Tag Archives: Aerial Combat

12 October 1944

Second Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Forces, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)
First Lieutenant Charles E. (“Chuck”) Yeager, U.S. Army Air Corps, standing on the wing of his North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA Mustang, 44-13897, Glamorous Glenn II, at Air Station 373, 12 October 1944. (U.S. Air Force)

12 October 1944: During World War II, First Lieutenant Charles Elwood Yeager, Air Corps, United States Army, was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot assigned to the 363d Fighter Squadron, 357th Fighter Group, stationed at RAF Leiston (USAAF Station 373), near the village of Theberton, Suffolk, England.

Recently promoted from the warrant rank of Flight Officer, Lieutenant Yeager—as one of the most experienced pilots in the group— was leading the 357th on a bomber escort mission against Bremen, Germany. While the Group’s 362nd and 364th Fighter Squadrons remained with the B-24 bombers, Yeager and the 363d patrolled 50 to 100 miles (80 to 160 kilometers) ahead.

At 25,000 feet (7,620 meters) over Steinhuder Meer, northwest of Hanover, Yeager sighted a group of Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters (also called the Me 109). He was soon able to count 22. Yeager and his squadron of 16 Mustangs circled and attacked out of the sun.

A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)
A flight of three Luftwaffe Messerschmitt Me 109 fighters, 20 July 1944. (Bundsarchive Bild 101l-676-7975-36)

As Chuck Yeager maneuvered his P-51D Mustang, named Glamorous Glenn II, to fire at a trailing Bf 109, the German fighter suddenly turned left and collided with his wingman. Both pilots bailed out of their fighters and the two Bf 109s went down.

It was almost comic, scoring two quick victories without firing a shot. . . By now, all the airplanes in the sky had dropped their wing tanks and were spinning and diving in a wild, wide-open dogfight. I blew up a 109 from six hundred yards—my third victory—when I turned to see another angling in behind me. Man I pulled back the throttle so damned hard I nearly stalled, rolled up and over, came in behind and under him, kicking right rudder and simultaneously firing. I was directly underneath the guy, less than fifty feet, and I opened up that 109 as if it were a can of Spam. That made four. A moment later, I waxed a guy’s fanny in a steep dive; I pulled up at about 1,000 feet; he went straight into the ground.

Yeager, An Autobiography, by Chuck Yeager and Leo Janos, Bantam Books, New York, 1985, at Page 57.

Lieutenant Yeager’s official report of the air battle reads (in part):

“H. Five Me. 109s destroyed

“I. I was leading the Group with Cement Squadron and was roving out to the right of the first box of bombers. I was over STEINHUDER LAKE when 22 Me. 109s crossed in front of my Squadron from 11:00 O’Clock to 1:00 O’Clock. I was coming out of the sun and they were about 1½ miles away at the same level of 25,000 feet. I fell in behind the enemy formation and followed them for about 3 minutes, climbing to 30,000 feet. I still had my wing tanks and had close up to around 1,000 yards, coming within firing range and positioning the Squadron behind the entire enemy formation. Two of the Me. 109s were dodging over to the right. One slowed up and before I could start firing, rolled over and bailed out. The other Me. 109, flying his wing, bailed out immediately after as I was ready to line him in my sights. I was the closest to the tail-end of the enemy formation and no one, but myself was in shooting range and no one was firing. I dropped my tanks and then closed up to the last Jerry and opened fire from 600 yards, using the K-14 sight. I observed strikes all over the ship, particularly heavy in the cockpit. He skidded off to the left. I was closing up on another Me. 109 so I did not follow him down. Lt. STERN, flying in Blue Flight reports this E/A on fire as it passed him and went into a spin. I closed up on the next Me. 109 to 100 yards, skidded to the right and took a deflection shot of about 10°. I gave about a 2 second burst and the whole fuselage split open and blew up after we passed. Another Me. 109 to the right had cut his throttle and was trying to get behind. I broke to the right and quickly rolled to the left on his tail. He started pulling it in and I was pulling 6″G”. I got a lead from around 300 yards and gave him a short burst. There were hits on wings and tail section He snapped to the right 3 times and bailed out when he quit snapping at around 18,000 feet. I did not blackout during this engagement due to the efficiency of the “G” suit. Even though I was skidding I hit the second Me. 109 by keeping the bead and range on the E/A. To my estimation the K-14 sight is the biggest improvement to combat equipment for Fighters up to this date. The Me. 109s appeared to have a type of bubble canopy and had purple noses and were a mousey brown all over. I claim five Me 109s destroyed.

