Long before there was Jim Hamilton Boulevard and long before an airport was renamed in his honor, Jim Hamilton started buying aviation fuel from Robert (Buddy) Stallings of New Bern, N.C. In 1975, the country was in the midst of an energy crisis, which included a shortage of aviation fuel. Jim Hamilton’s aircraft sales and service business and flight school could not get enough fuel to service airplanes flying in and out of what was then named Owens Field.
Buddy Stallings was just starting an aviation fuel supply business. He showed up at Jim’s door and promised Jim all the fuel he needed if he switched to Buddy’s business. The two shook hands and a lifelong personal and business relationship was formed.
Forty-eight years later, Buddy’s company continues to supply aviation fuel to the airport. Four things have changed. Under Jim’s leadership, the runways were completely realigned to minimize airplanes flying over houses, Jim retired in 2008, Columbia’s downtown airport was renamed by Richland County Council to Jim Hamilton–L.B. Owens Airport, and Buddy’s company is now named Titan Aviation Fuels. Today, Titan supplies fuel to over 700 airports in the U.S.
In mid-August, Buddy flew the Titan corporate plane into Hamilton Owens to pick up Jim and then fly to Daytona Beach to visit Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Columbia native Robert Sumwalt had invited the pair to visit the Daytona Beach campus and the schedules finally meshed to make it happen. After serving on the National Transportation Safety Board for 15 years, including four years as chairman, Robert joined Embry-Riddle early last year to serve as executive director of the new Boeing Center for Aviation and Aerospace Safety.
At lunch with university president, Dr. P. Barry Butler and university deans, Jim explained that his history with Embry-Riddle goes back 81 years. As a pre-teen living in Miami, Jim sold Liberty Magazines door to door. Embry-Riddle Flying School, as it was then known, was located in Miami at the time and was one of Jim’s customers. Oddly, the building was locally referred to as the “Chicken Hotel.” As Jim told the story, the hotel was built for tourists during the 1920s. However, when the economy tanked during the depression, there were no tourists. The hotel owners leased portions to Embry-Riddle Flying School and to a chicken farmer who raised chickens there… hence the name “Chicken Hotel.”
Today, there are no chickens housed at the modern Daytona Beach campus: the only things that fly are the 91 airplanes students use to achieve their flying ratings. The Daytona Beach campus has over 8,000 students, while the Prescott, Arizona campus has over 3,300 students. There are also over 20,000 students across the globe taking classes online. The fully accredited university has over 100 degree programs ranging from bachelors degrees to doctoral degrees. The focus of these programs? You guessed it—aviation and aeronautics.
“To be able to see the unbelievable transformation from the ‘Chicken Hotel’ to the fabulous modern Daytona Beach campus today, during my lifetime is indescribable,” remarked Jim.