By Rick Davenport
Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Bobby Bateman can’t seem to make a clean break from the Mineral Wells Airport (KMWL). At 69, he semiretired last year, but continues to work half-time as the city’s airport supervisor — a position he’s held since 1997. Bateman owes his career to the city where he grew up, and to the U.S. Army’s helicopter pilot training school. Because of the military presence in his community, Bateman was exposed to aviation at an early age.
“I got hooked when I took a ride aboard a helicopter as part of the Civil Air Patrol club I was in during high school,” he said, describing how his life was shaped by that one event more than 50 years ago.
The Mineral Wells Airport was the product of World War II when the Army developed nearby Fort Wolters, now an industrial park but once the largest infantry replacement training center in the United States. The Army built a support runway on city property, which became the foundation for the airport after the war.
Following that ride on a Hiller OH-23, Bateman decided to join the Army. He became a helicopter pilot, serving in the Vietnam War. He continued as a pilot in the private sector and returned home to Mineral Wells, serving as a member of the airport board. He became the logical choice for airport supervisor.
“His career path has certainly followed the history of our community,” said Mineral Wells City Manager Lance Howerton, who hired Bateman 18 years ago. “He is a fixture at the airport. As a pilot, member of the board and supervisor, he has served this community well. And I do not get the sense that he is ready to retire for good.”
During Bateman’s tenure, the Mineral Wells Airport has undergone a series of extensive improvement projects, including a runway extension, pavement rehabilitation, an instrument landing system installation, terminal remodeling, LED runway lighting and security fencing. TxDOT recognized the priority the city placed on aviation and named Mineral Wells Airport of the Year in 2007.
As for its future, the airport is destined for more improvements.
“We are the only general aviation airport between here and Fort Worth,” Howerton said. “The Metroplex continues to grow this direction. There is no question that the airport plays a vital role in our local economy because it’s relied upon by oil company executives, the equine industry which is big here and the growing number of corporate executives who travel here for business.”
Nearby Possum Kingdom Lake and its prime real estate has also attracted wealthy homeowners, many of whom have the need for Mineral Wells’ lengthy runway.
The airport houses several avionics businesses which employ about 200 people. In fact, the Mineral Wells Airport is home to several autopilot manufacturers and is known in the industry as the autopilot capital of the world.
One of those companies is anticipating a major expansion and will need additional hanger space, according to city officials.
“Mineral Wells has certainly made aviation a significant part of its plans,” Bateman said. “That attitude has certainly made my job easier, but harder to leave. My retirement will surely happen someday. Right now, I just can’t imagine when that day will be.”