© Wonders of World Aviation 2015-23  |  contents  |  site map  | contact us  |  cookie policy

Wonders of World Aviation

Mobile Site

Prizes which have urged pilots to great achievements and advanced the technical development of aviation

Sir Granville Ryrie, High Commissioner for Australia in 1927-32, is presenting to Kingsford Smith the 1928 trophy awarded by the International League of Aviators

THE FIRST AUSTRALIA-NEW ZEALAND FLIGHT and the first New Zealand—Australia flight were made by Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. Sir Granville Ryrie, High Commissioner for Australia in 1927-32, is presenting to Kingsford Smith the 1928 trophy awarded by the International League of Aviators for his flight from Australia to New Zealand. He was awarded also the Britannia Trophy for 1930.

IN AVIATION, as in most other fields of enterprise, the lure of valuable prizes and the spur of rivalry have played an important part in the progress that has been achieved. If Lord Northcliffe had not offered a prize of £1,000 for the first Channel crossing by aeroplane, this epoch-making flight, which had an effect upon public opinion far transcending its technical importance, might have been deferred for several years. If Hubert Latham had not been so determined to win the prize, his rival, Louis Bleriot, would surely never have made his hurried departure for the English coast, crippled as he then was by an accident.

The North Atlantic, too, was first flown non-stop (see the chapter “Conquest of the North Atlantic”) under the spur of a prize of £10,000 also offered by Lord Northcliffe. The journey, at that time, was such a hazardous undertaking that but for this rich prize and the number of aspirants that it attracted the first flight between the New World and the Old might have been of considerably more recent date than 1919. The same tendency can be traced throughout the brief but eventful history of aviation. Whether the prize has been cash or a trophy there have always been adventurous spirits ready to compete, attracted not so much by the intrinsic value of the reward as by the inherent challenge that it has offered and by the satisfaction of an unsurpassed achievement.

The Schneider Trophy, though it has now been captured outright by Great Britain with three successive victories, is perhaps still the outstanding example of a trophy which has been responsible for greater technical advances than any other award in aviation’s history. The efficiency of the R.A.F.’s latest fighters is largely due to the knowledge of high-speed flying problems gained by British designers under the stress of international competition for the trophy.

The best known British national trophy, the King’s Cup, has played its part in stimulating the development of light aeroplanes in Great Britain. Its two principal objects of improving the quality of British civil aircraft and of arousing country-wide interest in British aviation have not, however, always proved compatible. There is today a tendency to concentrate more and more upon making the race a straightforward high-speed flying trial rather than a public spectacle.

This trophy was first presented in 1922 by King George V, who gave a new cup of different design in every succeeding year of his reign. Each trophy became the property of the victor. This tradition has since been followed by King George VI. The seventeenth King’s Cup was awarded in 1938 to Alexander Henshaw, who completed the 1,000-miles’ course of the race at an average speed of 236 miles an hour. A table showing the advances in speed recorded in recent years by winners of the King’s Cup appears in the chapter “The Influence of Air Racing”.

Closely associated with the King’s Cup Air Race is the Siddeley Trophy, a handsome silver challenge cup presented by Sir J. D. Siddeley (Lord Kenilworth) in 1928 for annual competition among light aeroplane clubs in the United Kingdom. It is open to challenge by pilots of aircraft weighing not more than 1,000 lb., and up to 1935 had always been contested for in the course of the annual race for the King’s Cup.

The Siddeley Trophy was awarded to the light aeroplane club whose representative in the King’s Cup Race was the first to complete the course. Where the winner of the King’s Cup Race also fulfilled the conditions of the Siddeley Trophy award he would receive both trophies. Most of the winning aircraft, however, in the King’s Cup Air Race are over the weight limit allowed for the Siddeley Trophy. One of the few instances of one pilot capturing the double award occurred in 1930, when Miss Winifred Brown, flying an Avro Avian two-seater light aeroplane, won both the King’s Cup for herself and the Siddeley Trophy for the Lancashire Aero Club.

