Tag Archives: Lockheed Model 3 Air Express

11 July 1935

Laura Ingalls in the cockpit of her Lockheed Orion 9D Special, NR14222, warming up its engine at Floyd Bennett Field, 10 July 1935. (Rudy Arnold Collection, NASM)

11 July 1935: At 5:31 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, (01:31 UTC) Laura Houghtaling Ingalls took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, and flew non-stop across the North American continent to the Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. She landed there at 8:51 p.m., Pacific Daylight Time (19:31 UTC). The elapsed time of her non-stop transcontinental flight was 18 hours, 20 minutes, 30 seconds.

After departing Floyd Bennett Field, Ingalls flew along a commercial airway defined by radio beacons. Her route of flight was from Brooklyn, New York, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania—Columbus, Ohio—Indianapolis, Indiana—Kansas City, Missouri—Albuquerque, New Mexico—Burbank, California. This was only the third time that a non-stop transcontinental flight had been accomplished.

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls’ Lockheed Orion 9D Special, NR14222. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

Her airplane was a single-engine Lockheed Model 9D Orion Special, registration NR14222, which she had named Auto da Fé. ¹ Ingalls had taken delivery of the Orion at the Lockheed Aircraft Company, Burbank, California, 1 February 1935. Contemporary newspaper reports said that the “Black Mystery Ship” cost $45,000.

The Lockheed Model 9 Orion was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, designed in 1931 by Gerard Freebairn Vultee for airline use. It was capable of carrying six passengers in an enclosed cabin. The Orion was the first commercial airliner with retractable landing gear. It was faster than any military airplane in service at the beginning of the decade. Like other Lockheed aircraft of the time, it was constructed of strong, light-weight, molded wood, but the Orion would be Lockheed’s last wooden airplane.

Billy Parker, Laura Ingalls and Wiley Post at the 1935 National Air Races. Ingall's Lockheed Orion 9D, NR14222, Auto da Fé, has its engine cowling removed for maintenance. (Monash University)
Billy Parker, Laura Ingalls and Wiley Post at the 1935 National Air Races. Ingall’s Lockheed Orion, NR14222, Auto da Fé, has its engine cowling removed for maintenance. (Monash University)

The Lockheed Orion 9D was 28 feet, 4 inches (8.64 meters) long with a wingspan of 42 feet, 9¼ inches (13.04 meters) and height of 9 feet, 8 inches (2.95 meters). It had an empty weight of 3,640 pounds (1,651 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight of 5,200 pounds (2,359 kilograms).

Lockheed Model 9D Special NR14222. (SDASM)

Auto da Fé was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp S1D1 nine-cylinder radial engine. The engine had a compression ratio of 6:1 and was rated 525 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. The S1D1 was a direct-drive engine, which turned a two-bladed Hamilton Standard variable-pitch, constant-speed propeller. The Wasp S1D1 was 4 feet, 3.438 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, 3 feet, 6.625 inches (1.083 meters) long and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms). The engine was enclosed by a N.A.C.A. cowling.

The cruise speed of the Orion was 205 miles per hour (330 kilometers per hour) and the maximum speed was 220 miles per hour (354 kilometers per hour) at Sea Level. It had a range of 750 miles (1,159 kilometers) in standard configuration. The service ceiling was 22,000 feet (6,705 meters).

Laura Ingalls shows the Sperry Gyro Pilot equipment to be installed aboard her Lockheed Orion. (Corbis)

Ingall’s airplane had a fuel capacity of 630 gallons (2,385 liters) of gasoline and 40 gallons (151 liters) of engine oil. NR14222 was equipped with a Sperry Gyro Pilot and a Westport radio compass and receiver for navigation.

The Greek lower-case letter zeta (the astronomical symbol for the planet Jupiter) was painted on each side of the airplane under the cockpit rails. Ingalls had the same symbol on several of her airplanes. A source suggests that it was used as a stylized representation of her initials, “L.I.” (Her Lockheed Air Express carried the astronomical symbol for the constellation Sagittarius, which was Ingalls’ astrological sign.)

In 1937, NR14222 was sold to Rudolf Wolf, Inc., a burlap company in New York. It was then transferred to Fuerzas Aéreas de la República Española (FARE), the air arm of the Spanish Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War. What happened to the Lockheed Orion after that is not known.

Laura Ingalls stands on the wing of her Lockheed Orion at Alamosa, Colorado, 16 April 1935. Photo by Glen Gants. (SDASM Archives)

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls was born at Brooklyn, New York, 14 December 1893. She was the first of two children of Francis Abbott Ingalls, a cotton goods merchant, and Laura McAlister Houghtaling Ingalls.

Laura Ingalls, 1920

Miss Ingalls lived in France prior to World War I, and returned there as a relief worker following the War. In 1920, she lived with her family in Tuxedo Park, New York, and was employed as a stenographer.

