Clarence Chamberlin
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 Lindbergh's.

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 transatlantic passenger.

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 aircraft's aberrations.

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.