McCarran International Airport

By now you’ve probably concluded that aviation is a big deal around this site.  Well, it is.  After all, the site’s about the desert, and it’s pretty much impossible to separate aviation’s breakthroughs from their genesis in the California high desert.

So it’s not that much of a leap to take a moment and spotlight McCarran International Airport. 

While today it seems as though McCarran is in the middle of Las Vegas, it’s actually located south of town in Paradise, Nevada.   It was established shortly after the beginning of World War Two, and has grown steadily since.  Even earlier, the site of nearby Nellis AFB once served as a civilian airport prior to the construction of McCarran.  Today, the longest runway at McCarran is only slightly shorter than the typical 15,000 foot runway of an Air Force base.  The three other runways are progressively shorter, but together they manage well over 600,000 takeoffs or landings annually.

If you “enjoy an occasional airplane, nothing serious – it’s certainly not an addiction and I can quit whenever I choose,” you’ll want to free up an hour or two and drive out to McCarran.  Your first stop should be the public viewing area on Sunset Road at Escondido Street, between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eastern Avenue. 

Runway 25L/7R is very close, perhaps less than a hundred yards, from the viewing area.  All that separates you from the jets is a chain-link fence.  There are roughly twenty off-street parking places specifically designated for the avid planespotter, all directly facing 25L/7R.  The airport has even installed a low-power FM transmitter close to the viewing area, which rebroadcasts one of the active airport radio frequencies directly to your car’s FM radio. 

Audio quality is usually lacking.  Okay in a pinch, but you can do much better by simply bringing along a handheld scanner, giving you the added benefit of enjoying more than just a single freq.  You’ll probably also want to prepare for your trip by printing out some information on McCarran at airnav.com –click "Airports" then enter "KLAS."

More often than not, you’ll find the 25 runways in use (departing to the west), following the usual convention of departures on 25R and arrivals on 25L.  Not infrequently the prevailing winds will dictate “bass-ackward” operations, with departures on 7L and arrivals on 7R.  Due to the location of the public viewing area, you’ll see the most when 25 is in use.

When the runways reverse, and departures are made toward the east, a nice viewing area is the cemetery on Eastern Boulevard, just a couple of blocks north of Sunset.  If your trip finds you there on a weekend, you may find the office parking complex south of the cemetery more to your liking.


Some of your MojaveRoads team has observed and continues to rave over the view of McCarran from the Stratosphere.  Also some building parking lots are worth checking.

Naturally, a visit to McCarran should merely whet your appetite for a sneak drive by Nellis Air Force Base, just a few minutes north of McCarran.  Watch this site for some handy tips to get the most out of it!