Meridian Star

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October 1, 2009

Great Mississippians, The Flying Key Brothers – Al and Fred

During the next several months, I plan to include columns, intermittently, about famous Mississippians who have made a positive difference in the world. This week, I have featured Al and Fred Key.

Some of you probably knew the Key brothers personally. I was recently told that “their people” were originally from Kemper County. I don’t know all of the ins-and-outs of the family tree, but I do know there are some mighty fine Key folks that still live in Kemper. In our part of the world, knowing one’s “people” and their origins is always important, however, with my research, I’ve noted the Key brothers are associated with Meridian as their home. It would be fun to “fight” over them, but I think we can share them as great Mississippians.

Brothers Fred and Al Key became interested in aviation after WWI, and with great tenacity sought and received the position as joint managers of the Meridian Municipal Airport. All was going well until the Great Depression hit the city, and due to the lack of funds, or an attempt to save money, the city decided to close the airport.

Fred and Al had a different idea. The airport must stay open and they reasoned worldwide publicity would make that happen. The brothers sought to break the standing record of 23 days, the flight endurance record. In order to accomplish this feat, Fred and Al knew that the air-to-air refueling technique must be perfected. The only technique used prior to this time was dangerous. If the gasoline was spilled, which often happened, the hot engine could engulf the airplane, and all would be lost.

The Key brothers, along with local inventor and mechanic A. D. Hunter and James Keeton, began to work in earnest to invent a spill free fueling system. This consisted of a valve on the end of the fuel nozzle, which was opened by a probe in the neck of the fuel tank. This new type valve would not allow fuel to flow unless it was inserted into the fuel tank. During refueling, if the nozzle were removed from the tank, the fuel would automatically stop flowing. Genius at work – that’s our Mississippians!

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