Born in Ohio, 1893. Died Oct 30, 2020
Clarence Duncan Chamberlin, born in Ohio in 1893, first began flying
while working at an aerial sign-towing company, then won his wings
in 1918 after enlisting in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.
After a tour of barnstorming he became a dealer in surplus aircraft
sales, as well as a company pilot for Wright Corp.
In 1919, Raymond Orteig, the
owner of the Lavish Lafayette Hotel in New York City, had offered a
prize of $25,000 "to the first aviator who shall cross the Atlantic
in a land or water aircraft from New York to Paris or Paris to New
York non-stop." For seven years, this prize had gone unclaimed, and
both Lindbergh and Levine were determined to claim it.
After their unsuccessful
negotiations, Lindbergh and Levine parted company. Lindbergh had a
plane built to his specifications at the Ryan Aircraft Co. in
California. Levine, Bellanca and Chamberlin proceeded to modify the
Bellanca for their flight.
During the first five
months of 1927, while Lindbergh and the Ryan engineers worked
feverishly to produce a suitable aircraft, Levine, who had an
overwhelming lead, fought with his pilots, his designer, his
navigator and himself. He was an irascible, pompous, difficult man
to work for and he lost his advantage by engaging in trivial
arguments on how to equip his plane and who should fly it.
In the week of May 15,
1927, three aircraft were in separate hangers at Roosevelt Field in
New York waiting to compete for the Orteig Prize: Lindbergh's
"Spirit of St. Louis," Levine's "Bellanca" renamed the "Columbia,"
and Commander Richard Byrd's "America."
The weather over the North
Atlantic was stormy and unfavourable --- almost as stormy as the
personnel problems which surrounded the "Columbia. " On May 19, with
a light rain falling in New York, Lindbergh checked with the weather
bureau and got the news that the weather finally was clearing over
the North Atlantic. He immediately raced back to Roosevelt Field to
prepare the fuelling on the "Spirit of St. Louis." He took off at
daybreak that morning and the rest is history.
Levine, Bellanca and
Chamberlin, who were still bickering on who would fly where with
what, outwardly applauded Lindbergh's achievement, but were
devastated by being beaten in the race. Nonetheless, on June 4,
Levine, his wife, and a party of friends arrived at Roosevelt Field
to see Chamberlin off on a flight they hoped would eclipse
Levine was dressed in a
regular suit. Unbeknownst to his wife, however, he had his flying
clothes stored aboard his plane. Chamberlin climbed into the cockpit
and started the plane. Suddenly, Levine broke away from the small
crowd of well-wishers, and jumped into the co-pilot's seat as his
wife and friends looked on incredulously.
Mrs. Levine screamed "Stop
him! Stop him!" It was too late. The engine roared full throttle and
Charlie Levine roared into history as the world's first
The flight was harrowing at
times because the Bellanca had a tendency to stall and buck. Levine,
whose bravery bordered on foolhardiness, was not perturbed by the
Although he was not a
pilot, Levine relieved Chamberlin at the controls a few times during
the night, but otherwise enjoyed his passenger status. En route,
they flew over the cruise ship Mourclonia, which gave them a
spirited welcome. Incredibly enough, they also flew over the U.S.
cruiser Memphis, which was returning Lindbergh to America. Some 43
hours after taking-off and travelling a total of 3,905 miles, the
adventurous duo finally landed on a small field outside the town of
Eisleben in Saxony, now in East Germany.
At Eisleben they refuelled
with 20 gallons of fuel brought up by a local farmer and had to use
a quart-size coffee pot to fill the gas tank. They were headed for
Berlin, but got lost and landed east of the city at the town of
Kottbus, where they received a tumultuous welcome. They finally
landed at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin the next afternoon to a crowd
of more than 100,000 wildly cheering Germans.
Chamberlin designed his own line of Crescent monoplanes, and flew one in the
1929 Air Races, then acquired a diesel-powered Lockheed Vega, in
which he set a world altitude record of over 19,000 feet in 1932. He
next formed Chamberlin Airline between New York and Boston, but when
it seemed doomed for failure, he used its four Curtiss Condors for a
barnstorming group during the next five years, plus having his own
flight school and aircraft dealerships. When war clouds threaten in
Europe, he opened a series of aviation trades schools vital for the
war effort. After the war, he served briefly as sales manager for
Bellanca Aircraft Corp for a time.