Admiral David Stinton Ingalls

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Lt. David Ingalls
Lt. David Ingalls

Admiral David Ingalls was an aviator, lawyer, and politician. He was the U. S. Navy’s only flying ace in World War I and awarded the British Flying Cross and the American Distinguished Service Medal. After describing several of his aerial exploits, a British officer stated, “His keenness, courage, and utter disregard of danger are exceptional and an example to all. He is one of the finest men this squadron ever had.”

David Stinton Ingalls was born on January 28, 1899, the son of Albert and Jane Ingalls. He attended University School and then St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. In 1916, he enrolled at Yale University as a premed student.

Late in March 1917, Ingalls and twenty-seven young men of the Yale Aero Club’s First Unit joined the Naval Reserve. They then left school and went to Palm Beach, Florida, to continue their privately financed training program. The unit spent two months at Palm Beach and then moved to Huntington, New York, to finish training. By this time, the country was at war, and aviation officers were needed. The Navy sent Ingalls to the American Naval Airstation in Moutchic, France in September 1917.

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In December 1917, he was sent to another school in Gosport, England, where he learned to fly the Sopwith Camel, one of the Allies’ fastest and most maneuverable airplanes. After Gosport came to another school in Scotland, where he completed his training in March 1918.

On July 9, 1918, he was transferred to the Allied Naval Base at Dunkirk, France, and attached to RAF Squadron 213 for combat experience. The squadron flew Sopwith Camel fighters and escorted bombers in raids on German airfields in Belgium. The Camel’s reputation had made the German pilots wary of engaging the faster and more maneuverable British aircraft.

Once back at Dunkirk, David Ingalls did not take long to begin making U.S. Navy history. His war record in the skies over France and Belgium was enviable. In only six weeks, Ingalls had flown 109 hours in Sopwith Camels; made 63 flights over enemy lines; participated in 13 low-altitude bombing raids; engaged in 13 aerial combat actions; and shot down five German planes and one observation balloon.

On October 1, 1918, David Ingalls was relieved of combat duty and sent to England to organize a U.S. Naval Air Squadron. For his aid in destroying enemy planes, balloons, and airfields, the grateful British government gave him the Distinguished Flying Cross. The French made him a member of their Legion of Honor. The United States, proud of their only ace, awarded him a Distinguished Service Medal for his “brilliant and courageous” work with No. 213 Squadron.

After the war, Ingalls returned to Yale, finished his studies in 1920, and received an LL.D. from Harvard University Law School in 1923.

After graduating, he joined Squire, Sanders & Dempsey as an associate. In 1926, he was elected to the Ohio General Assembly, where he co-sponsored the Ohio Aviation Code. Ingalls left Squire, Sanders & Dempsey in 1927 to embark on a brief political career. That year, he was elected as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives and reelected in 1929.

After an unsuccessful run for governor of Ohio in 1932, Ingalls returned to Cleveland, where Mayor Harry L. Davis appointed him welfare director. Still, he resigned in 1935 when Davis refused to install x-ray equipment in the City Hospital.

In the mid-1930s, Ingalls was appointed a lieutenant commander in the Naval Reserve. In 1941, Ingalls had been general manager of Pan American Air Ferries. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Ingalls returned to active duty. He helped develop the Naval Air Station in Honolulu.

He was appointed captain in the Naval Reserve in 1942 and a commodore In 1943. Ingalls became chief of staff for the Forward Area Air Center Command and later commander of the Pearl Harbor Naval Air Station. He served three years in the Pacific, and the Navy awarded him the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. In 1955, President Eisenhower nominated Ingalls for permanent appointment to the rear admiral’s rank in the Naval Reserve.

On his return to Ohio, he became a Pan Am World Airways director and managed Robert A. Taft’s campaign to be the Republican nominee for president in 1952. In 1954, he became president and publisher of the Cincinnati Times-Star and vice chairman of the now-defunct Taft Broadcasting Company. He left the Cincinnati Times-Star in 1958 to practice law.

Ingalls and his friend, Charles Lindbergh,  solved navigation and communication problems in charting new air routes to the east for Pan Am.

Ingalls was a director of the Cleveland Trust Company, director of South Eleuthera Properties, vice president of Virginia Hot Springs, Inc., president of the Central Eye bank for Sight Restoration, Trustee of Laurel School, and an honorary Trustee of the Young Men's Christian Association.

He was a member of the American Legion, Chagrin Valley Hunt Club, Freemasons, Jekyll Island Club, Kirtland Country Club, Pepper Pike Club, Queen City Club of Cincinnati, River Club of New York, Skull and Bones, and the Union Club.

Ingalls was a sportsman and a co-owner of two quail plantations: Ring Oak and Foshalee Plantation, which he shared with Robert Livingston Ireland, Jr.

Ingalls continued to fly private airplanes throughout his life. The Aviation Hall of Fame inducted him in 1983.

He married Laura Hale Harkness in 1922, who was born on April 5, 1898, in Bellevue, Ohio, to William and Edith Harkness. She was the granddaughter of Daniel Harkness, who was instrumental in the formation of Standard Oil. They had one son and four daughters.

Laura died May 10, 1978, in the Bahamas. After her death, David remarried Frances Wragg.  David died on April 29, 1985, at the age of 86. David and Laura are buried in Warm Springs Cemetery, Bath County, Virginia.

David and Laura had three children: Edith (Vignos Jr.), Louise (Brown), and David Sinton Ingalls Jr., who became president of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and mayor of Hunting Valley.

For more about David Ingalls, you can read:

“Hero of the Angry Sky,” the World War I diary, and the letters of David S. Ingalls, America’s first naval ace, edited by Geoffrey L. Rossano, Ohio University Press, 2012.

“Flying Aces of World War I,” by Gene Gurney, Random House, New York.