Hilton Ranch Where Fossett Took Off Renowned for High-Flying Guests

Rescuers looking for adventurer Steve Fossett are scanning the desert for a tiny, aerobatic plane that's part of a stable of aircraft at a million-acre ranch owned by an heir of the Hilton hotel fortune.

Once used to entertain high-rolling gamblers from Hilton casinos in Las Vegas, the Flying M Ranch has become a coveted getaway for aviators and astronauts.

They use a mile-long private airstrip and about a dozen planes, free to indulge their passion over a desolate landscape that has clear skies nearly year-round.

Barron Hilton, son of hotel mogul Conrad Hilton, is himself an avid pilot who has hosted aviators from around the world at his spread about 70 miles southeast of Reno.

Click here for photos of Fossett.

Visitors have included singer John Denver, who was later killed in 1997 while flying his plane off the California coast; astronauts Alan Shepard, Gene Cernan and Bill Anders; and the annual winners of the Barron Hilton Cup, a major international soaring competition.

Fossett had been staying there with his wife when he took off Monday to search for dry lake beds that could be used for an attempt to break the land speed record.

Hilton, 79, acquired the ranch in the mid-1960s with four partners and bought them out in 1972. The Flying M, named for Hilton's wife, Marilyn, consists mostly of leased federal land and encompasses an area about the size of Rhode Island. It starts 25 miles south of the small town of Yerington and stretches toward Mono Lake in California, with the Sierra Nevada as a backdrop to the west.

It includes a skeet-shooting range, horses for riding trails and miles of privacy along the East Fork of the Walker River, a renowned trout stream.

Visitors have private cabins and meals for guests are prepared by professional chefs. It has become Barron Hilton's weekend retreat from his main residence in Southern California.

Despite its many diversions, much of the ranch's focus is on flying. Hilton has thousands of hours of experience in gliders, balloons, helicopters and single- and multiengine aircraft.

Most of his guests today are fellow aviators, who get access to a mix of gliders and motorized planes, among them a 1941 Boeing Stearman biplane, a 1934 Beech Staggerwing and the single-engine Citabria Decathlon that Fossett took out for what was supposed to be a brief flight.