“J. Ammunition Expended: 587 rounds .50 cal MG.

“Charles E. Yeager, 1st Lt, AC.”

Lieutenant Yeager had destroyed five enemy fighters during a single battle. He became “an Ace in one day” and was awarded the Silver Star. Of the twenty-two Me 109s, the 363rd had destroyed eight without losing a single Mustang.

Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II, flown by another pilot, was destroyed six days later when it crashed in bad weather.

North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager's Glamorous Glenn II.
North American Aviation P-51D-5-NA 44-13366 on a test flight near the North American plant at Inglewood, California. This is from the same production block as Yeager’s Glamorous Glenn II.

The P-51D was the predominant version of the North American Aviation World War II fighter. It was a single-seat, single-engine fighter, initially designed for the Royal Air Force. The P-51D was 32 feet, 3.5 inches (9.843 meters) long, with a wingspan of 37 feet (11.278 meters). It was 13 feet, 4.5 inches (4.077 meters) high. The fighter had an empty weight of 7,635 pounds (3,463 kilograms) and a maximum takeoff weight of 12,100 pounds (5,489 kilograms).

The P-51D was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,649-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Packard V-1650-3 or -7 Merlin single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with Military Power ratings of 1,380 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m with 60 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-3), or 1,490 horsepower at Sea Level, turning 3,000 r.p.m. with 61 inches of manifold pressure (V-1650-7). These engines were versions of the Rolls-Royce Merlin 63 and 66, built under license by the Packard Motor Car Company of Detroit, Michigan. The engine drove a four-bladed Hamilton Standard Hydromatic constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 11 feet, 2 inches (3.404 meters) through a 0.479:1 gear reduction.

A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)
A Packard Motor Car Company V-1650-7 Merlin V-12 aircraft engine at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. This engine weighs 1,715 pounds (778 kilograms) and produces 1,490 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m. Packard built 55,873 of the V-1650 series engines. Continental built another 897. The cost per engine ranged from $12,548 to $17,185. (NASM)

The P-51D with a V-1650-7 Merlin had maximum speed at Sea Level of 323 miles per hour (520 kilometers per hour) at the Normal Power setting of 2,700 r.p.m. and 46 inches of manifold pressure, and 375 miles per hour (604 kilometers per hour) at War Emergency Power, 3,000 r.p.m with 67 inches of manifold pressure (5 minute limit). At altitude, using the Military Power setting of 3,000 r.p.m. and 61 inches of manifold pressure (15 minute limit), it had a maximum speed of 439 miles per hour (707 kilometers per hour) at 28,000 feet (8,534 meters). With War Emergency Power the P-51D could reach 442 miles per hour (711 kilometers per hour) at 26,000 feet (7,925 meters).

The P-51D could climb to 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6.4 minutes, and to its service ceiling, 41,600 feet (12,680 meters), in 28 minutes. The airplane’s absolute ceiling was 42,400 feet (12,924 meters).

With 180 gallons (681 liters) internal fuel, the maximum range of the P-51D was 1,108 miles (1,783 kilometers).

Armorers carry AN/M2 Browning .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
Armorers carry Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns and belts of linked .50-caliber ammunition to a P-51 Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

The P-51D was armed with six electrically-heated Browning AN-M2 .50-caliber machine guns, with three mounted in each wing. 400 rounds of ammunition were provided for the inner pair of guns, and 270 rounds for each of the other four guns, for a total of 1,880 rounds of ammunition. This was armor piercing, incendiary, and tracer ammunition. The fighter could also carry a 1,000 pound (453.6 kilogram) bomb under each wing in place of drop tanks, or up to ten rockets.

A total of 8,156 P-51Ds were produced by North American at Inglewood, California, and Dallas, Texas, and another 200 by the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, Melbourne, Australia.

The North American Aviation P-51D Mustang remained in service with the United States Air Force until 27 January 1957, when the last aircraft were retired from the 167th Fighter Squadron, West Virginia National Guard.

North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)
North American Aviation P-51D Mustang. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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5 October 1914

Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault. (Unattributed)
Sergeant Joseph Frantz and Corporal Louis Quénault. (Unattributed)

5 October 1914: The first aerial combat between two airplanes took place during World War I over Jonchery, Reims, France.

