The family of SSA Member Richard H. Ball must sadly report his death in Boulder, CO on November 16, 2011 just 12 days past his 90th birthday. Richard died at home peacefully in the presence of his wife of 53 years, Gwendolyn Stiles Ball. He had been in declining health for the past five years from Parkinson’s disease and general effects of aging.

Richard was born in Huntington, Indiana to Walter H. and Georgiana Stevenson Ball on Nov. 4 1921. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1942, and it was the Purdue Glider Club that provided his entry into the soaring world. He later attended California Institute of Technology and received a Master of Science in mechanical engineering in 1947. His marriage to Gwendolyn Stiles was in 1953 in Burlington, Vermont. Additional survivors include children Erfert Fenton, Gary H. Ball, and Janet Duenas, plus grandchildren Angelique, Rick, and Avianca Duenas and nephews Robert H. and Jerome H. Ball.

Richard is best known for instruments produced by Ball Variometers that he incorporated in 1971, but his contributions to soaring are far broader than that. Some high points of his soaring life are given in the following paragraphs.

Richard was a founding member of the Mohawk Soaring Club in Schenectady NY and was an active member and instructor during his years living in Schenectady. He was a major contributor to the team building a Schweizer 1-26 kit sailplane for the Mohawk Club. In 1950, he completed Silver Badge No. 132. At that time, he owned an LK-10A glider bought as military surplus. He competed in the 1950 National Soaring Contest in Grand Prairie TX in the LK that by then-rules was a Class B glider. He finished 2nd in Class B and 11th overall. In 1951, he flew in the Harris Hill/Elmira National Contest in the LK and was recognized as the pilot who demonstrated the most improvement, finishing seventh overall.

In 1952, Richard was selected to be a technical support member of the US team for the International Soaring Contest held in Madrid, Spain. An anecdote he told from that contest was the need to use white wine for brushing your teeth if water purity was suspect.

He competed again at Harris Hill National Contests in 1953 and 1957. In 1953, he shared flying a Schweizer 2-22, a Class C glider, with Mohawk Club cofounder Jim Norton. They finished fourth in Class C but overall were 22nd of 25 entrants. In the 1957 contest, his ship was a Schweizer 1-26. His best flight was 191 miles to Danbury CT on July 6. The Contest Cameos section of SOARING, July-Aug 1957 p. 7 said this:  “Dick Ball showed foresight on his flight to Danbury CT. When a landing became imminent over a plush looking area, he picked an estate with a swimming pool and a large field to set down in. He was greeted by a butler in striped black pants who drove him about in the family car.” The Cameo piece fails to say the estate owner customarily locked all gates late every day, forcing an overnight wait to retrieve the glider.

Richard and family relocated to Boulder CO in 1955. Soon after arrival, a successful effort to organize and incorporate a soaring group was made, and Richard again cofounded a soaring club, the Soaring Society of Boulder. Again, Richard was a key member of a group that built a Schweizer 1-26 kit sailplane and an active glider instructor and tow pilot. For a time the SSB tow plane was Richard’s personal Stinson L-5.

Serious variometer development started in the garage of the family home in Boulder CO as a part-time effort. Visitors to the house were often surprised to see instruments temperature tested in the kitchen oven and refrigerator. Several patents were secured on instrument designs and in 1971; the business was incorporated and became full-time with a modest number of employees. Ball Variometers market covered sailplanes, hang gliders, ultra light aircraft, hot-air balloons, and sport parachuting via private-branded automatic chute openers. For many years, Richard was an exhibitor of products at SSA National Conventions, a business member of SSA, and had authorized dealers in the US and abroad.

It is not widely known that Richard completed design and construction of a standard class sailplane in the early 2000s, including all drawings, jigs, fixtures, and necessary calculations. Modern glass-reinforced plastic and steel tubing for a protective cockpit cage was used, with contoured foam sections to maintain correct airfoil shape. By the time of completion, Richard was past 80 years of age. For that reason and a late-discovered error in stabilizer angle-of-incidence, the glider was never flown. This glider with its drawings, construction jigs and fixtures, and tooling was donated to the Wings over the Rockies Air and Space Museum ( in Denver CO, where hopefully it will someday be on exhibit with drawings and construction jigs as an educational display of how aircraft are designed and built.

The Soaring Society of America in 1975 recognized Richard H. Ball with an Exceptional Achievement Award. Cleary Richard derived great pleasure and inspiration from soaring, enabled many others to gain fuller enjoyment from the sport, and continued to achieve in the soaring world for all the years past 1975.