The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021.
Al Key and his brother Fred developed a passion for aviation while in their teens and worked hard to make their dreams of flying a reality. They started their own flying service and took over as managers of the Meridian airport in the early 1930s. When the city decided to close the airport in 1935, Al and Fred decided to promote Meridian as an aeronautical hub by breaking the world record for longest time sent in non-stop flight. They succeeded on their third attempt, remaining aloft for over 27 days. The no-spill nozzle they helped develop for mid-air refueling is still used by the US Air Force.
In 1939, Al helped form the Mississippi Air National Guard and became a full time military pilot in 1940. He was commanding a squadron of B-17Cs when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. He and Fred made several suggestions for armament modifications for US bombers that were adopted by the manufacturers. Their work landed them positions with the 8th Air Force Operational Engineering Section and Al became a Chief Liaison Officer with the British on designing new types of bombs.
Al retired as a colonel from the US Air Force in 1960 and served two terms as mayor of Meridian.
1973 – Al Key grew up on his family’s Kemper County farm in the 1910s. He describes being inspired to pursue a career in aviation when three biplanes planes landed in their pasture.
While managing the Meridian Airport in the 1930s, Al and Fred Key joined the newly formed Mississippi Air National Guard. Al Key recalls how their jobs as B-17 pilots changed after Pearl Harbor. During WWII, Al and Fred Key commanded bomber squadrons on submarine patrols and combat missions. Al Key explains how their suggestions for bomber designs made the planes less vulnerable.
While serving with the 8th Air Force Operational Engineering Section, Al Key worked with the British to develop a massive bunker-busting bomb known as the “Disney bomb.” He discusses how it was used to destroy German concrete-reenforced submarine pens.