LAS VEGAS -- All this talk among Clark County politicians and civic leaders about renaming McCarran International Airport by inserting Las Vegas in the title is overlooking the one person who did far more than any other former Southern Nevada resident to advance aviation -- Howard Hughes.
Yes, the reclusive late billionaire was a former owner of KLAS-TV Channel 8, so there's a little bias here. He also was a major player in the resort industry, claiming ownership of the Desert Inn -- where he resided -- along with the Sands, Castaways, Landmark and New Frontier. His mark on the gaming industry was eventually replaced by the modern-day megaresorts decades later.
But if anyone deserves to have a Las Vegas airport named after himself, it's Hughes and here are eight reasons why:
1. His Aspirations For Summerlin
Look magazine reported in 1968 that when Hughes purchased the land in the 1950s that eventually became Summerlin, the valley's largest master-planned community, he initially wanted to turn it into a rocket plant. Over the years, though, others claimed he wanted to use the land to build airplanes or construct an airport.
2. Spruce Goose
Las Vegas entrepreneurs, particularly those on the Strip, are willing to do just about anything to attract attention. Hughes was certainly in that company, except that he preferred to do his showing off with aircraft. Exhibit A was the wooden Spruce Goose, otherwise known as the Hughes H-4 Hercules. It was the longest and heaviest aircraft ever built at the time when Hughes managed to fly it for slightly more than one mile off the Southern California coast in 1947.
3. The Aviator
That's what Hollywood called its 2004 film about Hughes. Directed by Martin Scorsese, the movie starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Hughes and won five Academy Awards. True to its title, the film traced Hughes' love affair with flight but also captured his battle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
4. Hell's Angels
Hughes combined his love of airplanes with his passion for filmmaking when he produced and directed the 1930 classic "Hell's Angels." The movie, which helped advance the action film genre through aerial stunts, was about World War I combat pilots. It didn't hurt that Hughes got teenager Jean Harlow to star in the film, a role that launched her on the path to becoming one of Hollywood's leading sex symbols of the 1930s.
5. Trans World Airlines
Hughes maintained a controlling interest in TWA in the 1940s and 1950s. During World War II the airline was a major transporter for the U.S. Army. Under Hughes the airline also expanded its global reach and TWA became known as "Airline To The Stars," the favored carrier among jet setters of the day.
6. Record Setter
As an accomplished pilot, Hughes was a speed freak who lived on the edge. In Southern California in September 1935 he set a landplane speed record of 352 miles an hour in his Hughes H-1 Racer. After redesigning the plane, he traveled from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J. in January 1937 in 7 hours, 28 minutes, setting a non-stop transcontinental record. He added a third record in July 1938 when he circled the globe in 91 hours.
7. Award Winner
On the strength of his aviation skills Hughes was a two-time winner of the prestigious Harmon Trophy, an award that also went to the likes of Charles Lindbergh, Chuck Yeager and Wally Schirra. Hughes also captured the Collier Trophy and the Octave Chanute Award, two other top aviation honors. For good measure Hughes also was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal in 1939 for his contributions to aviation.
8. Setting a Precedent
There has already been an airport named after Hughes but that was back in the late 1930s at the commercial facility now known as William P. Hobby Airport in Houston. The airport went back to being called by its previous name, Houston Municipal Airport, because Hughes was still alive. Regulations had prevented the airport from obtaining federal funds while the facility was still named after a living person. But with Hughes having died in April 1976 at age 70, that issue is no longer relevant.