Oak Cliff’s Red Bird Airport

The '69-'70 Kimball High School cheerleaders, posing in front of the Goodyear Blimp on one of its stops at Red Bird Airport. From left: Steve Carter, Sandra Rowell, Mike Crutcher, Barbara Rollings, Kent Reese and Susan Price. Kim Manning and Kathy Poe were also on the squad. Source: 1970 Excalibur yearbook.

Back in the day, driving south on Hampton Road, it was easy to spot the large “Piper” sign, along with the similarly sized “Airhaven” flight school sign. Both were, along with the control tower and slowly aging hangars, part of what was then called Red Bird Airport.

North Dallas had Highland Park, NorthPark Center and most of Dallas’ upscale shopping and finer amenities.

But Oak Cliff?

Well, we had an airport. A longstanding airport.

In 1944 the City of Dallas purchased the 1,046-acre spread on the northwest corner of Hampton and US 67 for $125,000, and the airfield has been in continual operation ever since opening for business in August 1947. As a general aviation airport, the facility did, and still does, house a variety of aviation-related businesses and private flight instructors. And from 1960 to 2003 it hosted a public restaurant: Casa Blanca.

Oak Cliff’s original air terminal was the privately owned Clearview Airport located off the southeast corner of Hampton and Illinois, and its most famous story concerned the B-17 E bomber that crash-landed there. The plane, carrying 22 people on a war bond tour, caught on fire in April 1943 and had to perform an emergency landing.

According to then-Cliffite Bill Strouse, the plane few over Illinois Avenue and briefly skidded on the street before crashing on the runway, followed by witnesses watching a slew of fire trucks and military vehicles arriving on the scene. According to the official report, all aboard survived but were seriously injured.

The Red Bird facility remained a general use airfield for years, and, according to one local historian, at some point either a National Guard Unit or an Army Reserve airborne unit was stationed there. In the 1980s, the airport became the base of the Dallas Police Department’s Aviation Division, housing its helicopter fleet.

And when Stevie Ray Vaughan left his father’s funeral at Laurel Land in 1986, he few out of Red Bird.

However, for those of us who are a bit older, the most memorable part of what we called Red Bird Airport was the annual announcement that NFL football season had begun: the arrival of the Goodyear Blimp!

In the 1970s, the Houston-based company used Red Bird as its major Dallas-Fort Worth base when the blimp was in town for the football games and the state fair, and later for the Cotton Bowl game and other promotional activities. Hundreds of Cliffites — no, thousands probably — made Saturday or Sunday afternoon trips south on Hampton to catch a glimpse of the blimp, take photos, chat with the crew or simply stare at the dirigible. (Before the age of 24-7 television, computers, video games and the like, events like the arrival of the blimp were really big deals.)

Jerry Felts, posting to a Dallas history thread online, said that he had worked at Red Bird Airport, and part of his job was to fuel the blimp. “On the last day of each visit,” Felts posted, “they [the crew] would give me a ride in it, just to make sure I would be there with the fuel truck when they needed it” — quite an adventure for an Oak Cliff kid back in those days.

Other reports are that the farm owner on the other side of Hampton often watched as miniature model planes occasionally landed in his pasture, flying off course from the model airplane enthusiasts operating on Red Bird’s periphery. Another Cliffite, Cecil Hatfield, says his father taught him to drive on the runways before the airport opened. And it’s hard to believe, but in the 1950s high school boys actually went bird hunting there — with shotguns — gathering near and beyond the runways! (Just try doing that these days.)

Around 2000, substantial sums of money were invested to revamp the airfield and enlarge and update its facilities. With a new name and control tower, two renovated concrete and asphalt runways, and a new administrative building — along with other aviation-related businesses and a fresh infusion of paved streets and lighting — the now-named Dallas Executive Airport is growing, servicing a sizable portion of the Metroplex and enhancing the Southwest Dallas and Oak Cliff business climate. In 2004, out of the 21 such facilities around the state, the airfield was named as the Reliever Airport of the Year by TxDOT.

Delta Charlie’s Restaurant, Bar and Grill, located inside the airport terminal, offers a unique dining experience where customers easily watch airplanes arriving and departing on the runways. The restaurant also offers a dinner package that includes an airplane tour of Dallas — a huge hit with patrons.

But although they’ve renamed the place, built new buildings, changed the entrance and logo and everything else necessary to compete in the current climate, to us old-timers it’s still Red Bird Airport — with the Casa Blanca Restaurant, the old signage and, of course, the blimp.

