11 July 1935: At 4:31 a.m., Laura Houghtaling Ingalls (1901–1967) took off from Floyd Bennett Field, Brooklyn, New York, and flew non-stop across the continent to to Union Air Terminal, Burbank, California. Her airplane was a single-engine Lockheed Model 9D Orion, registration NR14222, which she had named Auto da Fé (“act of faith” or “act of penance”). Ingalls was the first woman to fly across the country from East to West. The elapsed time of the flight was 18 hours, 19 minutes, 30 seconds.
Laura Ingalls had taken delivery of the Orion 9D Special at Lockheed, Burbank, California, five months earlier. Contemporary newspaper reports said that the “Black Mystery Ship” cost $45,000. The Model 9 Orion was a single-engine, low-wing monoplane, designed in 1931 for airline use and was capable of carrying six passengers in an enclosed cabin. The Orion was the first commercial airliner with retractable landing gear and 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 plywood, but the Orion was Lockheed’s last wooden airplane.
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). Auto da Fé was powered by a 1,343.8-cubic-inch-displacement (22.01 liter) air-cooled, supercharged, Pratt and Whitney Wasp R-1340-S1D1 9-cylinder radial engine producing 550 horsepower at 2,200 r.p.m. and 5,000 feet (1,524 meters), driving a two-bladed Hamilton propeller. The cruise speed 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). Ingall’s airplane carried 630 gallons (2,384.8 liters) of gasoline and 40 gallons (151.4 liters) of engine oil. NR14222 was equipped with a Sperry Gyro Pilot and a Westport radio compass and receiver for navigation.
After departing Floyd Bennett Field, Ingalls flew along a commercial airway marked with 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.
© 2015, Bryan R. Swopesby