The Key Brothers


key-brothersFrom Meridian Regional Airport Website: Fred and Al Key grew up in Mississippi with a reputation for having “wheels in their heads.” After witnessing three wayward planes from a nearby WWI training base land in their family pasture, Al Key knew he wanted to fly. The brothers earned their pilot’s licenses at the Nicholas-Beazley Flying School, and later opened their own training school in Sedalia, Missouri.

In 1930, the Key Brothers returned to Meridian, MS where they became co-mangers of Meridian’s new Municipal Airport. The brothers and their wives resided in an upstairs apartment in the airport terminal building. During the Great Depression, the airport struggled and the brothers feared the airport would have to be sold and plowed down to it’s original use as a cotton field.

As an attempt to attract attention and notoriety for the struggling Meridian Municipal Airport, Fred and Al Key decided to plan a record-shattering endurance flight over the city of Meridian. Over the next few years, the brothers worked to innovate new ideas in mid-air refueling in order to fulfill their dream of breaking the current 553 hour world endurance record held by the Hunter brothers of Chicago.

For the task, Bill Ward loaned the Key Brothers his Curtiss Robin airplane, named the Ole Miss, which housed a single small five-cylinder engine not much larger than a washing machine. The endurance flight project was funded by community donations, and made possible with the work contributions of several skilled and inventive machinists, mechanics and welders. Working with their team of talented innovators, the brothers had to make several custom modifications to the Ole Miss airplane, as well as create new operating procedures for tasks such as refueling or engine maintenance, in order to make them possible mid-flight.

On June 4, 1935, Fred and Al Key took off in the Ole Miss in front of 100 supporters to begin their daunting task. One June 1, 1935, nearly a month later, the Ole Miss landed at Meridian Regional Airport to a crowd of 30,000 cheering people. Fred and Al Key had accomplished their goal of an amazing non-stop endurance flight that lasted over 27 non-stop days and nights – that’s 653 hours and 34 minutes!

Color Photo: Copyright Scott Steele

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