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Keith Kahle Collection

Identifier: H048-05

Scope and Content

This collection contains documents, photographs, newspaper clippings, and memorabilia of Keith Kahle. Items are related to Kahle’s personal life and business, as well to Central Airlines, an airline Kahle ran from its inception in 1944 to his firing in 1963. The Keith Kahle Collection is housed in forty-six boxes of various sizes totaling 34.5 linear ft.

The collection arrived in good condition and the archivist identified four series. The first series is the Documents Series, which includes documents related to the operation of Central Airlines; Keith Kahle’s other aviation projects, his career with Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV), documents relating to his personal interests, information on the donation of his material to the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame, and legal depositions involving Central Airlines and Southwest Feeder Airlines, Inc.

The second series is the Photographs Series, which contains images of Keith Kahle’s personal life and interests, Central Airlines, and various aspects of aviation.

The third series is the Press Clippings and Scrapbooks Series, which consists of newspaper clippings and scrapbooks regarding The Oklahoma Civil Air Patrol, Keith Kahle’s personal life, business interests, and Central Airlines.

The fourth series is the Memorabilia Series, which houses various certificates, paintings, posters, aircraft models, and other items accumulated by Keith Kahle.


  • 1918 - 1992
  • Majority of material found within 1932 - 1982


Language of Materials

Collection is in English.

Access Restrictions

Materials in this collection are open for research.

Literary Rights Statement

Permission to publish material from this collection in any form, current or future, must be obtained from the Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.

Biographical Sketch

Keith Hayes Kahle was born September 25, 1909 to Dr. and Mrs. Charles Edgar Kahle in Sisterville, West Virginia. Keith’s family moved to Oklahoma City, OK where his father worked as a doctor. In 1914, the family moved to the oil boom town of Drumwright, Oklahoma. In 1924, Keith’s mother passed away after a long illness, and his father moved the family to Norman, Oklahoma. While attending junior high school in Norman, Keith developed what would become his lifelong support of the Oklahoma University Football Team. In 1925, Dr. Kahle remarried and moved his family back to Oklahoma City. In 1927, Keith Kahle entered the School of Engineering at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa, from which he graduated in 1932.

After graduation, Keith went to work in the Oklahoma oil fields. In 1932, with his friend Bill Bleakley, he participated in The Cord Cup Air Race, where they finished in seventh place. Keith wrote dispatches for the Oklahoma City News covering his adventures during the race. Also at this time, Keith stopped working in the oil field and started publishing his own aviation newsletter called The Taxi Strip, as well as writing for the Oklahoma City News as an aviation correspondent. He was actively involved in Oklahoma Air Tours, an attempt to spur airport construction and interest in aviation in Oklahoma. While on the tour, the plane Keith was riding in crashed. Keith used this experience to write a widely publicized article on what it was like to survive a plane crash.

Deciding to organize and run his own airline, Keith Kahle, along with Oklahoma City pilot Jerry Sass and attorney W. C. Lewis created Trans Southern Airways, Inc. The company applied for a route running from Amarillo, Texas to Atlanta, Georgia. However, the airline’s proposal was denied by a Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) committee. After this setback, Keith continued writing for the Oklahoma City News until it went bankrupt, then he started writing a Sunday aviation column for the Daily Oklahoman. Using what he learned about the politics of the aviation industry when trying to establish Trans Southern Airways, Inc., Keith Kahle decided to have another go at starting an airline.

With help from friends in the Federal Government, Keith Kahle established Southwest Airlines, as a massive regional feeder airline serving routes from Chicago, IL to Brownsville, TX with its headquarters in Oklahoma. However, some of his New York backers were concerned with Kahle’s inexperience and they brought Thomas Hardin in to run the airline. Keith became suspicious of Hardin, believing that Hardin was plotting to take all the research and planning Keith had done, and then force him out of Southwest Airlines. His suspicions were confirmed when one night a security guard called Kahle, saying that Hardin was cleaning out the company office, and loading the files and records into a van. Kahle managed to catch Hardin at the Oklahoma City Airport, and through his influence with Oklahoma politicians and judges, got a warrant that impounded the files and prevented them from being taken out of Oklahoma. This led to a court battle, which would drag on for several more years, and the failure of Kahle’s second attempt at an airline.

