Goodbye to Another Airport

Ball Airport is a small, private airport located in Victoria, Texas, where I used to live. I was always intrigued by this airport, even before I worked in aviation, because it had a grass airstrip and seemed sort of hidden away at the back of a quiet residential neighborhood.

The DH used this airport when he was working as a flight instructor in the Victoria area.

It is always sad to see another small general aviation airport close up. Especially when one is living in a country where general aviation is struggling to even get started. Here is an article from the local Victoria newspaper.

Historic Ball Airport is About to Close Up Its Hangars
Henry Wolff Jr. – The Victoria Advocate, Victoria, Texas
August 10, 2007

An end is coming soon to Victoria’s oldest airport that dates back 70 years to when a local dairy farmer took an interest in flying.

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association will be hosting a final fly-in at Ball Airport, the property on the north edge of Victoria now in the process of being sold by the Kenne family for residential development.

Dolores Kenne is the daughter of the late Warren and Dessie Ball.

Her father founded the airport around 1937, after purchasing the property two years earlier from Frank and Julia Zirjacks. That was still a time when airplanes were something of an oddity in small towns like Victoria.

According to Dolores’ husband, Arthur Kenne, in addition to the property being ideally suited for future residential development, it has become more and more difficult in recent times to operate a small airport.

The private airfield is located on Ball Airport Road adjoining Highland Estates.

A very historic flying field, Ball Airport also served the military for a time when Foster Field was being built east of Victoria in the early 1940s. Victoria Regional Airport now occupies the area where Foster Field was.

After the war, Ball converted former military planes, mostly PT-19s and Stearman biplanes, for civilian use. He became an instructor in 1950 and gave flying lessons to several hundred aspiring pilots during three decades. At least 150 went on to get their private pilot’s licenses and some 50 who earned commercial or instructor ratings.

Dessie took care of the office and ground duties. She died in 2002 and her husband in 1993.

During an interview with the couple in 1980, I recall Mrs. Ball commenting that she “kept them all flying.”

Ball was proud of having over 10,000 accident-free hours in the air.

It all began when Ball let a Lane Wells employee, Frank Davis, keep a little 40-horsepower Taylorcraft on his property, it being good flatland for taking off and landing. One day another pilot, Harold Kendrick of San Antonio flew over and noticed the plane down below.

Kendrick happened to be looking for a place to set up a flying school and made a deal with Ball, who got some of his early flying experience by trading use of the airport for time in the air.

Ball had his pilot’s license by 1939 and is also believed to have been the first certified aircraft mechanic in Victoria County.

In cooperation with Victoria Junior College, now Victoria College, students learned to fly at Ball Airport as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program toward the beginning of World War II. Other than for the airport also being used some by early arrivals at Foster Field, operations were interrupted during the war years when the government required that all private planes be disabled or placed under 24-hour guard.

With Ball Airport destined to become a site for some 500 homes, Kenne says the developers have indicated an interest in preserving the history of the old airport and perhaps even saving the hangar as part of a recreational facility.

He also noted that some of the streets might be given appropriate aircraft names.

As for the airport itself, Kenne says plans are to have all operations shut down by the end of the year.

While it is sad that the day will soon come when take-offs and landings will end in Warren Ball’s old cow pasture, nothing is forever either on the ground or in the air.

What will be remembered is the old airport’s significance to local aviation during times of war and peace.

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And a photo audio essay, also from the Victoria Advocate:
Goodbye to Ball Airport

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