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Clarence Duncan Chamberlin: Wikis


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Clarence Duncan Chamberlin (1893-1976)

Clarence Duncan Chamberlin (November 11, 1893 – October 30, 1976) was the second man to pilot a fixed-wing aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean, from New York to the European mainland, while carrying the first transatlantic passenger.



Chamberlin was born in Denison, Iowa, and was the son of E.C. Chamberlin, who owned a jewelry store. The Clarence D. Chamberlin House is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Early Life

Clarence graduated from Denison High School in 1912 and then attended Denison Normal and Business College for a year before attending Iowa State University for two years. He then served in the Army Air Service during World War I. When the war ended, Chamberlin returned to Denison and ran a motorcycle and auto repair shop before moving to New York City.


In April 1927, Chamberlin set an endurance record by circling New York City for 51 hours and 11 minutes with Bert Acosta. Acosta would later be Richard Byrd's co-pilot in his transatlantic flight. Chamberlin then made the first ship-to-shore flight, when he flew a mail plane to New York City from the deck of a ship 120 miles at sea.

Transatlantic flight

Signed promotional photo

In the monoplane Columbia owned by Charles Albert Levine, Chamberlin registered for the $25,000 ($1M by 2007 standards) Orteig Prize offered by Raymond Orteig through the Aero Club of America for the first people to fly directly from New York to Paris or vice versa in 1927. He competed with several others such as Cdr. Richard Byrd (United States Navy) in the America , who had recently completed the first flight over the North Pole, Capt. Charles Nungesser of the French Air Service with Francois Coli in their plane L'Oiseau Blanc (The White Bird), and Capt. Charles Lindbergh (United States Army Air Corps) who had arrived in his plane The Spirit of St. Louis. Only Nungesser & Coli would be flying in the opposite direction, from Paris to New York.

Chamberlin would probably have won the contest since Nungesser's plane which was the first in the air had disappeared, and the early attempt by Byrd had crashed, but for a legal technicality. The plane's former navigator filed an injunction against Levine claiming he had been fired in breach of his contract. It wasn't until late May that the injunction was lifted. By then they had received news of Lindbergh's safe landing in Paris.

It was then they decided to try for Berlin and set a distance record. With Levine as his navigator, even though he had almost no navigational experience, he made a record nonstop transatlantic flight from Roosevelt Field, Long Island (the airfield from which Lindbergh and Byrd took off) to Eisleben, Germany, a distance of 3,911 miles, in 42 hours and 31 minutes. The flight was from June 4, 1927 through June 6, 1927. The plane used was a Bellanca monoplane, designed by Giuseppe Mario Bellanca with a Wright Whirlwind engine, same as used by Lindbergh and Byrd. On June 6, 1927, Chamberlin's monoplane ran out of fuel 43 miles short of his goal of Berlin, Germany.

Time (magazine) wrote on June 27, 1927:

Pilot Clarence Duncan Chamberlin and passenger Charles A. Levine were last week enjoying the hospitality of Germans, resting in the watering place known as Baden-Baden, inspecting huge multi-motored airships at the Dornier and Zeppelin plants. Some of their doings: Frau Thea Rasche, Germany's only licensed woman pilot, was taken for a ride over Berlin by Pilot Chamberlin. Skillful, she also took passenger Levine for a ride. Correspondents heralded the trips as strengthening to U.S. - German relations. Flyers Chamberlin and Levine hustled to Bremen to meet their respective wives, who arrived from the U.S. Said Mrs. Chamberlin on seeing her husband: "Why, your knickers are awful. Didn't you even have them cleaned?" Then the two couples flew to Berlin in three hops. The two wives were reported to be feeling ill after the first hop. "The Columbia is not on the market," said Mr. Levine when Grover Cleveland Bergdoll, a rich American then living in Germany, offered to buy the monoplane. Mr. Bergdoll let it be known that he desires to fly to the U.S. to show that he is no coward, that conscientious objection was his only reason for refusing to fight in the World War.

Family Life

Chamberlin was first married to Wilda Bogert of Independence, Iowa. After a divorce, he married Louise Ashby, in 1936. He was the father of one son and two daughters.

Later Years & Death

Later in life Chamberlin sold real estate. He lived his last years in Shelton, Connecticut, where he died. He is buried at Lawn Cemetery in Huntington, Connecticut.

Aviation records

  • 1927 Endurance record by circling New York City for 51 hours and 11 minutes with Bert Acosta
  • 1927 First ship-to-shore flight, when he flew a mail plane to New York City from the deck of a ship 120 miles at sea.
  • 1927 Second nonstop transatlantic flight, from Roosevelt Field, Long Island to Eisleben, Germany, a distance of 3,911 miles, in 42 hours and 31 minutes.
  • 1927 First transatlantic passenger

Other Media

Independent filmmaker, Billy Tooma, is currently in production on a documentary detailing Chamberlin's life and historic transatlantic flight. Fly First & Fight Afterward: The Life of Col. Clarence D. Chamberlin[1] is scheduled for release in early 2011.

External links



Preceded by
Charles Lindbergh
Transatlantic flight
Succeeded by
Bert Acosta


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