Charles A. Levine

  (Redirected from Charles Albert Levine)

Charles Albert Levine (March 17, 1897 – December 6, 1991) was the first passenger aboard a transatlantic flight.[1] He was ready to cross the Atlantic to claim the Orteig prize but a court battle over who was going to be in the airplane allowed Charles Lindbergh to leave first.

Charles Albert Levine
Charles Albert Levine in 1928.jpg
Levine in 1930
BornMarch 17, 1897
DiedDecember 6, 1991(1991-12-06) (aged 94)
Known forTransatlantic Flight
Spouse(s)Grace Nova Levine
ChildrenEloyse Levine; and Ardith Levine Polley


Levine was born on March 17, 1897, in North Adams, Massachusetts. He joined his father in selling scrap metal, later forming his own company buying and recycling World War I surplus brass shell casings.[1] By 1927, at age 30, he was a millionaire.

Columbia Air Liners, and the record flightsEdit

Levine and Giuseppe Mario Bellanca formed the Columbia Aircraft Company.[2] Levine hired pilots Bert Acosta, Eroll Boyd, John Wycliff Isemann, Burr Leyson, and Roger Q. Williams at $200 a week to perform a series of publicity record attempts for the company.[3]

Levine entered the competition for an Orteig prize for the first person to complete a nonstop flight from New York to Paris. His Bellanca designed prototype aircraft, named Columbia, was ready for weeks, The co-pilot for the effort, Lloyd W. Bertaud, was displaced to accommodate Levine and went to court to be reinstated. Levine got the order lifted, but it was hours after Charles Lindbergh, in the Spirit of St. Louis, had left Roosevelt Field on Long Island. Levine's plane was still in its hangar at the same airport. Lindbergh won the prize on May 20, 1927. The following day Levine announced that his airplane would fly farther on a $15,000 transatlantic flight challenge from America to Germany and carry a passenger. The pilot was Clarence Chamberlin, and Levine would be the passenger. In an oft-repeated situation, Levine told his wife he was just going up for a test flight. His lawyer notified her by a letter of his intentions after they took off and kept going.[4] On June 4, 1927 The Columbia took off on its transatlantic flight from America to Berlin, Germany with Levine, as the first passenger to cross the Atlantic in an airplane.[5] The Columbia did not reach Berlin, but landed 100 miles short in a field at Eisleben, Germany. The trip was 315 miles (507 km) and 9 hours and 6 minutes longer than Lindbergh's transatlantic crossing.[6]

Levine returned to the United States in September 1927, flown by Captain Walter G. R. Hinchliffe replacing Chamberlin. Before their departure, Levine and Hinchliffe appeared in a short film made at Clapham Studios in London made in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film system.[7]

Bertaud separately vowed to complete a transatlantic flight without Levine. In September 1927, Bertaud's Hearst-financed Fokker monoplane Old Glory crashed in the Atlantic on the attempt, killing Bertaud and the other two men on the flight.[8]

While Levine was in Europe, Mabel Boll "the Queen of Diamonds" attempted to get Levine to fly her to America in the Columbia, which was in France following the record flight from New York. Levine had plans to fly it back to America with a French pilot, Maurice Drouhin. The flight to America was cancelled, Drouhin was owed a $4,000 cancellation fee,[9] and had the Columbia guarded from leaving as a precaution. The inexperienced pilot Levine took off to England, claiming to the guards he was just testing the engine. Boll followed Levine to England by boat, talking Levine into letting her be a passenger. Just before the flight, Levine's new pilot Capt. Hinchcliffe, publicly refused to let Boll fly along. Boll was invited to try an east-west flight from America, and she set out for New York by boat in January 1928.[10]

In the summer of 1928 Levine purchased a customized long-range Junkers W 33 for US$50,000, emblazoned "Queen of the Air" across the sides, for Boll's nickname. Plans were made for Bert Acosta to fly Boll and Levine from Paris to New York for a new record, which was changed to a London–New York attempt. The flight was never made.[11] "The Queen of the Air" Junkers was transported back to America, damaged, and resold to William Rody for another transatlantic attempt.