A French Voisin III biplane of Escadrille VB24, flown by Sergeant Joseph Frantz with observer Corporal Louis Quénault, engaged a German Aviatik B.II flown by Oberleutnant Fritz von Zangen and Sergeant Wilhelm Schlichting of FFA 18.

Voisin III. (Unattributed)
Voisin III. (Unattributed)

The Voisin was armed with a Hotchkiss M1909 8mm machine gun. Corporal Quénault fired two 48-round magazines at the German airplane, whose crew returned fire with rifles. Quénault’s machine gun jammed and he continued to fire on the Aviatik with a rifle.

The German airplane crashed and von Zangen and Schlichting were killed.

This was the first air-to-air kill in the history of warfare.

Aviatik B.II
Aviatik B.II No. B 558/15, Hangest-en-Santerre, France, circa 1915. (Unattributed)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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25 September 1918

Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker, Air Service, United States Army (U.S. Air Force)

The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the

Medal of Honor

to

EDWARD V. RICKENBACKER 

Rank and organization: First Lieutenant, 94th Aero Squadron, Air Service.

Place and date: Near Billy, France, 25 September 1918.

Entered service at: Columbus, Ohio. Born: 8 October 1890, Columbus, Ohio.

G.O. No.: 2, W.D., 1931.

Citation:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty in action against the enemy near Billy, France, 25 September 1918. While on a voluntary patrol over the lines, 1st Lt. Rickenbacker attacked seven enemy planes (five type Fokker, protecting two type Halberstadt). Disregarding the odds against him, he dived on them and shot down one of the Fokkers out of control. He then attacked one of the Halberstadts and sent it down also.

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker with his SPAD S.XIII C.1, 94th Aero Squadron, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Edward Reichenbacher was born 8 October 1890 at Columbus, Ohio. He was the third of seven children of Wilham and Elizabeth Reichenbacher, both immigrants to America from Switzerland. His formal education ended with the 7th grade, when he had to find work to help support the family after the death of his father in 1904. He worked in the automobile industry and studied engineering through correspondence courses. Reichenbacher was a well known race car driver and competed in the Indianapolis 500 race four times. He was known as “Fast Eddie.”

"Fast Eddie" Rickenbacker raced this Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500 mile race. He finished in 10th place. (Coburg)
“Fast Eddie” Rickenbacker raced this red, white and blue Deusenberg in the 1914 Indianapolis 500-mile race. He finished in 10th place with an average speed of 70.8 miles per hour (113.9 kilometers per hour), and won $1,500 in prize money. (Coburg)

With the anti-German sentiment that was prevalent in the United States during World War I, Reichenbacher felt that his Swiss surname sounded too German, so he changed his name to “Rickenbacker.” He thought that a middle name would sound interesting and selected “Vernon.”

The United States declared war against Germany in 1917. Edward Vernon Rickenbacker enlisted in the Aviation Section, Signal Corps, United States Army, at New York City, 28 May 1917. He was appointed a sergeant, 1st class, on that date. After arriving in France, Sergeant Rickenbacker served as a driver for General John Pershing.

On 10 October 1917, Sergeant Rickenbacker was honorably discharged to accept a commission as a 1st lieutenant. Two weeks later, Lieutenant Rickenbacker was promoted to the rank of captain. He was assigned to 3rd Aviation Instruction Center, Issoudun, France, until 9 April 1918, and then transferred to the 94th Aero Squadron as a pilot.

1st Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker in the cockpit of a Nieuport 28 C.1 fighter, France, 1918. (U.S. Air Force)

Captain Rickenbacker served with the American Expeditionary Forces in France, and served during the following campaigns: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, Oise-Aisne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne. Between 29 April and 30 October 1918, Rickenbacker was officially credited with 26 victories in aerial combat, consisting of 20 airplanes and 6 balloons. He shot down the first six airplanes while flying a Nieuport 28 C.1, and the remainder with a SPAD S.XIII C.1., serial number S4253.

Identity card for Captain E.V. Rickenbacker
Identity card for Captain E. V. Rickenbacker (National Museum of the United States Air Force)

Rickenbacker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with seven bronze oak leaf clusters (eight awards). France named him a Chevalier de la légion d’honneur and twice  awarded him the Croix de Guerre with Palm.

