background image
Page 36
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
W. H
Chapter 2
In addition to the newsletter, someone,
probably Mary, took it upon herself to re-
cord additional milestones. Forty years later,
I found the list scribbled on a piece of card-
board that served as the backing for a yel-
lowing photograph hanging on the wall of
the flight office. The list, in badly faded ink,
gave names and dates of airport firsts--land-
ing, airplane hangared, experimental airplane
built, glider landing, first tie-down rental, and
the like.
In a slanted red script someone had written
that the first airplane to land at Bird's Nest
Airport was Rob Womack's Taylorcraft. The
first airplane hangared was Hugh Pillsbury
and Bob Gates' tandem Piper Cub in the fall
of 1966. The following year Dick Belush han-
gared his Balanca in a barter deal that didn't
cost him a cent and didn't earn the airport
a penny. The first pilots to pay cash for han-
gar space were Wendell Maxedon and Dar-
rold Banks in the spring of 1968; the two split
the fee of fifteen dollars a month for a single
hangar. The first experimental airplane to call
Bird's Nest home was "Baby Ace," owned by
Silas Slack and later sold to Al Lavelle of San
Antonio. A barely legible note says that Ray
Harding's personal airplane, "Feathers," a
hand-built beauty he had taken years to put
together, got its maiden taxi on an uneven
runway on October 13, 1968, a sunny day, 80
degrees with 7.4 knots of north wind. Days
later, on October 26, 1968, "Feathers" took
to the air "around the patch," the note says.
There's more, but the ink is so faded that it's
impossible to read.
In 1969 Ray and Mary had a big decision to
make: Should Ray quit teaching and make the
airport a full-time endeavor? Or, should the
two continue Bird's Nest Airport as a week-
end hobby? In some ways, Mary had already
made up her mind. According to a story by
George E. Hopkins in the AOPA Pilot, Janu-
ary 1976, "`Ray was forever buying old aircraft
and restoring them,' Mary said. `I decided if
he was going to spend all his time out here, I
was going to spend it with him.'" Part-time or
full-time, Mary would be at Ray's side.
Traffic at the airport was building, in part
because Ray charged half the market rate for
airplane rentals, flight training, tie-down fees,
and repairs. Word spread quickly and Ray had
a backlog of customers who needed a solid
A&P certified aircraft mechanic to work on
their airplanes. After more handwringing and
worried glances, the two decided to give up
their jobs and the house in Austin and move
out to Bird's Nest full-time. "Everybody told
me I'd never make it," Ray said.
Maybe not, but he couldn't shake the idea
that there was room in aviation for an airport
that catered to fliers with a limited budget
and who favored the old taildraggers made in
the 1940's and 1950's over newer, more cushy
tricycle-gear aircraft.
In most ways he was right.
Mechanic work alone was enough to keep
the place open, and it allowed Ray extra mon-
ey to sock away for capital improvements.
Soon he forked over $36,000 for a paved run-
way, which buckled after the first hard rain
and had to be redone. He snapped up a couple