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Article: The First US Navy Ace

Ace fighter pilots

The First US Navy Ace

Lt. JG David S. Ingalls, the first U.S. Navy flying Ace
Lt. JG David S. Ingalls, the very first US Navy fighter ace circa 1918.

On October 13, 1775, General George Washington established the Continental Navy in Philadelphia, PA to defend the American colonies from British attack.

In 1903 two brothers with a bicycle shop in Dayton, OH built the first aircraft and made the first successful manned aircraft flight, and the race to build new and better manned aircraft began.

During the First World War, aircraft played an important role in winning the war, and the most famous aircraft during that war was the Sopwith Camel F.1.

A Sopwtih Camel f.1 World War I fighter aircraft similar to the one flown by Lt. JG Ingalls
A Sopwith Camel F.1 similar to the one flown by Lt. JG Ingalls in WWI.

The Sopwith Camel F.1 is the last in a line of docile aircraft to fly like the Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Triplane. Pilots loved to fly the Pup and the Triplane; however, the Camel was a different airplane and very difficult to fly.

The Sopwith Camel was unstable and required continuous input from the pilot in order not to lose control of the aircraft. The Camel had a powerful rotary engine which generated a gyroscopic effect requiring constant corrections by the pilot.

On the other hand, this instability made the aircraft agile and highly maneuverable, and once a pilot mastered those characteristics the Sopwith Camel became a deadly adversary.

During WWI there were 5,490 Sopwich Camels built, and during the War downed 1,294 enemy aircraft, more than any other Allied fighter aircraft.

The Sopwith Camel F.1 was a single-seat, biplane fighter, with a 130hp Clerget 9B rotary engine.


  • Wingspan: 28 feet;
  • Length: 18 feet 9 inches;
  • Height: 8 feet 6 inches;
  • Empty weight: 930 pounds

The Camel was constructed of fabric-covered wood, metal, and rubber.

Almost as many student pilots were killed in accidents learning to fly the Camel as there were pilots who were killed in combat flying the Camel.

Lt. JG David S. Ingalls, USN

David Sinton Ingalls was born on January 28th, 1899, in Cleveland, Ohio, and was the son of Albert Stimson Ingalls, a VP for the New York Central Railroad, and his wife Jane Ellison Taft, niece of President Taft.

David Ingalls attended a private school for boys in Cleveland called the University School, and upon graduation attended Yale at New Haven, CT, in 1916.

Ingalls had become a member of The First Yale Unit which became the U.S. Navy's first aviation unit.

A Yale sophomore, F. Trubee Davison, along with 11 other aviation enthusiasts, organized The First Yale Unit and acquired a Curtiss F model Flying Boat for the members to learn how to fly. 

Shortly after the United States entered World War I, Ingalls enlisted as a Machinist's Mate First Class, US Naval Reserve Force in New London, CT, on March 26th, 1917.

He was then sent to West Palm Beach, FL for his initial flight training in the Sopwith Camel F.1.

An image of the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel F.1 and it's two forward firing Vickers machine guns.
An image of the cockpit of a Sopwith Camel F.1 with two forward-firing Vickers machine guns.

He was then sent to the Naval Aviation Attachment in Huntington, NY. On 9-1-1917 he was discharged and then appointed as an Ensign on 9-4-1917.

Ensign Ingalls became Naval Aviator number 85.

Ensign Ingalls was initially based in France for duty as of 12 September 1917, but in December of that same year was sent to the Royal Flying Corps air station at Turnberry, South Ayrshire, Scotland, to train in aerial gunnery.

Following that assignment, he underwent squadron flying formation training in nearby Ayr, Scotland, and upon completion of training was assigned to the Naval Air Detachment in Paris, France on March 12, 1918. On March 23, 1918, he was promoted to Lt. j.g..

He then was assigned to the U.S. Army Bombing School in Clermont-Ferrand, France, and then on June 27th, 1918, he was moved to Naval Air Station Dunkerque.

He was assigned to No. 213 Squadron and No. 218 Squadron, both of the Royal Air Force where he flew the Sopwith Camel F.1 aircraft.

Lt. j.g. Ingalls made his first confirmed kill when he shot down an Albatros C northeast of Diksmuide, West Flanders. His second victory was a two-place Luftverkehrsqesellschaft m.b.H. biplane south of Zevecote Belgium on August 21st, 1918.

After that, he shot down a Rumpler C on September 15th and then destroyed an observation balloon at La Barrie for his fourth victory.

On September 20th he shot down a Fokker D.VII, followed by another Rumpler a few days later for his sixth victory.

Lt. j.g. Ingalls flew his last combat mission, his sixty-third, on October 3, 1918.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for exceptionally meritorious service.

On September 24th, 1919 he was promoted to Lieutenant, in the Naval Reserve Flying Corps, and released from active duty on December 23, 1919.

Ingalls Post WWI

Ingalls's civilian career began after he graduated from Yale in 1920, followed by a law degree in 1923. 

He was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Aeronautics by President Herbert Hoover. This was followed by becoming the Vice President and general manager of Pan American Air Ferries.

On July 1, 1941, Ingalls was promoted to Commander, U.S.N.R., and following the U.S. entry into WWII served as Assistant Operations Officer on the staff of the Commander, Naval Air Forces Pacific, for which he was awarded the Legion of Merit.

During his Naval career, Rear Admiral Ingalls was awarded the Navy Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star, the World War I Victory Medal, the 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.

Rear Admiral David Sinton Ingalls wrote "Hero of the Angry Sky: The World War I Diary and Letters of David S. Ingalls, America's First Naval Ace".

Ingalls died on April 26, 1985, at the age of 86, and the only Navy Ace in World War I.

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