Meridian Star

Local News

June 30, 2007

37,843,200 minutes of fame ... and counting

Today marks 72nd anniversary of Key brother’s landing of historic flight

If Andy Warhol was right, then Meridian was lucky — because in 1935 Al and Fred Key managed to stretch their 15 minutes of fame into a 27-day record breaking extravaganza that injected new life into a struggling airline industry and left Meridian at the forefront of aeronautic experimentation.

Before June 4, 1935, Meridian was simply known as a thriving railroad town. When Fred and Al Key landed the “Ole Miss” on July 1, after 27 days of continuous flight, 35,000 observers ensured that Meridian’s future would be defined by the air.

For area residents this story is either a well-rehearsed tale of triumph, or a bit of local history that you never really understood — the type of dinner table remembrances that the elders brag about.

But this story isn’t just an over-hyped idealized recollection of a dead generation, it’s the story of how two Meridian brothers managed to save their jobs, break a world record, and irrevocably alter the future of aeronautic innovation.

“They (the Key brothers) were early aviators interested in aviation after WWI,” said Stephen Owens, local historian and author of “The Flying Key Brothers and Their Flight to Remember”. “They started doing some brainstorming in the 20s and continued their interest as the managers of the Meridian Municipal Airport.”

When the Great Depression came along, Meridian was hit like the rest of the nation, and the city began doing what ever other city was doing to offset underfunding — cutting budgets.

“The city fathers just didn’t see the value of an airport with the way the economy was at the time,” said Owens. “The Key Brothers wanted to generate interest in the airport so they began preparing for an endurance flight.”

Planes couldn’t stay in the air too long without refueling, so there was a problem. While people had invented different methods of refueling mid-air, none of them were that successful or efficient. When it comes to refueling a spark generating metal machine flying at 90 mph, you only get a few tries.

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