Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Mackey Airlines, its colorful founder ... and Fort Lauderdale

Fort Lauderdale

By Jane Feehan

Fort Lauderdale’s Mackey Airlines played a leading role in the South Florida aviation scene from 1946 when it was established as Mackey Air Transport, a charter airline, to 1967 when it merged with Eastern Airlines.  Founder Joseph Creighton Mackey started up four airlines, including Mackey International that operated 1969-1981. His life and career resembles a film script.

Convair CV-240 - one type flown by Mackey Air
Mackey (1909-1982) was known as a circus barnstormer or aerial stuntman before he served in the USAF during World War II, reaching rank of colonel. Before the U.S. entered the fighting, Mackey was recruited as a ferry pilot for the Canadian war effort. In 1941 he was pilot and sole survivor of an air crash in Newfoundland. Three died on their way to England Feb. 21, including 49-year-old Dr. Sir Frederick Grant Banting who co-discovered insulin as a treatment for diabetes.

In 1943, Colonel Mackey served as commander of the First Foreign Transport Group that flew for the Fireball Express, touted then as the world’s longest, fastest air freight line. Mackey and crew operated four-engine giant C-54 transport planes from Miami to India.  Fireball Express told Miami News reporters that they made the 28,000-mile round trip in “as quickly as six days, 10 hours and 15 minutes.” One year after the freight line started, it logged nearly 7,000,000 miles with only two fatalities.

After the war, Mackey returned to Fort Lauderdale where he had lived on Sunset Drive since 1937. He launched Mackey Air Transport in 1946 (it transitioned to Mackey International Airlines in 1953) with routes from Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach to the Caribbean and Cuba.  His Fort Lauderdale-based air carrier became one of only three in the U.S., including Pan Am, to earn a government certification as an International Airline.

After Eastern Airlines bought Mackey routes in 1967 for $19 million, the colonel started up Mackey International. Its Fort Lauderdale headquarters was bombed in 1977 by a Cuban exile group who objected to Mackey’s vice president meeting with the Cuban government to re-establish air routes. As a result, the airline withdrew from negotiations. Mackey International Airlines closed its doors in 1981.

Joseph Mackey was inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame six months before he died at his Flamingo Road home near Davie in 1982. Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For a post about Fort Lauderdale's first aviatorMerle Fogg,  see: http://janesbits.blogspot.com/2011/02/florida-history-merle-fogg-field-fort.html

Miami News, Feb. 15, 1982
Miami News, Nov. 12, 1944
Miami News, Feb. 25, 1941
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Tags: Fort Lauderdale aviators, Fort Lauderdale history, Florida airlines, Joseph Creighton Mackey, Mackey Airlines, film researcher


  1. Jane, I was a Fort Lauderdale News reporter and working late in the newsroom the night of the 1977 bombing. It was about midnight and you could hear the blast all over town, which prompted several off-duty reporters to call the newsroom to report it. I met Col. Mackey at what was left of his offices on South Andrews Avenue and I asked him if his plans would change. He said there would be no Mackey flights to Cuba -- the next day's headline.

    1. Really interesting life and character. Thanks for sharing, Gary.