Sightseeing Airlines

Many visitors to Las Vegas take sightseeing air flights to the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam. What may be surprising is that these flight destinations have been popular since the 1930s.

One of the first to recognize the tourist potential of flights over the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas and Boulder City was Glover E. "Roxy" Ruckstell, who earned his reputation as an engineer on the AAA Championship Auto Racing Circuit during the teens, driving against Eddie Rickenbacker, Harris "Pop" Hanshue, and Jack Frye. During World War I, Ruckstell helped develop the Liberty aircraft engine. After the war, he earned his fortune selling the "Ruckstell Axel" for the Model T Ford. Like Rickenbacker, Hanshue, and Frye, Ruckstell saw a future in aviation, acquiring Grand Canyon Air Lines in 1931.

Ruckstell moved his airline to Boulder City. For fares ranging from $5 to $37.50, visitors received a breathtaking aerial view of Lake Mead, Boulder Dam, and the Grand Canyon. Flying Ford Tri-Motors at a leisurely ninety miles per hour, round trips to the Grand Canyon usually took all day.

Finding the business unprofitable, Ruckstell sold the airline to G&G Airlines of Tucson and concentrated his efforts on boat tours and the new Lake Mead Lodge. Grand Canyon Air Lines remained in business under G&G's ownership until World War II began.

Sightseeing airlines continued as single aircraft operations until 1962, when John Seibolt began aggressive marketing to overseas markets, especially in Germany and Japan. The role of sightseeing flights grew, and new companies grew to fill the need.

An accident between a TWA Constellation aircraft and a United DC-7 led to one of the worst air disasters in American history. All 128 on board the two planes were killed, and the CAA moved to better regulate sightseeing flights over the Canyon. In recent years, noise issues have led to dramatically restricted sightseeing flights over the Canyon.

Even with these restrictions, the Grand Canyon air tour industry is a burgeoning part of Southern Nevada aviation, with over forty airlines offering sightseeing flights. The majority of these flights originate from the North Las Vegas Airport, making it the second busiest airport in Nevada.

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