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This information comes from the biographical information file for pilot Charles, CC-224060-01, reviewed by me in the archives of the National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC.


Your copy of the Davis-Monthan Airfield Register with all the pilots' signatures and helpful cross-references to pilots and their aircraft is available here. Or use this FORM to order a copy signed by the author.


Aircraft Year Book. Aeronautical Chamber of Commerce of America, Inc. New York, NY.


Everything you ever wanted to know about Alexander aircraft is in:

deVries, John A. 1994. Alexander Eaglerock: A History of Alexander Aircraft Company. Wolfgang Publishers. Colorado Springs, CO. 148 pp.

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James Shelly Charles was born in Winston-Salem, NC on August 1, 1900. He learned to fly in 1920 with the U.S. Army at March Field, Riverside, CA. He held an Army commission as Lieutenant in the reserves.

J.S. Charles, ca. 1920s

He later barnstormed as a stunt flyer with Mabel Cody's Flying Circus. He tired of the nomadic barnstormer's life and sold airplanes throughout the Middle Atlantic States during the boom days of 1927-29. He participated in two transcontinental air races (3rd place winner in the Class B NY to Spokane race in 1927) and became a member of the Caterpillar Club (see below).

After the Great Depression started, he established a flying school at Charles Field, Richmond, VA. He joined Eastern Air Transport on December 1, 1930 as pilot on the Richmond-Atlanta run.

Charles landed twice at Tucson, both times flying Alexander Eaglerock NC7185. Based at Richmond, VA, he was a competitor in the National Air Races of 1927 (placed 3rd in the New York to Spokane Class "B" race, winning $1,000 for his effort) and 1928 (he placed 6th in the New York to Los Angeles Class "A" race, winning $300).

It is during this second race we find him at Tucson. In his landing on September 9, 1928 he was westbound from Lordsburg, NM to Los Angeles, CA. His second landing was on September 20, 1928, eastbound from Los Angeles to El Paso, TX.

In 1928, he also participated in the closed course civilian relay race with the five-man "White Team", captained by Jack Frye, with Paul Richter as a fellow team mate. The White team placed first in the 40 mile circuit and won $1,500.

His Eaglerock airplane was an A-2 model, C/N 598, with OX-5 engine. Charles was the distributor for Alexander Eaglerock aircraft in Virginia. Alexander aircraft were made in Colorado Springs, CO.

About a year after he landed at Tucson, on Monday October 7, 1929, Charles was at the Alexander factory hired to test fly what had become known as the "Killer Bullet", a newly designed, low-wing aircraft that had a fondness for not recovering from test spins. It had killed a couple of test pilots.

Charles was the third pilot to test the Alexander "Killer Bullet". At 14,000 feet above sea level (about 8,000 feet above the ground at Colorado Springs), he throttled back the Wright J6-5 engine of the Bullet. He pulled the stick back and held hard right rudder. The airplane made five normal spins, then, according to Charles, "went flat".

J.S. Charles, Popular Aviation, July, 1934 (Source: PA)

As he fought the controls, the airplane lost 5,000 feet of altitude. Then, according to a preconceived plan, he broke through the emergency hatch, crawled out on the left wing and was catapulted away from the airplane. He landed close to the airplane, keeping his parachute rip-cord handle to prove his membership in the Caterpillar Club. He earned $500 for that flight. The next test pilot demanded, and got in advance, $1,000 (that one crashed, too, killing the pilot).

From the Web, Charles developed an airport (with others) ca. 1927 in Richmond, VA. The field was variously called Charles Field, Hermitage Airport, Eaglerock Airport and Richmond Airport. in the early 1930's, then airline pilot Shelly Charles operated an open primary glider from auto-tow at the old Washington-Hoover Airport (where the Pentagon stands today). His flights were usually of short duration before an appreciative Sunday afternoon crowd. A Web link, with photographs, ties him to a glider altitude record in 1943.

My information ends here. If you have any to add, please contact me here.


From Capt. S.S. McDonald, Eastern Airlines (Ret) on November 1, 2008 comes this information:

"Shelly and his brother P.D. Charles both flew for Eastern. Shell was hired 1 December 1930 with seniority number 21. Shelly died in 1958. P.D. Charles was hired 15 November 1931 with seniority number 32. P.D. Charles died 1994."

Thanks to Capt. McDonald for sharing this with us.


From site visitor Robert Brown on July 27, 2009 comes this information. Note the discrepancy in date of death.

"Capt. James Shelly Charles retired from Eastern Airlines on April 1, 1959. He died of a heart attack on August 22,1959. Both items reported in The Great Silver Fleet News. He also had the distinction of making the last flight of U.S. airmail in an open cockpit biplane in 1935."


From the July, 1934 issue of Popular Aviation (PA), right, a brief article about Charles.

Dossier 2.1.71

UPLOADED: 03/20/06 REVISED: 11/03/08, 03/09/09, 07/29/09, 10/04/13, 06/26/14

The Register
I'm looking for photographs and inforamtion about his airplane, NC7185, to include on this page. If you have some you'd like to share, please use this FORM to contact me.
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