Born in 1906, Thomas "Pre" Ball was raised in Jacksonville, Florida, where he soloed a WWI Jenny in 1928. He received advanced aviation training at Parks Air College in St. Louis, Missouri, and began his career as a barnstormer flying passengers at local fairs. He also participated in air shows including aerobatics. A dedicated professional, "Pre" obtained his Aircraft and Engine Mechanic's License and became the airport manager and half-owner of the Hawthorne Flying Service fixed base operation in Charleston, South Carolina. He served as station manager for Delta Air Lines in Charleston until being hired full-time by Delta as a copilot in 1936. Following Pearl Harbor, "Pre" was called to active duty with the Army Air Corps. Entering as a second lieutenant, he became a colonel in less than three years. At a time when more military flyers were being killed by accidents than in combat, he became Chief of the Prevention and Investigation Division of the Office of Flying Safety. This experience contributed to an enviable safety record for Delta Air Lines when he returned to Delta in 1945. Two years later, Captain Ball became Chief Pilot with a passion for meticulous training of pilots and safety of flight operations. Captain Ball delivered the first commercial jet to the state of Georgia. He established national speed records for commercial transports in the DC-6, DC-7 and DC-8; each of these records, plus his transcontinental speed record for commercial jets in the Convair 880, still stands today. He also pioneered the CAT II and CAT III instrument approach systems that led to Delta Air Lines becoming the first air carrier certified by the FAA to conduct such landings Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport. Captain Ball was promoted to Vice President of Flight Operations in 1969 and held this job until his retirement in 1971. In October, 1970, while delivering the first Boeing 747 to Atlanta, he first noted blurring of his central vision. After a perfect landing, and over forty-two years of accident-free flying, he grounded himself in the interest of safety. Few have been so revered by the pilots with whom he worked for his honesty, fairness and support. His reputation as a trailblazer in commercial aviation is legendary.
Recognized throughout the airline industry as a pioneer in aviation, Thomas "Pre" Ball was enshrined into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 23, 2005.