Charlie Chambers: A Model Airline Pilot

20 Sep
Charlie Chambers - Model Airline Pilot

Charlie Chambers - Model Airline Pilot

Just when I thought my African American airline pilot story could not get any better, I was blessed to have a conversation with my dear friend, Charisse Chambers-Smiley, the daughter of Charlie Chambers, a “model” airline pilot.

Charisse remembers that her father “loved to fly.” His passion for flying began as a child. As he got older, his life revolved around flying – literally and figuratively. Not only was it his career; it was also his hobby. After coming home from flying assignments, he made and flew model airplanes. Family trips were planned around model airplane competitions. And, he even met his best friend at a flying field in Chicago.

In the mid-1960s, he worked as a mechanic in the Air Force. He paid for his own helicopter lessons in the Army in the late 1960s. In the 1970s, he was commissioned as an Army captain. After he became an airline pilot, he began flying helicopters in the Army Reserve.

Even with all of his passion, knowledge and experience, Charlie did not work as a commercial airline pilot until the 1970s. This could have been because of his race. Regardless of the reason, he worked as an airline mechanic at Midway Airport in Chicago just to be close to what he loved most. Changes in the airline industry opened doors for him to actually do what he loved in 1973.

Charlie’s wife, Rosemary, had heard about pilot openings at Ozark Airlines, and encouraged him to apply. Initially, he was hesitant because he had applied to several airlines previously and was rejected. He followed through, and became the first Black airline captain at Ozark Airlines. He worked there from 1973 until TWA bought the carrier in 1986. Then, he worked at TWA from 1986 until he passed away in 2000.

Not only did Charlie make his mark in Black history, he left a lasting impression in the aviation industry for his professionalism and craftsmanship. Charisse recalled a time when everyone on a flight was upset with him for not allowing his flight to be cleared for departure because airplane mechanics brought him parts that were not in a condition he felt was satisfactory. Since safety was his priority, he would not allow the plane to take off until he was certain that everything was OK.

Charlie Chambers - P-61 Black Widow

Charlie Chambers - P-61 Black Widow

His model airplanes were examples of his craftsmanship. Charlie was a regular contestant that frequently placed in the Top Gun model airplane contests. Because of his passion, dedication and workmanship on model airplanes, Top Gun created the Charlie Chambers Memorial Craftsmanship Award in his honor after his death.

In addition, Rosemary created a one-time scholarship for Black students who wanted to attend the aviation program at Florida Memorial College.

Although Charlie Chambers has ascended on heavenly wings, he would always be remembered as a “model” airline pilot because of his passion, professionalism and craftsmanship.

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16 Responses to “Charlie Chambers: A Model Airline Pilot”

  1. Charisse Chambers-Smiley September 22, 2009 at 6:38 pm #

    Thanks so much for the story! It’s beautiful, and I am sure friends and family alike will enjoy it!

    • Marcie September 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

      It was truly a pleasure!

  2. Debra Williams September 22, 2009 at 8:52 pm #

    As a family member to the late Charlie Chambers thank you for the inspiring story and important information that will inspire those who have a desire to pursue their goals, dreams and aspirations. He strived hard yet determined to be the best regardless of the odds that were against him. I had the priviledge to see and experience what you have described about Mr. Charlie Chambers (my cousin): the man, his passion, his family, and the awesome legacy he left in the field of Aviation.

    • Marcie September 23, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

      This is great! Do you have any photos of you and Mr. Charlie?

  3. Michele September 22, 2009 at 9:14 pm #

    Great story! What were the changes to the airline industry that opened the doors for him in 1973?

    • Marcie September 23, 2009 at 3:47 pm #

      According to Charisse, affirmative action opened that door.

  4. Monica Prince September 22, 2009 at 9:45 pm #

    That was a wonderful story Charisse. I know your mother Rosemary, (we grew up together in Chicago). I am so sorry I did not get to meet your father. He sounds like a dedicated man, so he must have been a great father and husband. Best wishes to you and your mother.

    • Marcie September 23, 2009 at 3:48 pm #

      I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Look to hear more about Charlie Chambers.

  5. Martha B Stone September 23, 2009 at 2:02 am #

    Over the past several yeas, I’ve had the opportunity to be with the Chambers in my home in Germany, England and USA. Recognition outstanding achievements is for the whole family. I myself worked with Mrs Chambers as a Girl Scout leader in Coral Springs, Florida. This family should be recognized for their impressive academic, athletic and volunteer excellence. One in their lovely home I saw some of his work that took up the living room.

    Congratulations! On the nice story.

    Martha B Stone

    South Barrington IL USA

    • Marcie September 23, 2009 at 3:49 pm #

      Thanks so much for sharing your experience with the Chambers. Do you have more to contribute?

  6. Devarn Flowers September 28, 2009 at 8:03 am #

    What an inspiring and uplifting story. It is inspiring to know that you father and Rosemary’s husband was so very talented and one of the first Blacks to acquire such a high rank in his profession. Thanks for sharing his story with us.

    • Marcie September 28, 2009 at 4:15 pm #

      I hope this story was an inspiration to you. Please share it with others, especially young people interested in aviation.

  7. Ethel Fuller September 28, 2009 at 5:58 pm #

    I happen to have known Charlie Chambers. He not only built model planes; I remember two regulation-sized planes. He started building one in St. Louis when I was there visiting him and Rosemary one weekend after they left chicago. He built and sold another plane. Charlie was the epitome of what a pilot should be.

    • Marcie September 29, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

      Wow, I really hate that I didn’t have the chance to meet Mr. Charlie.

  8. Mark Robinson March 4, 2013 at 10:10 am #

    Great story…

    • Ms. Marcie March 4, 2013 at 2:08 pm #

      Thanks Mark.

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