And … oh, yes. Did I mention it used to be a fairly popular place for high school sweethearts to “stop and watch the airplanes land” for a while? Hmmm … somehow that almost slipped my mind.


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  • Robert Garcia

    Wish we could have hooked up when you were in California. So sad to here about Rhea. rcjulia@verizon.net

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks for your additional info, Jerry. I love it when readers post their stories and facts. And so does the magazine.

  • Jerry Felts

    Robert, wish I had known you were in SOCAL, we were out in that area a few months ago and would have loved to stop in and hear your music.  Still playing bass and six string myself.  Visited Rhea in Phoenix on that same trip and he’s not doing good at all due to brain cancer.

    BTW Gayla,  I was refueling the DPD helicopter division out of Redbird as early as 1971.  They had a Bell-47 and two Hughes 269 helicopters then.

  • Robert

    Hey Jerry, I too was a lineman at Airhaven, rhen Daljet Avitat with Ray Beksted, Mick Hennegan, Maddog. You, Bob Drum, Ed Oliphant were in dispatch and you always got me deadhead trips to Aspen on Lears and Falcon Jets. The last time I saw you we did a tandem jump together. Great memories! I still play a Les Paul Custom and play the dives out here in Santa Monica and Venice Beach Ca. My day job is at a Hotel in LA. Married a girl from Tokyo, we sometimes hang out at Santa Monica Airport and it brings back memories of Red Bird Airport.

  • Linda Parsons – KHS ’66

    Kayla, once again you have created some entertainment in my life. I really enjoy your column and all the thought provoking memories it provides. I would especially be interested in Steve Watsons idea of an “Urban Legend” theme. Great Idea!

  • Steve Watson

    This is great – did not know this site existed ’till this week. So many interesting stories of the “Rock-n-Roll era of Oak Cliff. Many of the stories are based on fact. How about an “Urban Legend” theme? I can think of a few. Maybe we can determine if they were indeed fact or just myth…

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Wow! What a great input from all you readers out there! You guys rock. I had no idea that all your stories existed…and many involve fellow KHS classmates. I’m thinking we need to have some sort of Oak Cliff/Red Bird Airport symposium…with food, of course! Perhaps a panel and others to add their stories. We’ll see. In either case, I’ve enjoyed reading all your comments and posts. Keep ’em comin’.
    Gayla

  • Steve Watson

    I remember the plane crash. Early 60’s? I think there was another in the 70’s. The guy just lost power and ditched into a house off Boulder drive. He survived. Used to ride bikes and later motorcycles in that right of way.

  • BOB AUSTIN

    Good article, Gayla.
    There were “cedar breaks” out there and as any good teenage boy would do, it was our duty to was watch the planes land with our girlfriends.
    My dad would take us with him to “shoot” landings out there, did not like that too much…
    All memories of Redbird, are good except for one.
    Our house was not in the flight approach area and one day a plane passed over our house at a very low altitude, barely clears Keith Milos house, and finally strikes the power line tower, near Gary Holman’s house, and falls into a backyard facing the power line right of way.
    All aboard burned to death. I remember leaving my house and driving the 4 or so blocks as soon as it went over our house. My dad and I were in the yard, and him being a pilot, he knew immediately the plane would not even make it to Ravinia St. There was nothing any of us could do, as the heat was intense, we were unable to get anybody out of the plane. He was struggling to get to Redbird but fate took over and that was that. Does anybody else remember this?

  • Steve Watson

    Memories! Wow, we lived on the northern approach to Red Bird Airport. Watched the blimp and other cool aircraft take off and land those years growing up. I recall seeing many WWII class aircraft there. The PBY was one. This was a seaplane that hangered there. This may have prompted the “Spruce Goose” rumor. My dad was in the Army Air Corp during the war. With all the stories, we kids could identify just about any war era aircraft. I also recall the DC3 (C47), AT-6, P38, and the Stearman P-17 biplane trainer. The trainer had an open cockpit where we could clearly see the pilot as he made his final. Of course we made believe that we were Snoopy shooting down the Red Baron.(LOL) Ms. Kokel – keep the “GREAT” articles coming!

    P.S. – Jane Little – KHS English Teacher?

  • Jane Little

    Gayla, Not only are the articles good, but the comments from people I never expected to hear about again: Denise Landell Klos (where are ya girl?), and my English teacher, Frances Phillips. What a treat! Jane little

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    As I recall our family business was located in DeSoto after moving out of Oak Cliff and one afternoon while driving from Oak Cliff to DeSoto I spotted an F4U Corsair, gull-winged single engine aircraft built at Chance Vought for the Navy, coming in for a landing at Red Bird. I immediately turned in on the entry way to the airport. As I further recall this was in the mid to late ’70s. It had taxied up in front of on of the northern most hangars. I simply drove right out on the surface facing the hangar and parked near the plane. Got ou and began to look at it and then I made the fatal mistake of touching the prop, four-bladded, and from the hanger rang out a harsh….”Get your hands off that prop”! The guy dressed in dress slacks and a white shirt came running over to me in a mad dash.