Eddie Rickenbacker is quoted as saying, “Courage is doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.”

First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)
First Lieutenant Edward V. Rickenbacker, 94th Aero Squadron, in the cockpit of his SPAD XIII C.1, 18 October 1918. (U.S. Army Signal Corps)

In 1930, after Charles A. Lindbergh, Commander Richard E. Byrd, Jr., and Warrant Officer Floyd Bennett had each been awarded the Medal of Honor for valorous acts during peacetime, the 71st Congress of the United States passed a Bill (H.R. 325): “Authorizing the President of the United States to present in the name of Congress a congressional medal of honor to Captain Edward V. Rickenbacker.”

In a ceremony at Bolling Field, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Air Corps, 6 November 1930, the Medal of Honor was presented to Captain Rickenbacker by President Herbert Hoover. President Hoover remarked,

“Captain Rickenbacker, in the name of the Congress of the United States, I take great pleasure in awarding you the Congressional Medal of Honor, our country’s highest decoration for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above an beyond the call of duty in action. At a stage in the development of aviation when you were achieving victories which made you the universally recognized ‘Ace of Aces’ of the American forces. Your record is an outstanding one for skill and bravery, and is a source of pride to your comrades and your countrymen.

“I hope that your gratification in receiving the Medal of Honor will be as keen as mine in bestowing it. May you wear it during many years of happiness and continued service to your country.”

In 1920, Rickenbacker founded the Rickenbacker Motor Company, which produced the first automobile with four wheel brakes.

Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)
Adelaide Frost Durant (Auburn University Libraries)

Eddie Rickenbacker married Adelaide Pearl Frost (formerly, the second Mrs. Russell Durant) at Greenwich, Connecticut, 16 September 1922. They would later adopt two children.

From 1927 to 1945, he owned the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. In 1938, he bought Eastern Air Lines, which he had operated for General Motors since 1935. He was the chief executive officer (CEO) until 1959, and remained chairman of the board of directors until 1963.

In 1941, Rickenbacker was gravely injured in the crash of an Eastern Air Lines DC-3 aboard which he was a passenger. He barely survived.

During World War II, Rickenbacker was requested by Secretary of War Henry Stimson to undertake several inspection tours in the United States, England, the Pacific and the Soviet Union. While enroute to Canton Island from Hawaii, 21 October 1942, the B-17D Flying Fortress that he was traveling aboard missed its destination due to a navigation error. The bomber ran out of fuel and ditched at sea. The survivors drifted in two small life rafts for 21 days before being rescued. All credited the leadership of Rickenbacker for their survival.

Rickenbacker was a member of the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the predecessor of NASA.

Edward Vernon Rickenbacker died of heart failure at Neumünster Spital, Zollikerberg, Zürich, Switzerland, at 4:20 a.m., 23 July 1973. He was 82 years, 10 months of age.

SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris (U.S. Air Force)
This restored SPAD S.XIII C.1, s/n 16594, built October 1918 by Kellner et ses Fils, Paris, is in the the collection of the National Museum of the United States Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. It is painted in the markings of Captain Edward Vernon Rickenbacker’s fighter. (U.S. Air Force)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 September 1917

Leutnant Werner Voss
Leutnant Werner Voss, Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte. Lieutenant Voss is wearing “The Blue Max,” the Knight’s Cross of the Order of the House of Hohenzollern, the Iron Cross and the Pilot’s Badge. (Gustav Liersch & Co.)

23 September 1917: Leutnant Werner Voss, commanding officer of Jagdstaffel 10 of the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (German Air Force), a leading fighter ace with 48 confirmed victories, was shot down during a battle which lasted at least eight minutes and involved seven British pilots, themselves aces.

Though Voss’ machine gun fire damaged most of his opponents’ airplanes, his own was hit by fire from at least two of the British airplanes. Voss was struck by three bullets.

His airplane, a prototype Fokker F.I triplane, serial number 103/17, went into a steep dive and crashed north of Frezenberg, Belgium. Voss was killed.

Major James Thomas Byford McCudden, VC, DSO and Bar, MC and Bar, MM, one of the British pilots involved in the dogfight, later said of Voss,

“As long as I live I shall never forget my admiration for that German pilot, who single-handed fought seven of us for ten minutes and also put some bullets through all our machines. His flying was wonderful, his courage magnificent, and in my opinion he was the bravest German airman whom it has been my privilege to see fight.”

