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Before the War, Searchlight Airport was built by the United States airforce as an emergency landing zone of Nellis Air Force Base. The small building kept in contact with Camp McCarran via transmitter radio, and was one of the first locations in the Mojave to be prepared for the Nuclear Holocaust as a result. Unbeknownst to the public, the sub-levels below the building housed a secret military testing facility which were researching chemical warfare before the time of the Great War. In an attempt to escape death by nuclear holocaust, a small handful of survivors, led by a pilot by the name of Joseph McConnell, broke into the sub-levels and subsided there until after the bombs had dropped. Joseph donned a radiation suit and entered out into the horrific Wasteland to see what was left of America.
Realising that he and the other survivors had no chance at enduring the Wastes alone, Joseph returned to Searchlight Airport. Believing that the US Army would come and rescue them, he hid the key to the sub-levels within the airport, leaving a specific set of instructions as to its location. He then locked himself and the survivors inside the sub-levels. They all died soon after.
The Legion came across Searchlight Airport in 2281 and are ordered by Caesar to scout the location. They set up base inside and are able to use the radio transmitter in the control tower to keep in contact with a Legion spy within Camp McCarran. By the time the Courier reaches the airport, the Legion soldiers have all mysteriously died.
Outside the buildings, there are two trunks on the tarmac side of the main airport terminal, on the terminal outer wall, which contain a large amount of caps (depending on your level and Luck, it can range from 200 to over 1000 caps). The facility is crawling with radscorpions of various sizes.
There are four planes outside the airport. They are all very rusted and two have their landing gears stuck in junk piles, but they seem to be complete. Only one of these planes can be entered.
The only possible entrance is the main hall from the front of the building. It opens into a small room which leads to escalators heading down into a large open room. The player is greeted by the grisly scene of several dead legionaries, including a dead Centurion who has a note on his body. The player can read the note to learn that Caesar sent the Legion team to scout out the location, yet what went wrong is still a mystery. There is little in the main hall other than a makeshift encampment of the Legion, several weaker enemies such as geckos and radscorpions, and random levelled loot. There is a utility closet near the entrance which is locked upon entering, so from the hall the player can only enter the offices.
The offices are narrow, winding and dimly lit, making it difficult to navigate. They're also infested with feral ghouls and the occasional dead Legionary. Upon entering the offices, the player will find the first of Joseph McConnell's recordings on the desk in front of them. It introduces Joseph, explains what has happened to him, and notes that he's locked away with a group of survivors in the sub-levels with the first set of instructions to saving them being revealed. By this point, the player has no idea that Joseph and the other survivors are already dead, so the belief is that they're going to rescue trapped Wastelanders.
Making their way through the eerie offices, the player will get their first clue, and are told to head through to departures and hack into the computers. At the end of the offices is a door to the next area.
At the Departures, the player can come across a computer which, with a Science check of 50, can be hacked to reveal the code to the electronic control pad that's keeping the door to the Control Tower locked. If unable to pass the check, the player must traverse the area until they come across the password to gain access to the computer, "FlightTerminal1". The rooms are largely inhabited by radroaches, feral ghouls and in the room with the terminal password is a centaur. More dead Legionaries can be found, with a scrawled note on one of them filled with barely legible paranoid ravings. Once the player has received McConnell's note containing the keypad door code, they can proceed outside and enter the Control Tower.
Outside to the keypad, the code "2077" can be entered into the keypad to open the door. Entering the Control Tower, the player is met with the noise of static as they ascend the stairs. At the top of the tower is a dead Legion soldier holding a gun and slumped over the desk in front of a radio transmitter. The radio transmitter can be used to contact the Legion Spy at Camp McCarran if the player is doing the quest I Put a Spell on You. With a speech check of 75 or Legion fame, the player can convince the spy that they're an ally and learn who they are. With a medicine check of 30, examining the dead Legion soldier will reveal that they in fact committed suicide. The next clue from McConnell is found near the radio, advising to head to one of the jet planes outside and finding his suitcase.
The inside of the jet plane is a small, dimly lit corridor with a cockpit on one end and a cargo compartment at the back. There is also a Glowing one inside the small jet along with some cases of various ammunition scattered around. If the player has reached the Control Tower and received McConnell's note, there will be a suitcase in the back of the jet which inside has the key to the sub-levels and another note from McConnell. The note instructs the player to head back to the Main Hall and open up the utility closet, which then reveals a hatch leading to the sub-levels.
The sub-levels are irradiated, with the rad levels getting more intense the further in you go. The player comes across a group of long-dead survivors, one of which is lying next to a note, a gun and a radiation suit. If the note is read, its revealed that Joseph McConnell was actually a pre-War survivor along with others who hid inside the previously authorised sub-levels to escape the bombs. The player learns his story; when the bombs fell, the underground chemical-warfare lab within the sub-levels was put under great strain and a pipe burst leaking dangerous arsine gas into the air. The survivors were unaware and the gas caused them to slowly lose their minds, exacerbated by being locked inside the sub-levels. Joseph however wore his radiation suit so he was protected from the gas.
In the end, Joseph explains how he was forced to shoot the other survivors dead when they became violently insane. He ultimately died locked away within the sub-levels alone. It can also be assumed that the Legion soldiers who set up camp above the poison gas leak slowly lose their minds themselves and either killed one another or themselves. Joseph's gun, a unique, more powerful variant of the Silenced .22 pistol named "Maverick", can be found alongside his corpse. From here, the player has little else to do but leave.
- Searching Searchlight: An unmarked quest in which the Courier must traverse Searchlight Airport, following the instructions left behind by Joseph McConnell to enter the sub-levels and learn what really happened to the survivors.
- I Put a Spell on You: If the player travels here when searching for the Legion spy at Camp McCarran, they can use a speech check (or legion fame) over the radio transmitter to convince the spy that they're a member of Caesar's Legion and identify them.
- This is one of the locations in the game where you can jump out of the New Vegas map, allowing you to infinitely explore New Vegas and its outer parts layout.
- The code used to open the door to the Control Tower, 2077, is the year that the bombs dropped according to Fallout history.
The Searchlight Airport only appears in Fallout: New Vegas.
Behind the scenes
Searchlight Airport is a real airport two miles to the south of Searchlight, Nevada. It was built by the United States Air Force as an emergency alternate paved airstrip for Nellis Air Force Base in the 1950s. It is now a public airport, but has no control tower.
Joseph McConnell was a famous fighter pilot of the Korean War, often hailed as the greatest fighter ace in American history for his outstanding efforts.
The unique weapon "Maverick" is a reference to the nickname of the lead character played by Tom Cruise in the 1986 American action film Top Gun, in which Cruise plays a fighter ace.