    I thought I was going to have to defend myself but he stopped and said I was trespassing and to leave. I assured him I meant no harm that I was only amazed at the aircraft. After the ice was broken he loosened up and we became acquaintences and I wound up getting to sit in the plane. I’m not that gutsy anymore!!!

  • DARLENEKEMMERLE

    I THANK MY DAUGHTER RALENE (KEMMERLE) FLEMING FOR PARTICIPATING IN THE DIALOGUE CONCERNING REDBIRD AIRPORT. I TOO HAVE A MEMORY OF WHEN MY HUSBAND AND I WENT TO VOTE A FRIEND NOTED OUR CAR AND STOPPED US TO SAY WE SHOULD GET HOME BECAUSE A TORNADO LANDED AT THE AIRPORT. SURE ENOUGH OUR SITTER (MY SISTER) AND THE KIDS KNEW NOTHING OF THE NEWS WHEN WE GOT HOME. PROBABLY THE NOISE WITH TV, 5 KIDS AND SISTER. LOL. THE MEMORY OF RALENE’S LITTLE ESCAPADE TURNED OUT TO BE NOT SO LITTLE. THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES.
    DARLENE KEMMERLE

  • RALENE( KEMMERLE) FLEMING

    REDBIRD AIRPORT CAME IN PRETTY HANDY FOR ME IN 1951 ( I WAS 3 ). WE HAD JUST MOVED TO CEDAR CIRCLE DRIVE.(DOWN THE ROAD FROM REDBIRD AIRPORT). I WENT EXPLOREING BY MYSELF IN 5 MILE CREEK. BY DARK MY PARENTS WERE BESIDE THEIRSELVES LOOKING FOR ME. THEY SET UP A 9 MAN SEARCH PARTY AND HAD A HELICOPTER OUT FROM RED BIRD AIRPORT ASSISTING IN THE SEARCH. ALL WENT WELL AND I WAS SAFELY RESCUED.I STILL OWN THAT PROPERTY AND THE AIRPORT IS STILL THERE AS WELL. IT WOULD BE CRUSHING TO LOSE SUCH A PERMANENT PART OF HISTORY. TO ME IT WILL ALWAYS BE RED BIRD AIRPORT!

  • Charles Goff

    In 1955 my Dad kept his Beechcraft Bonanza at Red Bird. I remember one time my Dad grabbbed me and my uncle and we loaded fishing rods in the plane and flew to Lake Grapevine for an afternoon of fishing. Grapevine seemed a long way away back then. I think Dad was just looking for a reason to fly somewhere.

  • Terry Prichard

    Gayla, As usual another great article. My uncle took me on my first flight in 1956 out of Red Bird and I knew I wanted to fly someday. Fast forward (well maybe not so fast) to the summer of 1983 when I bought my first plane, hangared it at Red Bird and learn to fly. Have kept all three of my planes there over the years including the one I have now. Red Bird (as I’ll always call it) has given me a lot of special memories and made my love of flying a life long joy. As always, thanks for your article and keep up the good work.

  • Jerry Felts

    The Howard Hughes connection with Redbird Airport was that there were three Jer Star executive jets belonging to a Hughes shell corporation hangard in one of the quonset hut type hangars under 24/7 armed guard. While employed at Airhaven at Redbird I was called several times to service an aircraft with jet fuel at that hangar. Servicing meant that I passed a fuel hose through the slightly opened hangar door and just waited until they were through fueling……..inside the hangar, the fire marshall would have had a stroke had he known. Never got a glimpse of any of the aircraft the whole time I worked there.

  • Jim deVault

    Ron,
    That P-38 you spoke of would be recommissioned into service during the Vietnam War and join a B-25 and DC-3 in its new home and owners at Addison Field. The war effort needed a better instrument for high altitude precision bombing. The P-38 was equipped for aerial photograpy. The project and the aircraft became one of the closest guarded secrets of the war and no one knew what the hanger housed or where those three aircraft went after dark. When you go to a movie today and see a piece of high tech on the screen, it is already 10 or more years obsolete. I think it was the movie Patriot Games, with Harrison Ford, that has a scene showing a high altitude bomb destroying the residence of a drug cartel member. That bomb was a infared guided to its target. Enough said, except to close with this, Dallas and Oak Cliff has many secrets, especially in the 60’s and 70’s !!!

