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On an airplane, the handles controlling the throttle and the fuel mixture are often topped
with ball-shaped grips, referred to by pilots as (what else?) balls.

The cockpits I have seen have a ball on top of the flight stick (what used to be called a joystick before USAF deemed that un-PC), which the pilot uses with his right hand. The power stick (throttle), used with the left hand, and the one aj is referring to, is more like the gearshift in a Japanese car, a cylindrical grip.
Balls to the walls would mean pushing the flight stick forward to the max, which causes the aircraft to pitch down sharply, reducing altitude and increasing airspeed really really fast - like Zeros did in WW II.
I have no idea if that's the origin of the expression (joystick max forward).
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