Keith retires from the airline

Keith Houghton Retires From Airlines: written by Fred Smith from the Tipton Times

 Keith Houghton of Ringneck Ranch

Captain Keith Houghton of Tipton has retired after thirty-three years as a commercial airline pilot. Houghton made his last flight in May of this year and officially retired from American Airlines in July. Houghton logged over 33,000 hours of flight time in his long and illustrious career.

As a Tipton farm boy, flying was never really part of his career plans. Keith studied Animal Science at Kansas State University graduating in 1971. He also played football until an injury ended that endeavor. Not to be held back, Keith tried out for and became KSU’s mascot, Willie the Wildcat, a rare and very prestigious honor.

After graduating from college Keith was hired by a group in Ohio to supervise the calving of five hundred cows.  While there he took his first lesson in a small Cessna airplane and his passion for flying was ignited. While working in Ohio he acquired his private pilots license and flew whenever he could. He returned to Tipton and purchased his first plane, a Cessna 150, from Duane Vonada of Sylvan Grove. Still thirsting for more, he once again returned to Ohio and studied for and obtained his commercial, instrument, multi-engine and instructors licenses.

For the next two years Keith worked on the family ranch three miles south of Tipton and taught local people how to fly. Some of his students included Larry White, Mike Budke, Tracy Thull and Galen Seehafer.

In 1973 Keith went to work as a flight instructor for Aircraft Services Inc. of Salina. In a short six month period he became their Chief Pilot and Chief Flight Instructor, teaching Kansas Technical Institute students Steve Thompson, Alan Cordell and Danny Arnoldy to fly. Three years later he went to work for Ryan Aviation of Wichita, Kansas flying Lear jets for corporate clients. Then, in June of 1978, he was hired as a pilot by Ozark Airlines flying FH-227Bs and the DC9.

After eight years with Ozark, the airline was purchased by Carl Icahn, a business investor and corporate raider. Icahn liquidated the airline equipment and merged the Ozark operation with TWA. This was a terrible deal for Ozark Pilots and Houghton as they lost all seniority and took heavy pay cuts. Keith said, “I went from the 50th percentile in seniority to the 96th and took a 70% pay cut. It was not a good time.” Keith stayed with it, and persevered through attrition to eventually regain lost seniority.  TWA eventually was bankrupted into American airlines and Keith continued to make the complicated commute to St. Louis to report for duty.

Some of his airline time was spent flying charter flights, primarily college & professional sports teams. Keith chuckled about the time New York Yankee’s owner George Steinbrenner came to the cockpit and ordered him not to arrange for a limousine for a very high profile player who had earlier requested it. “He can ride the bus like the rest of us,” snarled Steinbrenner.

Commuting from Tipton was no easy feat for him; he flew his own Cessna 182 to Wichita and caught a commuter flight to St. Louis. When American eliminated flights from Wichita to St. Louis he was forced to fly from Wichita to Dallas or Chicago and then to St. Louis. The daily grind, the logistics in weather and space available transportation were eventually the impetus for retiring. “I just wore out with the challenging weekly commute to St. Louis,” said Keith. 

Keith reminisced over all the reasons for retiring. “Ya know, the job changed dynamically over the years.  9-11 dramatically changed the airline pilot’s profession. Locking the cabin door eliminated the relationship with crew and passengers. It was a different job after that.”  He also recognized that his health and the ranch were two important obligations needing his attention. “I’m okay right now, but the commuting was taking its toll.  It’s so nice having a routine at home again, I feel so much better.” He successfully battled prostate cancer several years ago.

Now Keith, with his wife Debra (former flight attendant) will continue to operate their world class hunting lodge Ringneck Ranch ( He started this business in 1983 with his father Clifford & brother Leon. Keith has been a community leader in both Tipton and Hunter. His time spent in “retirement” will certainly be a whirlwind of activity. “I’ll still do some corporate flying, I can’t give it all up,” he said with a grin.

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