  • ron brannon

    I remember David Glover (Deceased, Kimball 68) and I (Kimball 67) bicycling up to the Tower at Red Bird and speaking over an intercom button located in a small hallway to the fellows up in the tower requesting a visit up there. They let us in, no problem !!!

    That was Extreme Fun for back then looking out over the runways and watching small planes land and takeoff.

    I also remember a P-38 was always on the tarmac outside of a hanger there at Red Bird. It was rigged for Aerial Photography. That was a thrill seeing a real WWII airplane!

    And finally, when I use to work in Oak Cliff, I would travel to the Red Bird Restaurant for a Mid-Week Treat for lunch. They had the Best Club Sandwiches and French Fries!

  • Maurice Eason

    I did an internet search and found that Howard Hughes owned a business that did repairs on planes at Red Bird in the 60’s.

    Another website I found, http://www.air-and-space.com/sprucea, says the Spruce Goose has only had three homes. After it’s one and only flight in 1947 it was returned to it’s hangar at Los Angeles harbor where it remained for 33 years in a climate controlled environment due to it’s wood construction. It was purchased by the Wrather Corporation in 1980 and eventually towed across to Pier J at Long Beach Harbor and placed in a dome as a tourist attraction adjacent to the Queen Mary. In 1992 it was disassembled and transported to Evergreen International Aviation in McMinnville, Oregon by truck and barge where it remains on display today (www.evergreenmuseum.org). Check the two websites for more detailed information.

  • Cercil Hatfield

    After they built Red Bird Airport. For quite a while there were no buildings at all, not one. But all the runways were there. My mom thought it was a great place for me to learn to drive a car. So thats what I remember Red Bird for. Learning to drive where I couldn’t hurt anything. Then one day driving back to Elmwood on a two land road with no buildings for miles, Mon let me drive and while going down a small hill straight as a road could get two cars were coming at us. AS we got close the second car with a doctors wife driving, she lost it and swerved into my lane. SEfought to gain control while I drove off onto my sholder while trying not to go down the steep embankment. I rem,ber thinking as she went by my door that she missed us. B she hit our left rear fender and took it off. Me being a beginner still had to drive home because my mom was a total mental wreck.
    Cecil Hatfield

  • David Glenn

    In the ’60’s we lived right in line with the runway about a mile north of Red Bird. We grew accustomed to the planes overhead. Only the very low flying ones could get us out of the house to look.
    We would fly kites as high as we could to see if we could get them as high as the landing planes. Pretty stupid looking back at it.
    My folks had talked about early Oak Cliff and Clearview. I had a hard time imagining an airport there before the neighborhood and all the trees.
    Gayla, thanks for the story. The certainty of our Oak Cliff days is a comfort as the future will be once we’ve passed through it.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    Thanks to all of you for posting and for the appreciation you’ve expressed.

    Atwood: I knew this would stir some memories from you, naturally. Maurice: I don’t have an answer to your question. Pam: One of my coauthors, Patsy Summey, had someone supposedly “in the know” tell her that Hughes housed the Spruce Goose at Red Bird for a while. Unfortunately, we haven’t had time to do any research on it. Now there’s a project for someone….

    Denise: Glad to share the stories with you. Sherrie: Your “pancake” comment is a good one. Great story. Annette: Didn’t know Spike worked there. Jimmy: Didn’t know you worked there. Benny: You have so many stories I think you should be writing this column. Suanne: Thanks for the compliment. Bob: Didn’t know you dad was a WWII pilot. Frances: You ALWAYS have such good info and glad that someone from SOC is a regular reader. Lon, well…what’s there to say except that I am sorry I didn’t know you in high school. I think I missed a quite unique experience.

  • Pam Scott Straus

    No one has mentioned that Howard Hughes leased or owned a hanger there for years. Nobody ever seemed to know what he kept in it or saw anyone go in or out, but it was rented by him. I think I remember one of the Dallas papers running a story about it.

  • Sherrie Luttrell Voegele

    Gayla, fond memories of Red Bird Airport. For my 16th birthday, my dad’s cousin flew us to Love Field to eat at a restaurant over in North Dallas, and then flew back to Red Bird….the only catch was that it was in a helicopter and I was scared to death. No doors on the thing and I just knew that if we tilted, I would be a pancake on Hampton Road and would never see my senior year of high school. Alas, all worked out well and now 50 years later we are preparing for the 50th reunion of JFK’s Class of 61. Keep up the good work with your articles. They bring back so many memories that are hidden in the recesses of our brains and that we have forgotten about until you stir the pot and make us remember. You are a dear and I look forward to receiving your link each mont.