Werner Voss in the cockpit of his Fokker F.I fighter, 103/17. (Unattributed)
Werner Voss in the cockpit of his Fokker F.I fighter, 103/17. (Unattributed)

The Fokker F.I was a prototype single-engine, single-seat triplane fighter, designed and built by Fokker Flugzeugwerke GmbH, Schwerin, Germany. After very slight changes, the production version would be designated Fokker Dr.I. The fuselage was constructed of steel tubing and covered with fabric. The wings used plywood ribs and a boxed plywood spar.

The F.I was 5.770 meters (18 feet, 11.2 inches) long. The upper wing had a span of 7.190 meters (23 feet, 7.1 inches); the middle wing, 6.225 meters (20 feet, 5 inches); and the lower wing, 5.725 meters (18 feet, 9.4 inches). All three wings had a chord of 1.000 meters (3 feet, 3.4 inches). The airplane had an overall height of 2.950 meters (9 feet, 8.1 inches). Its empty weight was 405 kilograms (893 pounds), and the gross weight was 587 kilograms (1,294 pounds).

Leutnant Werner Voss' Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (Unattributed)
Leutnant Werner Voss’ Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (Unattributed)

Originally built with a Motorentfabrik Oberursel Ur.II nine-cylinder rotary engine rated at 110 horsepower (a license-built copy of the French Le Rhône 9J engine), Werner Voss had an actual Le Rhône 9J, serial number J6247, installed to replace the Ur.II.

The Le Rhône 9J, produced by Société des Moteurs Le Rhône, was an air-cooled, normally aspirated, 15.074 liter (919.85 cubic inches) nine-cylinder rotary engine, capable of producing 113 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m., and a maximum 135 horsepower at 1,350 r.p.m. As the engine rotated, it turned a two-bladed Axial Proppellerwerk AG fixed-pitch, laminated wood propeller with a diameter of 2.660 meters (8 feet, 8.7 inches). The Le Rhône 9J was 850 millimeters (2 feet, 9.47 inches) long and 970 millimeters (3 feet, 2.19 inches) in diameter. It weighed 137 kilograms (302 pounds).

The Fokker F.I had a maximum speed of 185 kilometers per hour (115 miles per hour) at Sea Level and 166 kilometers per hour (103 miles per hour) at 4,000 meters (13,123 feet ). The service ceiling was 7,000 meters (22,966 feet). It carried fuel for approximately 1½ hours of flight.

The F.I was armed with two fixed 8mm Spandau LMG 08/15 machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller arc. The fighter carried 550 rounds of ammunition per gun.

Werner Voss’ triplane, 103/17 (Wn. 1730), was a prototype, Versuch 5, or V5, ordered on 14 July 1917 and accepted by the German Air Force on 16 August. It was sent to Jagdstafell 10 on 21 August.

A British intelligence officer who examined the wreckage of Voss’ Fokker F.I described it as having camouflaged green upper surfaces and blue lower surfaces. Photographs of 103/17 show painted eyes and a mustache on the engine cowling, which are believed to have been inspired by Japanese kites that Voss had flown as a child.

Leutnant Werner Voss had been awarded the famous Pour le Mérite (the “Blue Max”), Germany’s highest award; the Hausorden von Hohenzollern (the Cross of the Order of the Royal House Order of Hohenzollern with Crown and Swords); and the Eisernes Kreuz (Iron Cross), 1st and 2nd Class.

Leutnant Werner Voss with his Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (This photograph may have been taken by Anthony Fokker)
Leutnant Werner Voss with his Fokker F.I triplane, 103/17. (This photograph may have been taken by Anthony Fokker)

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 September 1918

Lieutenant (j.g.) David S. Ingalls, USN, France, 1918. (U.S. Navy)
Lieutenant (j.g.) David S. Ingalls, USN, France, 1918. (U.S. Navy)

20 September 1918: While assigned to No. 213 Squadron, Royal Air Force, Lieutenant (junior grade) David Sinton Ingalls, United States Navy, shot down a Fokker D.VII reconnaissance airplane near Vlissegham, Belgium, while flying a Sopwith Camel, serial number D8177. This was Ingalls’ fifth confirmed aerial victory, making him the U.S. Navy’s only fighter ace of World War I.

