Tuesday, August 15, 2000  
  Bay Book  

  Bay Book is a collection of snippets about the happenings, happenstance and personal experience that lend Bay and nearby counties their special character. Have a Bay Book item? Write Bay Book, The News Herald, P.O. Box 1940, Panama City, Fla. 32402, or e-mail sbornhoft@pcnh.com sbornhoft@pcnh.com>.

Florida stowaway
gives No. 2 aviator P.C. link

     Charles Lindbergh earned everlasting fame for being first to fly non-stop across the Atlantic, on May 20,1927. The second pilot to accomplish that feat - Clarence Chamberlin, who has a Panama City connection - has been largely forgotten. But for an untimely legal dispute, in fact, Chamberlin would have beaten Lindbergh across the Atlantic and into the history books. Chamberlin, born in Ohio in 1893, learned to fly as an employee of an advertising tow-sign company. In 1927, a $25,000 prize was offered to the first pilot to cross the ocean. Chamberlin, ready to fly, was delayed by a dispute over ownership of his plane. By the time the matter was settled, Lucky Lindy had left for Paris.
     Fifteen days later, on June 4, Chamberlin (and businessman Charles Levin) flew non-stop from New York to Germany. Chamberlin thus became the first man to fly a passenger to Europe. His trip of 3,911 miles had shattered Lindy's distance record as well.
     Later, Chamberlin became America's first aerial reporter, snapping photos of fires and floods for the New York Times. In May 1937, Chamberlin flew state legislator Carl Gray from Tallahassee to Panama City. "It was evening," recalls local aviator Johnny Reaver, 84, "and there were no lights on at the old airport. So Chamberlin flew up and down Harrison Avenue to attract attention. Finally, some cars drove to the airfield and shined their headlights on the grass runway so they could land."
     Chamberlin's weekend in Panama City was memorable, thanks to a child who had wandered away from his parents at the airport. "The world-famous flier," the News-Herald reported, "experienced his first stowaway yesterday. After gaining altitude on one of his numerous sightseeing trips from the local airport, (Chamberlin) discovered four-year-old Nickolas Hutchings of Pensacola calmly enjoying the ride. Knowing their son's love for planes, the parents rushed to Chamberlin's plane when it landed. There they found Nickey, all smiles."
     Chamberlin - who spent his later years designing engines and operating flight schools - died in Connecticut in 1976, largely forgotten. Had he crossed the Atlantic as intended, he'd have been remembered forever. And today, Nickolas Hutchings would have one heckuva tale to tell the grandkids!
- Ken Brooks

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