background image
Page 59
AUSTIN EXECUTIVE AIRPORT
A History of Austin's Newest General Aviation Airport
R
on
W. H
enRiksen
Chapter 3
a handful of T-hangars, and fled the airport
for other ventures. Timmerman Jr. stepped
in, renamed the tiny airstrip Tim's Airpark,
and did his part to keep the place alive for the
next forty-two years. Some nine years later,
in 1965, Ray and Mary Harding bought 113
acres along Fuchs Grove Road and opened
Bird's Nest Airport (a short ten miles from
Tim's Airpark and twelve from Mueller) giv-
ing weekend pilots for the first time a choice
of three airports to call home.
The problem for the City of Austin, and the
good news for Bird's Nest Airport, was that
Robert Mueller Municipal Airport was becom-
ing overloaded. The airport had grown from
340 acres in 1930 to 711 acres in 1956 and was
swallowing up all the additional acreage it
could get. By 1971 the airport was serviced by
Braniff International Airways, Continental Air-
lines, and Texas International, each flying the
latest aircraft--Boeing 727s and BAC IIIs and
McDonnell Douglas DC-9s. By 1973 commer-
cial enplanements reached 328,717, a colossal
hike in traffic over previous years according to
Kenneth Baxter Ragsdale in his exacting his-
tory of Central Texas aviation Austin, Cleared
for Takeoff
. A couple of years later, Texas
Monthly magazine awarded Robert Mueller
Municipal Airport the unflattering distinction
of being one of the most dangerous airports
in Texas. The reasons were obvious: The air-
port was surrounded by residential neighbor-
hoods and shopping malls, not to mention the
runways being pulverized by the stretch 727s
and, pulverized or not, the landing strips were
too short to handle larger commercial jet air-
craft. The close proximity of homes, schools,
businesses, and churches demanded preci-
sion landing techniques that would not permit
short or long touchdowns without disastrous
consequences. Add in the antagonizing noise
and, all in all, the writing was on the wall: Rob-
ert Mueller Municipal Airport wasn't adequate
for the growth of Austin.
The question wasn't why or even how, but
when.
Mueller's unruly expansion, aging infra-
structure, and squeamish neighbors were
exactly the formula for Bird's Nest Airport.
When Mueller finally got around to closing
down, some three hundred small aircraft han-
gared or tied-down there would need a place
to go. Jerry Kahlbau was an engineer, a rea-
sonable man by any standard, but that didn't
stop him from dreaming, from slipping into a
jaunty, light-hearted reverie (if only in private)
about the closing of Mueller Airport--the day
all of those Cessna, Piper, Hawker, Beech, and
Mooney airplanes received eviction notices
and took flight in a giant gaggle of light aircraft
heading for Bird's Nest Airport.
After an abbreviated conversation with his
wife, LaNelle, who didn't hate the idea, Jerry
approached his partners with an offer to take
the airport off their hands. The partners po-
litely listened to the gravity in his voice and
took about three seconds to respond. No. He
made another proposal and another and, even-
tually, the former research engineer and ma-
chine designer achieved his goal. The Camp-
fire Girls had owned the airport for exactly
one year. Jerry and LaNelle Kahlbau would
own it for the next twenty-six.