Lieutenant Ingalls was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions of 15 September 1918, when “he led a flight of five machines on a low bombing raid of an enemy aerodrome. On the homeward journey he shot down a two-seater enemy aeroplane in flames. He further participated in two other low bombing raids and upon still another occasion shot down an enemy kite balloon in flames near Ostend.”  He was also awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service. The Royal Air Force awarded him its Distinguished Flying Cross for the 15 September mission against Uytkerke Aerodrome, and he was Mentioned in Dispatches. France appointed him Chevalier de la légion d’honneur.

Sopwith Camel F.1. (Royal Air Force)

The Sopwith Camel F.1 was a British single-place, single-engine biplane fighter, produced by the Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Canbury Park Road, Kingston-on-Thames. The airplane was constructed of a wooden framework, with the forward fuselage being covered with aluminum panels and plywood, while the aft fuselage, wings and tail surfaces were covered with fabric.

The length of the Camel F.I varied from 18 feet, 6 inches (5.639 meters) to 19 feet, 0 inches (5.791 meters), depending on which engine was installed. Both upper and lower wings had a span of 28 feet, 0 inches (8.534 meters) and chord of 4 feet, 6 inches (1.372 meters). They were separated vertically by 5 feet (1.524 meters) at the fuselage. The upper wing had 0° dihedral, while the lower wing had 5° dihedral and was staggered 1 foot, 6 inches (0.457 meters) behind the upper wing. The single-bay wings were braced with airfoil-shaped streamline wires. The overall height of the Camel also varied with the engine, from 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters) to 8 feet, 9 inches (2.667 meters).

The heaviest Camel F.I variant used the Le Rhône 180 h.p. engine. It had an empty weight of 1,048 pounds (475 kilograms). Its gross weight of 1,567 pounds (711 kilograms). The lightest was equipped with the Gnôme Monosoupape 100 horsepower engine, with weights of 882 pounds (400 kilograms) and 1,387 pounds (629 kilograms), respectively.

Front view of a Sopwith Camel F.I
Front view of a Sopwith Camel F.I

The first Camel was powered by an air-cooled 15.268 liter (931.72 cubic inches) Société Clerget-Blin et Cie Clerget Type 9 nine-cylinder rotary engine which produced 110 horsepower at 1,200 r.p.m. and drove a wooden two-bladed propeller. Eight different rotary engines ¹ from four manufacturers, ranging from 100 to 180 horsepower, were used in the type.

The best performance came with the Bentley B.R.1 engine (5.7:1 compression ratio). This variant had a maximum speed of 121 miles per hour (195 kilometers per hour) at 10,000 feet (3,048 meters), and 114.5 miles per hour (184 kilometers per hour) at 15,000 feet (4,572 meters). It could climb to 6,500 feet (1,981 meters) in 4 minutes, 35 seconds; to 10,000 feet (3,048 meters) in 8 minutes, 10 seconds; and 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 15 minutes, 55 seconds. It had a service ceiling of 22,000 feet (6,706 meters). Two other Camel variants could reach 24,000 feet (7,315 meters).

Sopwith Camel F.1 N6254, right profile. (NASA)
Lt. W.O. Bentley R.N.A.S.
Lieutenant Walter Owen Bentley, R.N.A.S.

The Bentley B.R.1 rotary engine was designed by Lieutenant Walter Owen Bentley, Royal Naval Air Service (later, Captain, Royal Air Force), based on the Clerget Type 9, but with major improvements. It used aluminum cylinders shrunk on to steel liners, with aluminum pistons. The Bentley B.R.1 (originally named the Admiralty Rotary, A.R.1, as it was intended for use by the Royal Navy) was an air-cooled, normally-aspirated 17.304 liter (1,055.9 cubic inches) nine-cylinder rotary engine with a compression ratio of 5.7:1. It was rated at 150 horsepower at 1,250 r.p.m. The B.R.1 was 1.110 meters (3 feet, 7.7 inches) long, 1.070 meters (feet, 6.125 inches) in diameter and weighted 184 kilograms (406 pounds.) The engine was manufactured by Humber, Ltd., Coventry, England.

For his work developing this engine, Captain Bentley was appointed a Member of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) in the New Years Honours List, 1 January 1919. He would later found Bentley Motors, Ltd.