During World War II, Keith was unable to get into active duty aviation, but he held the rank of Major in the Oklahoma Wing of the Civil Air Patrol. He also worked at Tinker Field, Oklahoma as the civilian head of the post newspaper. It was during this time that Keith Kahle developed the idea of starting a “feeder” airline, which would be a system of air routes from Oklahoma City to medium size and smaller cities, which feed passengers and cargo form these destinations back to Oklahoma City. Keith set about compiling the necessary funding and evidence he needed for the Civil Aeronautics Board to grant him a permit for the airline structure he wanted. In 1944, Keith gathered a group of men to help form this airline, which included Judge Murrah, a Federal Judge from Oklahoma, Guy Marchant, an investor in the Oklahoma oil industry, and Luther Bohanon, Marchant’s lawyer. Marchant, Kahle, and Bohanon held a meeting in Colorado where they decided to name their new venture Central Airlines.

Kahle spent two and a half years preparing his documents and evidence, and then submitted a bid for air routes in Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado. He was competing with fourty-two other applicants including American Airlines and Braniff. The concept Keith proposed involved Central Airlines’ operating DC-3’s out of a hub at Oklahoma City and connecting to other airlines departure routes in other cities. In addition, Kahle wished for his system to include a Central Airlines Employee as a “Fixed Base Operator” at all the smaller airports Central served. On November 14, 1946, the Civil Aeronautics Board made its decision and granted Central Airlines the Feeder Airline routes north of a line drawn east/west through Dallas/Ft. Worth, TX.

To prepare for the eventual start of Central Airlines’ operations Keith Kale had rented hangar space at The Oklahoma City Municipal Airport and opened Keith Kahle Aviation Incorporated. This was a flight school that operated two Cessna 120s. He also operated a one-plane airline on a route from the Oklahoma City Municipal Airport to Lawton, Oklahoma. Kahle needed more backers to fund his plans, so he recruited two oilmen, Dean Gill and F. Kirk Johnson, to finance part of Central Airlines. In 1948, the Civil Aeronautics Board contacted Keith and told him he would have to get his airline into operation, or he would need to relinquish his operations certificate. His main backer Marchant was reluctant to invest in Central Airlines, and offered to sell his interests to Gill and Johnson. Gill and Johnson persuaded M. E. Harding and the Fort Worth National Bank to loan the rest of the money. With the money in hand, Central Airlines was ready to operate.

In September 1949, Central Airlines launched its inaugural flight with 11 Beechcraft Bonanzas. Kahle had to get a special waiver from the Civil Aeronautics Board, because it was against government policy to have a certificate-scheduled airline operate single engine aircraft. Six months later, Kahle brought six DC-3s from American Airlines, and Central Airlines began operating, as its certificated demanded. Central Airlines gradually expanded adding routes to Kansas City, KS and Little Rock, AR in 1954, and new destinations in Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado in 1960. It also continued to update its fleet purchasing Convair 240’s from American Airlines and United Airlines. In 1958, Central moved its headquarters to Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, Texas.

Johnson and his investors decided to sell Central Airlines, and negotiated a deal with a group headed by Carl Pohlad, a Minneapolis Banker, who bought the airline in 1962. Kahle’s relationship with the new owners remained amicable, but six months after Central Airlines was purchased, Pohlad wanted to sell Central for a profit, and then get out of the aviation industry. Because Keith had founded the airline, Pohlad offered him a chance to find another buyer. Kahle wound up selling to one of his own board members, Jack Bradford of Midland, Texas. Bradford made several changes to Central Airlines including firing certain employees and equipping the Convair 240’s with Rolls Royce Dart engines. About a year into Bradford’s ownership, relations with Kahle became strained, to the point that Bradford fired Kahle in 1963. Bradford had trouble controlling Central Airlines, going through two more presidents (L. E. Glasgow and Lamar Muse) in a short period. Finally, he negotiated a deal merging Central Airlines into Frontier Airlines.

After he was fired, Keith received a call from Clyde Skeen, a Senior Vice President at LTV. Keith was asked to look at a film on the V/STOL aircraft LTV was building dubbed the XC-142. It was a prototype tilt rotor aircraft that could fly like plane; or take off and land like a helicopter by rotating the wings and engines. Keith became a consultant for the project, and became one of the presenters and demonstrators for the prototype. When the XC-142 program ended, Keith took a leave of absence from LTV and helped organize a national bank in Fort Worth. He also became active in politics, becoming close friends with Congressman Jim Wright of Texas. He also continued to support one of his earliest interests, Oklahoma University Football.

Keith Kahle retuned to LTV full time and worked on several engineering projects including improving the AIRTRANS ground system in use at DFW International Airport, and devising method to break up ice using either lasers or ultrasonic frequencies. He also received two patents for football safety equipment. In 1982, Keith Kahle was inducted into the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1984, Keith became an advisor to Bob Bouzard, the president of Electorcom, finally retiring in 1992. Keith Kahle was married twice, first to Betty Alexander, who passed away form cancer after 15 years of marriage, and then Jean McLaughlin, whom he married in 1977. Keith Kahle passed away at the age of eighty-eight on July 4, 1997.


"Keith Kahle Collection," History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas.
Richardson, Ginger D. “Commercial Aviation Pioneer Keith Kahle Dies After Illness”. "Fort Worth Star Telegram," July 5, 1997.


34.5 Linear Feet ((Seventeen manuscript boxes, three record center boxes, twenty-six non-standard boxes).)


Keith Khale (1909-1997) was an airline owner and aviation figure who founded and headed Central Airlines from 1949 until 1963 when he was fired. Khale was also active in politics for the Democratic Party in Oklahoma and Texas, campaigning and fundraising for United States Representative Jim Wright.

Series Description

The Keith Khale Collection is arranged into four series:

Series I. Documents 5.83 linear ft. (fourteen manuscript boxes and three record center boxes), 1930-1982.

Arranged topically.

Series II. Photographs 2.25 linear ft. (three manuscript boxes and one non-standard box), 1938-1982.

Arranged topically.

Series III. Press Clippings and Scrapbooks 15.0 linear ft.(fifteen non-standard boxes), 1940-1992.

Arranged topically.

Series IV. Memorabilia 11.5 linear ft.(ten non-standard boxes), 1918-1992.

Arranged topically.

Provenance Statement

The Keith Khale Collection was donated to the History of Aviation Collection, Special Collections and Archives Division, Eugene McDermott Library, The University of Texas at Dallas, by Kristi Church of The Omniplex Science Museum, Oklahoma on 2005-03-31.

Additional Sources

More information about airlines operating in the Texas-Oklahoma-Arkansas region can be found in the Marion Lamar Muse Collection and the Braniff Airways Collection.


Books and magazines were pulled and catalogued to be included into the HAC monograph and magazine stacks.

Image ID

It is the researcher's responsibility to secure permission from copyright holders of materials to which this institution does not own copyright.

Images in this collection are identified by a unique number that provides information about the format, record group, collection, series, box, folder, and image numbers. Please use this number when ordering reproductions of images from this collection.

Record Group Code

1 = CAT/Air American Archives

2 = Doolittle Archives

3 = Lighter than Air Archives

4 = George H. Williams, Jr., World War I Aviation Library

5 = History of Aviation Archives

6 = University Archives

7 = HAC Stacks

8 = WPRL Stacks

9 = Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Collection

10 = Belsterling Collection

11 = Closed Stacks

12 = Unidentified

13 = Chance Vought Archives

14 = Twirly Birds Archives

Image Format Code

P = Photograph/Postcard

S = Slide

N = Negative

T = Positive Transparency

B = Black and White

C = Color

Example: 5KK-1-1-PC1

5 = History of Aviation Archives (HAC)

KK = Keith Khale Collection

= Series Number

1 = Box Number

1 = Folder Number

P = Photograph/Postcard

C = Color

1 = Image Number

Images archived in plastic image holders may also have a location code in the format: 1/TL. In this example, the number is the sheet number and the letters indicate the top left position on the sheet. Position indicators are T = top, L = left, R = right, M = middle, and B = bottom. Position indicators may be combined to describe the position on the sheet, as shown in this example.

Note to the Researcher

The collection arrived in good condition. The material was originally donated by Keith Khale to the Omniplex Science Museum, Oklahoma, where it was processed and arranged. In 2005, the collection was transferred to the History of Aviation Collection. The collection was partially rehoused and re-foldered, but as much of the original processing structure was retaining as possible. Some changes were made to bring the collection in line with conventions used by the History of Aviation Collection.

Guide to the Keith Kahle Collection, 1909-1997
Thomas J. Allen, PhD, CA
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
English (eng)

Revision Statements

  • 2018-05-03: 1st revision was a migration to ArchivesSpace by Thomas J. Allen, PhD, CA

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections and Archives Division, History of Aviation Archives. Repository

3020 Waterview Pkwy
Suite 11.206
Richardson Texas 75080 US