  • Maurice Eason

    I remember taking private planes out of Redbird on several occasions for fishing trips down to Aransas Pass in the late 50’s and early 60’s. And during the Cold War weren’t their missile silo’s somewhere around it if not actually on the airport grounds?

  • denise klos

    I always learn something from your articles…thanks.
    D

  • M. E. Atwood

    Well..well Ms. Kokel, another fine article about Oak Cliff. I also have extremely fond memories of “Red Bird”. I started flying out of there in 1963, served as a “lineboy” fuleing aircraft from 1966 to 1968 and kept several aircraft there until the late 1980’s. One item that some of us may remember is the “Old Scotsman” Gordon McClindon of the “old” KLIF radio station sponsored a world record (at the time) endurance flight. It has since been broken, but at the time my memory is that a Cessan 172 with two pilots took off from Red Bird and flew for something like 32 days. I still remember going to the airport, before there was a control tower, to watch the plane fly very low down the runway and a pickup truck racing along the runway and lifting up 5 gallon cans of fuel. The records stood for many years. So many memories..so many..thanks!

  • Frances George Phillips

    I wish someone had taken a picture of the airport on Super Bowl Sunday. Every space had been rented (I’ve heard 219) for football fans’ private planes–mostly jets. When my husband and I passed by the airport on our way home from church, there were private jets as far as the eye could see! Quite a sight!

  • Jim deVault

    Great article Gayla. I remember Red Bird real well. My first evening job in high school age 16. I worked as a Line Supervisor for Goble Aviation and Texair. I learned to fly there before I got my drivers license and flying is what I did, when not in school or working. What a time. Later on weekends, my instuctor and I would take our dates over to Love Field to eat, then over to shoot instrument night landings at then, Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, before returning to put up the plane at Red Bird. Thanks for the history…Jim deVault.

  • LON OAKLEY Jr.

    For awhile after I first go married to wife #1 (of 7 or 8 but who is counting) we lived right across the street in those apartments. Fun to watch the blimp come & go. By the way, let me know when you are putting your next book together on Oak Cliff history. So many of we baby boomers now have time on our hands to stop and reflect on the good ol times. Gayla you continue to astound us with your awesome columns. Please keep them up and let us know where your book signing will take place. I WILL BE FIRST IN LINE! Crazy Lon Adamson ’65

  • Annette Harris Duncan

    Am grateful to you for keeping our Oak Cliff history alive! This article brought to mind a lot of fun things. When I was going with Spike, in high school, he worked at Red Bird in the summers refueling the planes; I used to take him lunch because we lived so close by. Have great memories of that place, and a lot of others as well. Thanks for all you do!

  • Charles “Benny” Kirtley

    Great article Gayla. I thought the location of the Clearview airport, if my memory hasn’t failed me, was on the southwest corner. Bill, correct me if I’m wrong.

    I recall one summer night a cousin and friend of mine “borrowed” three bicycles and in our skivies rode to Red Bird Airport from the Kiest and Hampton area. When we arrived there sat a beautiful B-25 bomber. The bomb bay doors were open so we entered the aircraft from there. We played in the plane for about thirty minutes and the left Red Bird on the bikes and returned them.

    After I married in 1961 we rented a room on Loop 12 from Allen Rowe’s, (Kimball ’61 grad) grandmother. I hunted the cedar breaks that back up to Red Bird Airport for a year or so and saw many vintage aircraft take off and land there. Great memories.

  • Suanne Carr Blalock

    Great article Gayla! Red Bird Airport was a staple of Oak Cliff and a flood of good memories came crashing in my mind. Nice research and well written!

  • Bob Hall

    Enjoyed the article Gayla. It brought brought back memories on two fronts. I remember the fascination with the Goodyear blimp and the bit about the B-17 also brought back memories. My Dad was a B-17 pilot during WWII. Thanks for your research and good writing.

  • Gayla Brooks Kokel

    The lead photo is of the ’69-’70 Justin F. Kimball High School cheerleaders, posing in front of the Goodyear Blimp on one of it’s stops at Red Bird Airport. (From left: Steve Carter, Sandra Rowell, Mike Crutcher, Barbara Rollings, Kent Reese, and Susan Price. Kim Manning and Kathy Poe were also on the squad. The image is from the 1970 EXCALIBUR, Kimball’s yearbook.