Sopwith Camel F.1 FG394, left rear quarter. © IWM (Q 63822)
Sopwith Camel F.1 F6394, left rear quarter. © IWM (Q 63822)

The Camel was armed with two fixed, forward-firing .303 Vickers machine guns, synchronized to fire forward through the propeller. These guns were modified for air cooling. Some night fighter variants substituted Lewis machine guns mounted above the upper wing for the Vickers guns. Four 25 pound (11.3 kilogram) bombs could be carried on racks under the fuselage.

The instruments and armament of a Sopwith Camel from No. 4 Squadron, AFC. (Australian War Memorial)
The instruments and armament of a Sopwith Camel from No. 4 Squadron, AFC. (Australian War Memorial)

The Sopwith Camel was a difficult airplane to fly. Most of its weight was concentrated far forward, making it unstable, but, at the same time making the fighter highly maneuverable. The rotary engine, with so much of its mass in rotation, caused a torque effect that rolled the airplane to the right to a much greater degree than in airplanes equipped with radial or V-type engines. A skilled pilot could use this to his advantage, but many Camels ended upside down while taking off.

Twelve manufacturers ² produced 5,490 Sopwith Camels between 1916 and 1920. By the end of World War I, it was becoming outclassed by newer aircraft, however it was the single most successful fighter of the war, shooting down 1,294 enemy aircraft. One single fighter, flown by Major William Barker, shot down 46 enemy aircraft, more than any other fighter in history.

It is believed that only seven Sopwith Camels still exist.

Lieutenant David Sinton Ingalls, Naval Reserve Flying Corps, circa 1919. (U.S. Naval Institute)

David Sinton Ingalls was born 28 January 1899 at Cleveland, Ohio. He was the son of Albert Stimson Ingalls, a vice president of the New York Central Railroad, and Jane Ellison Taft Ingalls, niece of President William Howard Taft. He  was educated at the University School, a private school for boys in Cleveland. He entered Yale University at New Haven, Connecticut, in 1916. Ingalls was a member of The First Yale Unit, which would become the U.S. Navy’s first aviation unit.

Shortly after the United States entered World War I, David Sinton Ingalls enlisted as a Machinist’s Mate 1st Class, United States Naval Reserve Force, at New London, Connecticut, 26 March 1917. He was sent to the Naval Aviation Detachment at West Palm Beach, Florida, for initial flight training, and then to the Naval Aviation Detachment, Huntington, New York. MM1c Ingalls was discharged 1 September 1917 and appointed an Ensign, 4 September 1917. He was Naval Aviator Number 85.

Ensign Ingalls was sent to France for duty, 12 September 1917. In December 1917, he was detached and sent to the Royal Flying Corps air station at Turnberry, South Ayrshire, Scotland, for training in aerial gunnery. He then underwent squadron formation training at nearby Ayr, Scotland. Following training, Ensign Ingalls was assigned to the Naval Air Detachment at Paris, France, 12 March 1918. On 23 March 1918, Ingalls was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant (junior grade).

On 21 May 1918, Lieutenant (j.g.) Ingalls was assigned to the U.S. Army Bombing School at Clermont-Ferrand, France. On 27 June 1918, Lieutenant (j.g.) Ingalls was assigned to the Naval Air Station Dunkerque. He flew combat missions with No. 213 Squadron, and No. 218 Squadron, both of the Royal Air Force. (While flying with the 218th, he was reported to have shot down an observation balloon and a biplane. The records were lost and these claims are considered unconfirmed.)

While flying with No. 213 Squadron, on 11 August 1918, Lieutenant (j.g.) Ingalls shot down an Albatros C northeast of Diksmuide, West Flanders—his first confirmed victory. His second confirmed victory was a two-place Luftverkehrsgesellschaft m.b.H. (L.V.G.) biplane south of Zevecote, Belgium, on 21 August. He shot down a Rumpler C over Ostend, 15 September. His fourth confirmed victory took place on 18 September when he destroyed an observation balloon at La Barrière. The Fokker D.VII that he shot down on 20 September was his fifth. He shot down his sixth,a Rumpler, on 24 September 1918, over Saint-Pierre-Cappelle, Belgium. Other than the Fokker D.VII, Ingalls shared credit with other pilots for the shoot-downs.

Lieutenant (j.g.) Ingalls flew his final combat mission, his sixty-third, on 3 October 1918.

