio of 14 to 1.

To contact Nellis Air Force Base, call:  702-652-1110


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