Bonanza started operations as early as 1945 with a single Cessna. it was formed as Bonanza Air Services in Las Vegas by Edmund Converse, Charlie Keene and June Simon. Based in Vegas at Sky Haven airfield they offered charters to local towns with their 4 passenger Cessna and sold tickets out of the El Rancho Vegas Hotel and Casino. Moving to Alamo Field (nowadays McCarran Intnl Airport) and changing name to Bonanza Air Lines the little carrier expanded with extra aircraft (Piper Cubs and Cessna T-50 Bobcats) and gained a contract to ferry merchant marines to New Jersey in 1946, for which the first C-47 arrived. From these humble beginnings would grow a trendsetting little airline which operated on the 'Route of the Gold Strikes'.
The CAB was looking to expand regional flying and in Nevada / Arizona Bonanza was its chosen instrument, but it wasn't until 1949 that it gained a scheduled route between Reno and Phoenix with many stops in between. The airline was able to acquire an airmail certificate and was also granted a federal certificate allowing it to fly inter-state and interline with the trunk airlines.
Expansion continued apace with a new hangar opening at Alamo Field in 1950 and route grants to enable service into California in 1952 (flying between Phoenix and L.A. via San Diego). Western wasn't too happy about little Bonanza eating into its market even with the circuitous routings it was forced to fly but Bonanza was protected somewhat by CAB policy of the time.
By 1953 5 DC-3s were flying the 'Route of the Gold Strikes' and in 1955 3 more were added followed by another in 1956. Aeroclassics have made a couple of nice DC-3s in Bonanza colours of which I own one. I've always thought that for the era Bonanza had a very modern livery:
Bonanza operated 10 DC-3s throughout the 1950s. N498 was a late joiner having been originally delivered to United Airlines in January 1937 as N16063 and not sold on to Bonanza until 1956. After Bonanza service the aircraft saw operations with Edde Airlines named as ‘Salt Lake City’ at least until mid 1963. At some point she was bought by Christler Flying Service who converted her into a sprayer for fire fighting duties. CFS kept their DC-3s in service until 1980 but whether N498 was one of those is not known.
In May 1956 Bonanza placed an order that showed it to be streets ahead of most of the other locals service carriers. It purchased its first jet in the form of 3 Fairchild F-27As (with 3 more optioned) for delivery in 1959. These new turboprops were a giant leap forward from the trusty Daks and were named Silver Darts in service.
The first F-27 arrived in January and by the end of 1959 all 6 were on strength. Two more arrived in 1960 and at the end of the year this allowed the retirement of the last DC-3. This event allowed Bonanza to advertise itself as 'The first all jet-powered airline in the USA' - quite a feat.
At the same time as the F-27s were coming onboard the CAB was beginning to grant longer routes to local service airlines in an effort to reduce subsidies and Bonanza gained the Vegas-Reno non-stop route which at over 340 miles was long for an LSA routing.
Bonanza again showed its modernity in 1962 when it ordered 3 BAC One-Elevens but as with Western's order the USA wouldn't sanction buying the foreign jet and Bonanza was forced to wait until 1965 before it could put into service the One-Eleven's US rival the DC-9.
By 1964 the fleet was at 14 F-27s and the airline was the most profitable it had ever been however a note of sadness was added when one of the F-27s was written off in a fatal crash late that year (the airline's only fatal accident).
The first DC-9 'Fanjet' finally arrived in December 1965 and looked great in Bonanza's orange:
Aeroclassics has made this model before but sadly only on the awful (but very old) screw bottomed mould. 1:400 still awaits a decent DC-9-10.
The 3 DC-9s required new facilities and the city of Phoenix was willing to help provide them which led to the airline moving its headquarters there in mid 1966.
Despite the addition of non-stop routes linking Phoenix-Reno and Phoenix-Salt Lake City it was the Vegas routes that were most profitable. However they didn't make enough to keep the airline itself profitable and by mid-1967 discussion with West-Coast and Pacific were ongoing. These came to fruition in August and in April 1968 the merger was agreed by the CAB and the President.
Still Bonanza went out in style starting its first international routes (to Mexico) in April of that year and passing onto the new Air West a young and modern fleet of 7 DC-9-14/15s and 14 F-27s when the new carrier was formed on July 1, 1968.
The new headquarters would be Pacific's in San Francisco and Bonanza's HQ would become a maintenance base. Still Bonanza should be seen as a trend-setter in the local service scene and a successful carrier that served its home region well.
Ed Coates great website: Air Line Collection
Bonanza History Site: Bonanza Airlines Historical site
Aeromoe's always excellent fleet site: http://www.geocities.com/~aeromoe/fleets/bonanza.html
AirTimes: Bonanza Air Lines
Wikipedia: Bonanza Air Lines - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: