The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that the Hunter Brothers, record-breaking pioneers in the field of aviation, will be inducted into the 2017 class of honorees.
Albert, John, Kenneth, and Walter Hunter were born in southern Illinois and raised in rural Sparta. After the early death of their father, they worked to support their family as coal miners. Soon one of their hobbies – motorcycle riding – led them to the career that would make them famous: aviation.
After purchasing a plane in St. Louis in 1923, the brothers all learned to fly. With several fellow aviators, they formed the “Hunter Flying Circus,” performing death-defying stunts in airshows across the Midwest. They also began contracting with companies as airmail pilots, flying routes that would eventually become the passenger airline routes we use today.
In 1929, John and Kenneth Hunter made their first attempt to break the world record for endurance flight. After eleven consecutive days in the air, they were forced to land in heavy fog. The following summer, all four brothers teamed up to attempt to break the record again. With John and Kenneth flying the “City of Chicago,” and Albert and Walter piloting the supply plane, the Hunter Brothers managed to stay aloft for a record-breaking 553 hours, 41 minutes, and 30 seconds – approximately 23 consecutive days in the air. Their incredible feat brought them global attention and fame, including a movie contract with United Artists.
The brothers made a permanent mark on Randolph County when they inaugurated Hunter Field, an airport just north of Sparta, in May 1931. The airfield is still Randolph County’s only public airport.
Three of the brothers, John, Kenneth, and Walter, pursued professional careers in the field of aviation after their world-record flight. The fourth, Albert, left professional flying behind for farm and construction work. John died while working on an airmail route in Louisiana in 1932; Kenneth perished in a crash in Oklahoma City in 1974. In 1966, Walter retired as the senior jet captain for American Airlines.
In 1980, Sparta celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Hunter Brothers’ amazing endurance flight with a celebration at Hunter Field. The day, which was attended by Walter Hunter, included a recognition of the Hunter family and an airshow. A news report from the day summed up the brothers’ achievements: “They were the astronauts of their day.”