• Algene and Frederick Key were brothers who lived in Meridian, Mississippi, just when flight was becoming popular. In the 1920s they were barnstormers, performing locally. Together they served as the managers for the Meridian City Airport.

• During the Great Depression, the city council was discussing ways of tightening up the town budget when the subject of closing down the Meridian Airport came up. Al and Fred Key were against the idea; they would lose their jobs if it did. They figured that the best way to ensure the airport stayed open was to do something that would go down in aviation history.

• Their stunt was to stay aloft in a plane longer than anyone else ever had. To accomplish this, they borrowed a two-seater biplane, which they renamed Ole Miss, and made some modifications. First they cut a sliding top-hatch window, so supplies could be dropped in from above. Next, they built a catwalk around the exterior to service the engine without landing. Then they installed a 125-gallon (473 l) gas tank.

• Finally, they created a way to refuel. At the time, refueling while airborne was tricky. Any spilled fuel would likely catch fire when it hit the hot exhaust. A local mechanic, A.D. Hunter, designed a valve that would stop the flow of gas unless a probe was firmly inserted into the receiving tank.

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• On June 4, 1935, “The Flying Keys” took off. The world flight endurance record stood at 23 days; could they beat that? They flew a flight pattern that looped endlessly around the county and over the town. People flocked to see the spectacle. They suffered an electrical fire and weathered thunderstorms. Their quarters were tight; they were dirty; they suffered from sleep deprivation.

• Several times a day, another plane would fly above them, lowering supplies through the hatch using a long rope, including oil for the engine and meals cooked by their wives. They refueled using a long tube and the newly designed valve.

• As the days wore on, the press played it up and the crowds grew.

• When they landed 27 days later on July 1st, a crowd of over 30,000 spectators was on hand to cheer them. They had stayed aloft for 653 hours and 34 minutes. The plane had flown for 52,320 miles (84,200 km), enough to circle the Earth twice. The plane consumed 6,000 gallons of gas and 300 gallons of oil, and maintained an average air speed of 80 mph (129 kph). They had been refueled and resupplied 432 times without incident. The headlines reached around the globe.

• There were wide repercussions of their achievement. The Meridian City Airport was immediately renamed Key Field and within a few months received much-needed upgrades. It’s now the location of Key Field Air National Guard Base.

• The Army Air Corps modified the refueling valve they designed, which is still in use today. The plane, Ole Miss, is now on display at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

• Both Al and Fred served as pilots during World War II. After the war, Fred ran a flying school and Al joined the Air Force. Al later served as mayor of Meridian.

• The Keys’ record for sustained flight wasn’t broken until the Apollo moon missions of the 1960s, and then again in 1973 by the spaceflight of Skylab II, which lasted for 28 days. The record has never been beaten by a conventional plane. The success of the event boosted the public’s confidence in aviation.