On 24 September 1919, he was given the provisional rank of Lieutenant, Naval Reserve Flying Corps, with date of rank, 1 April 1919. He was released from active duty 23 December 1919.

Returning to Yale University, he graduated in 1920 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and in 1923, received a Doctor of Laws (LL.D.) degree from Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. He practiced law for several years before being elected to the state legislature of Ohio in 1926. Later, he ran for governor and United States senator.

David Sinton Ingalls married Miss Louise Hale Harkness at Locust Valley, New York, 27 June 1922. They would have five children: Edith, Jane, Anne, Louise, and David.

Flag of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics

Ingalls was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics by President Herbert Hoover, serving from 16 March 1929 until 1 June 1932, reporting to Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams III.

Secretary Ingalls’ photograph was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, 2 March 1931.

Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics David Sinton Ingalls was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine, 2 March 1931. Photograph by Underwood & Underwood. (TIME Magazine)

On 24 December 1931, Ingalls was appointed a Lieutenant Commander, United States Naval Reserve.

Going to work in the business sector, Ingalls became vice president and general manager of Pan American Air Ferries, a commercial transport service from the United States to Egypt, and which also transported newly-built military aircraft from the United States via South America, across the South Atlantic Ocean to Africa, and then on to the Middle East.

Lieutenant Commander Ingalls was promoted to Commander, U.S.N.R., 1 July 1941, and following the United States entry into World War II, he was recalled to active duty, 23 November 1942. Commander Ingalls served as Assistant Operations Officer on the staff of the Commander, Naval Air Forces, Pacific, (COMNAVAIRPAC), for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit. He was promoted to Captain, 10 June 1943. He then served as chief of staff to the Commander Aircraft South Pacific Force, Admiral Aubrey W. Fitch, USN..

Captain Ingalls took command of U.S. Naval Air Station 29 (now, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport—HNL—Honolulu, Hawaii) on 1 April 1944.

Captain Ingalls was released from active duty 8 November 1945, but he remained an officer in the Naval Reserve. Ingalls returned to Pan American World Airways as vice president, and remained in that position until 1949. Later, he was president and publisher of the Cincinnati Times-Star newspaper, and a vice president of Taft Broadcasting Company.

David Sinton Ingalls, April 1952. (Nina Leen/LIFE Magazine)

By 1951, Ingalls held the rank of Commodore. On 1 July 1955, Commodore Ingalls was promoted to the rank of Rear Admiral. From 1945 until 1959, Ingalls was Commander, Navy Reserve Forces Command (COMNAVRESFORCOM). He retired from the Naval Reserve in February 1959.

During his Naval career, Rear Admiral Ingalls had been awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, World War I Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four service stars, the World War II Victory Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Naval Reserve Medal, and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with hourglass device.

Miss Louise Hale Harkness Ingalls with her father, David S. Ingalls, 1980. (Historic Images)

Louise Harkness Ingalls died in 1978. David Ingalls married his second wife, Frances W. Wragg, 16 February 1979.

Ingalls is the author of Hero of the Angry Sky: The World War I Diary and Letters of David S. Ingalls, America’s First Naval Ace, Ohio University Press, 2013 (Edited by Geoffrey L.  Rossano).

Rear Admiral David Sinton Ingalls died 26 April 1985 at the age of 86 years. He is buried at the Warm Springs Cemetery, Warm Springs, Virginia.

¹ Humber, Ltd., Bentley B.R.1 150 h.p., B.R.1 (5.7:1 c.r.); Clerget 9B, 130 h.p., Clerget 9Bf, 130 h.p. (long stroke): Gnôme Monosoupape,  100 h.p., Gnôme Monosoupape, 150 h.p.; Le Rhône, 110 h.p., and Le Rhône 180 h.p.

² Sopwith Aviation Co., Ltd., Kingston-on-Thames; Boulton and Paul, Ltd., Norwich; British Caudron Co., London; Clayton and Shuttleworth, Ltd., Lincoln; Hooper and Co., Ltd., London; March, Jones and Cribb, Ltd., Leeds; Nieuport and General Aircraft Co., Ltd., London; Ruston, Proctor and Co., Ltd., Lincoln; Fairey Aviation Co., Ltd.; Portholme Aerodrome Ltd., Huntingdon; Wm. Beardmore & Co., Ltd., Glasgow; Pegler & Co., Ltd., Doncaster.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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