Laura Ingalls began flight training at Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, and completed her first solo flight on 23 December 1928.  In June 1929, she began training for a commercial pilot certificate at the Universal Flying School, Lambert Field, St. Louis Missouri.

Woman Pilot Finishes Studies

     Miss Laura Ingalls, who recently received a limited commercial license, has completed her studies at the Universal Flying School and is taking the examination for a transport license under Inspector Fox. Miss Ingalls’ home is in New York, where she is said to have received several offers of work as a pilot.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Vol. 82, No. 212, Sunday, 6 April 1930, Page 6-I, Column 1

Ingalls qualified for her limited transport license, 12 April 1930. (After qualifying for an F.C.C. radio-telephone operator license in 1934, her restricted transport license was upgraded to Scheduled Airline Transport Pilot, 26 January 1935.) Her pilot certificate number was 9330.

Laura Ingalls with her de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth, circa 1930. The emblem is the logo of the Moth Aircraft Corporation of Lowell, Massachusetts, the owner of Miss Ingall’s airplane.(Parks Airport)

Laura Ingalls first gained public attention when she performed 344 consecutive loops with a de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth at St. Louis, NR9720 (c/n 885), 4 May 1930. Three weeks later, she increased the number of loops to 980. On August 13, she completed 714 consecutive barrel rolls in the same airplane. (At the time, the airplane was a demonstrator for the Moth Aircraft Corporation, Lowell, Massachusetts, which was licensed by de Havilland to produce the DH.60 in the United States. Kits were built in England, then assembled in Massachusetts. Miss Ingalls later purchased the airplane, 23 June 1930.)

Laura Houghtaling Ingalls rests against the lower wing of her de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth while its engine idles, October 1930. The forward cockpit is covered.

Miss Ingalls was the first woman to fly across the country from East to West. In 5 October 1930, she flew NR9720 from Roosevelt Field to Grand Central Air Terminal at Glendale, California, arriving 9 October. The flight required nine fuel stops, and took 30 hours and 27 minutes over four days.

Between 28 February and 25 April 1934, Laura Ingalls flew a Lockheed Model 3 Air Express, NR974Y, on a 17,000-mile (27,400 kilometers) solo flight around South America and over the Andes mountain range.

Laura Ingalls with her Lockheed Model 3 Air Express, NR974Y. (CTIE/Monash University)

Laura Ingalls was awarded the Harmon Aviatrix Trophy for 1934.

Ingalls flew her Orion in the 1936 Bendix Trophy Race, finishing in second place behind Louise Thaden, with an elapsed time of 15 hours, 39 minutes.

Miss Ingalls bought a Ryan ST-A low-wing monoplane, NC18901 (c/n 179), which was powered by a 125 horsepower Menasco C4 Pirate inverted 4-cylinder engine. The Ryan ST was developed into the Ryan PT-16–22 military trainers of World War II.

In 1939, Laura Ingalls dropped political leaflets during a 2-hour flight over Washington, D.C. On landing, she was met by representatives of the Civil Aeronautics Administration. Her pilot’s license was suspended by the C.A.A. for violating the airspace surrounding The White House. Some sources indicate that the license was later revoked.

After the United States entered World War II, Miss Ingalls was arrested for acting as an unregistered paid agent of Nazi Germany. At trial, she was convicted. She served 1 year, 7 months, 15 days in prison. (Ingalls was initially incarcerated at the federal prison in Washington, D.C., but after having been severely beaten by other prisoners, she was transferred to the womens’ prison in Alderson, West Virginia.)

Laura Houghtaining Ingalls died at her home in Burbank, California, 10 January 1967, at the age of 73 years. Her ashes were interred at Wiltwyck Cemetery, Kingston, New York.

Laura Ingalls with her Ryan ST-A, NC18901, circa 1937. (SDASM)

¹ An auto-da-fé was a public act of penance required of condemned heretics prior to their execution during the Spanish Inquisition. The meaning of the reference on Ingall’s Orion is unknown.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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4–5 February 1929

Frank Hawks with the red and silver Lockheed Air Express, NR7955. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archives)

4–5 February 1929: At 5:37:30 p.m., Pacific Time, Monday, Frank Monroe Hawks, took off from Metropolitan Field, Los Angeles, California, (now known as Van Nuys Airport, VNY) in a new Lockheed Model 3 Air Express transport, NR7955, serial number EX-2. Also on board was Oscar Edwin Grubb, the final assembly superintendent for Lockheed. The pair flew non-stop to Roosevelt Field, Long Island, New York, arriving there at 2:59:29 p.m., Eastern Time, on Tuesday. The duration of the flight was 18 hours, 21 minutes, 59 seconds.