After a series of bad business investments and losses in the stock market crash of 1929, Levine was sued by the federal government for a half-million dollars in back taxes. In 1930, his Columbia Air Liners Inc. built the "Uncle Sam," a large aircraft with range to fly around the globe. It performed poorly, logging only twelve flights. The "Uncle Sam" and two other company planes were auctioned off in 1931 for $3000 for back hangar rent. It was destroyed days later in a hangar fire with the instruments and engine removed beforehand.[12][3] Levine was already missing at the time of the auction with a warrant for his arrest alleging he had stolen stock.[13]

In 1930, Levine was arrested in the company of Mabel Boll for attempting to purchase dies to produce counterfeit 2franc coins.[14]

Levine was arrested in 1932 on a charge of violating the Workmen's Compensation Law, and he received a suspended sentence but was arrested again in 1933 on a counterfeiting charge that was later dismissed. In 1934, after his release, he was charged with illegally smuggling a German-Jewish refugee from a Nazi concentration camp into the United States[1] and spent 150 days in jail. That same year, he attempted suicide with a gas range.[15] He was the father of two children: Eloyse Levine; and Ardith Levine Polley, and he divorced their mother in 1935. In 1937 he was charged with smuggling 2,000 pounds of tungsten powder from Canada, and he served two years in federal prison, and was fined $5,000. In 1944, $209.56 was paid with the rest of the money still being owed to the court. The Assistant United States Attorney on November 18, 1958, deemed that the debt was not collectible, and the case was closed.

On December 6, 1991, Levine died at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. age 94.[1]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Short film made in the DeForest Phonofilm sound-on-film process in which Capt. W. G. R. Hinchliffe (1894–1928) and Charles A. Levine (1897–1991) are interviewed at the Clapham Studios in London just before their return flight to the U.S.
  • Farewell Address by Mr. Levine and Capt. Hinchliffe Just Before Their Return Trip to America (1927) at the Internet Movie Database
  • The Washington Post; Paris, August 28, 1927 (Associated Press) The strain of the long wait at Le Bourget for good weather is beginning to have an effect on the nerves of the transatlantic fliers. A heated discussion between the French flier Drouhin and Charles Levine occurred today, and at one time it looked as if there would be another pugilistic encounter, which would have made Levine's record two on consecutive days.
  • Los Angeles Times; December 18, 1938; Levine Convicted in Smuggling Case. New York, December 17, 1938. Charles A. Levine, first trans-Atlantic airplane passenger, was convicted today in Federal court of conspiracy and smuggling and concealing tungsten powder brought into this country from Canada. The maximum penalty is seven years' imprisonment and $15,000 fine. Judge Goddard granted a motion from Levine's release in bail of $2500 until Monday, when he will be sentenced.


  1. ^ a b c d Wolfgang Saxon (December 18, 1991). "Charles A. Levine, 94, Is Dead. First Transatlantic Air Passenger". The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2011. Charles A. Levine, who became aviation’s first trans-Atlantic passenger in 1927 when he sponsored an attempt to beat Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh to Europe, died December 6 at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington. He was 94 years old and had moved to Washington from New York City this fall.
  2. ^ "Giuseppe Mario "GM" Bellanca". Friends of Bellanca Airfield. Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  3. ^ a b Ross Smyth (1997). The Lindbergh of Canada: the Erroll Boyd story. General Store Pub House. ISBN 978-1896182612.
  4. ^ Phil Munson (2002). Conquest of the Atlantic: pioneer flights 1919–1939. Stenlake Publishing. ISBN 978-1840331806.
  5. ^ Rick Mulrooney (October 14, 2009). "Delaware's Flying Machines". The News Journal.
  6. ^ "WB-2". Retrieved November 17, 2010.
  7. ^ Farewell Address by Mr. Levine and Capt. Hinchliffe Just Before Their Return Flight to America at IMDB
  8. ^ Herm L. Schreiner (2005). Aviation's great recruiter: Cleveland's Ed Packard. Kent State University Press. ISBN 978-0873388214.
  9. ^ "Charles Levine". Yiddish Radio project. Retrieved July 13, 2011.
  10. ^ Susan Butler (2009). East to the dawn: the life of Amelia Earhart. Da Capo Press. ISBN 978-0306818370.
  11. ^ Richard Bak (2011). The Big Jump: Lindbergh and the Great Atlantic Air Race. Wiley.
  12. ^ "Suspect Arson in Hangar Fire". The Meriden Daily Journal. January 30, 1931.
  13. ^ "LEVINE DISAPPEARS SOUGHT BY POLICE. Stormy Petrel Of Airways Wanted In Connection Alleged Stolen Stock WIFE ALSO VANISHES His Lawyer Notifies District Attorney He Is Unaware Of Client's Whereabouts". The Baltimore Sun. January 25, 1931.
  14. ^ "LEVINE TURNED OVER TO SUPERIOR COURT: May Be Released if French Declare Alleged Coinage Attempt Harmless. MABEL BOLL TO PARIS". The Washington Post.
  15. ^ Rochester Evening Journal. September 12, 1934

External linksEdit