Oscar Edwin Grubb and Frank Monroe Hawks, shortly before departing for New York, 4 February 1929. (Getty Images)

The only previous non-stop West-to-East flight had been flown during August 1928 by Arthur C. Goebel, Jr., and Harry Tucker with their Lockheed Vega, Yankee Doodle, NX4769. Hawks cut 36 minutes off of Goebel’s time.

Lockheed Model 3 Air Express NR7955, photographed 1 February 1929. The Air Express was the first production airplane to use the new NACA cowling design. (Crane/NACA)

Hawks was a technical adviser to The Texas Company (“Texaco”), a manufacturer and distributor of petroleum products which sponsored the flight. On his recommendation, the company purchased the Air Express from Lockheed for use as a company transport.

On 17 January 1930, “Pilot Frank Hawks attempted a takeoff from a soggy field in West Palm Beach, Florida, destroying the aircraft christened ‘Texaco Five’ in a spectacular crash that catapulted it into a row of three parked aircraft. All three occupants were unhurt while the aircraft was destroyed.” —Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives

NC7955’s Department of Commerce registration was cancelled 31 January 1930.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was a single-engine parasol-wing monoplane transport, flown by a single pilot in an open aft cockpit, and capable of carrying 4 to 6 passengers in its enclosed cabin. The airplane was designed by Gerard Freebairn Vultee and John Knudsen Northrop. It used the Lockheed Vega’s molded plywood monocoque fuselage.

The Model 3 received Approved Type Certificate No. 102 from the Aeronautic Branch, U. S. Department of Commerce.

The Lockheed Air Express was the first production airplane to use the “NACA Cowl,” an engine cowling for radial engines which had been designed by a team led by Fred Ernest Weick of the the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. The new cowling design tightly enclosed the engine and used baffles to control air flow around the hottest parts of the engines. The exit slots were designed to allow the air to exit the cowling at a higher speed than it had entered the intake. The new cowling design provided better engine cooling and caused significantly less aerodynamic drag. The addition of the NACA cowling increased the Air Express’s maximum speed from 157 to 177 miles per hour (253 to 285 kilometers per hour).

The day following Hawks’ transcontinental flight, Vultee sent a telegram to NACA:

COOLING CAREFULLY CHECKED AND OK. RECORD IMPOSSIBLE WITHOUT NEW COWLING. ALL CREDIT DUE TO NACA FOR PAINSTAKING AND ACCURATE RESEARCH. GERRY VULTEE, LOCKHEED AIRCRAFT CO.

The Lockheed Model 3 Air Express was 27 feet, 6 inches (8.382 meters) long with a wing span of 42 feet, 6 inches (12.954 meters) and height of 8 feet, 4½ inches (2.553 meters). The wing area was 288 square feet (26.756 square meters). The wing had no dihedral. The airplane had an empty weight of 2,533 pounds (1,149 kilograms) and gross weight of 4,375 pounds (1,984 kilograms).

The Model 3 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged 1,343.804-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp C nine cylinder, direct-drive radial engine. The Wasp C was rated at 420 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. at Sea Level. It was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 745 pounds (338 kilograms).

The Air Express had a cruising speed of 135 miles per hour (217 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 177 miles per hour (285 kilometers per hour). It’s service ceiling was 17,250 feet (5,258 meters).

Frank Hawks, 1930. (San Diego air and Space Museum Archives)

Francis Monroe Hawks was born at Marshalltown, Iowa, 28 March 1897. He was the son of Charles Monroe Hawks, a barber, and Ida Mae Woodruff Hawks. He attended Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Long Beach, California, graduating in 1916. He then studied at the University of Southern California, in Los Angeles.

Frank Hawks was an Air Service, United States Army, pilot who served during World War I. He rose to the rank of Captain, and at the time of his record-breaking transcontinental flight, he held a commission as a reserve officer in the Army Air Corps. Hawks transferred to the U.S. Naval Reserve with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. His date of rank 27 May 1932.

His flying had made him a popular public figure and he starred in a series of Hollywood movies as “The Mysterious Pilot.”

Poster advertising Episode 5 of the movie serial, “The Mysterious Pilot.” (Columbia Pictures)
Amelia Earhart and Frank Hawks. (World History Project)

On 28 December 1920, Miss Amelia Earhart took her first ride in an airplane at Long Beach Airport in California. The ten-minute flight began her life-long involvement in aviation. The airplane’s pilot was Frank Monroe Hawks.

Francis M. Hawks married Miss Newell Lane at Lewiston, Montana, 7 August 1918. They had a daughter, Dolly. They later divorced. He next married Mrs. Edith Bowie Fouts at St. John’s Church, Houston, Texas, 26 October 1926.

Frank Hawks was killed in an aircraft accident at East Aurora, New York, 23 August 1938. He was buried at Redding Ridge Cemetery, Redding, Connecticut.

Frank Monroe Hawks, 1932 (Edward Steichen)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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