An older-established British light aeroplane trophy is the Grosvenor Challenge Cup, which was first presented by the late Lord Edward Grosvenor in 1923. The annual race for this award has become, in effect, the “Air Derby” for light aeroplanes in Great Britain. It is a handicap race, normally held at a different place each year, the course and distance being arranged by the Racing Committee of the Royal Aero Club. The first winner of the Grosvenor Challenge Cup, in

1923, was Squadron Leader W. H. Longton, D.F.C., A.F.C., who, piloting a Sopwith Gnu with a 110 horse-power Le Rhone rotary engine, flew 404 miles in just over four and a half hours.

Another well-known British air racing trophy is the Air League Challenge Cup, which began as a Royal Air Force award but was later offered for competition among light aeroplane clubs. The first race for this trophy, held in 1921 at Croydon Aerodrome, was a relay race over three laps of an eight-miles’ circular course. Three teams of three S.E.5a fighters of the R.A.F. took part, the winners being the team entered by the R.A.F. station at Kenley, Surrey.

Race to the Isle of Man

The next race, in 1923, was over a 100-miles’ course and was confined to R.A.F. pilots flying Bristol Fighters. In the following year each of three R.A.F. fighter squadrons entered a team of three Sopwith Snipes for a race over a 100-miles’ triangular course. There were no contests in 1925 or 1926. Since 1927, the cup has been awarded each year to the winner of a handicap race open to civilian pilots and members of light aeroplane clubs.

The most recent of British air racing prizes is the Isle of Man Air Race Challenge Trophy, which is offered each year for a handicap race from London to the Douglas airport at Ronaldsway. Inaugurated in 1936, and open to competitors of all nations, the race for this trophy has already become one of the most popular sporting air events of the year and, because of its international character, may soon become the most important air race in Great Britain.

The race in 1938 attracted seventeen starters, including four from abroad. The trophy was won by S. T. Lowe, at an average speed of 159·5 miles an hour in a single-seater Comper Swift monoplane. As the trophy — a winged projectile in silver — is a challenge cup, it remains in the care of the aero club of the winner’s country, the winner himself having his name engraved on the plinth and receiving a replica of the trophy. The fastest time of the 1938 race was 247½ miles an hour set up by Alexander Henshaw in the Percival Mew Gull in which he also won the 1938 King’s Cup Air Race.

Miss Jean Batten is standing beside her Percival Gull aircraft in which she won the trophy for 1935

TWICE HOLDER OF THE BRITANNIA TROPHY, which is awarded each year for the most meritorious performance in the air. Miss Jean Batten is standing beside her Percival Gull aircraft in which she won the trophy for 1935 for a solo flight across the South Atlantic. In 1936 she was awarded the trophy for her solo flight from England to New Zealand.

Embracing a wider field of aerial achievement than these air racing awards is the Britannia Challenge Trophy, the most coveted prize of British aviation. It is a warded annually to the British aviator who, in the opinion of the Committee appointed by the Royal Aero Club, shall have accomplished the most meritorious performance in the air during the year. Its donor was Captain Horatio Barber, one of the pioneers of British aviation and the builder of the first “Canard”, or

tail-first aeroplane, in 1909. Captain Barber presented the British Government with four machines of his own design in 1911, and served throughout the war of 1914-18 with the R.N.A.S. as an instructor and specialist in aerobatics.

The Britannia Trophy was first awarded in 1913, and the list of its holders is impressive, for it has been won by men whose deeds have made British air history. The first recipient was an R.F.C. pilot, Captain C. A. H. Longcroft, who won it with a non-stop flight of 445 miles from Montrose, in Scotland, to Farnborough, Hampshire, via Portsmouth. Negligible though the distance seems today, it was an outstanding achievement in 1913 and was regarded as a remarkable tribute both to the stamina of the pilot and to the reliability of his B.E.2 biplane with its 70 horse-power Renault engine. The following year the trophy was awarded to a naval pilot, Squadron Commander J. W. Seddon, in recognition of a long-distance coastal flight in a 70 horse-power Maurice Farman seaplane.

No awards were made during the war years, as it was rightly felt by the Aero Club’s Committee that it would be impossible to single out any individual for the honour from among the many hundreds of serving British aviators, all of whom were rendering “meritorious service in the air” to a degree undreamt of by the donor of the trophy.

In 1919, the selection committee had an easy task and the third name inscribed upon the base of the trophy was that of Sir John Alcock, K.B.E., pilot of the Vickers Vimy which on June 14-15, 1919, made the first nonstop flight across the North Atlantic.

The Australian aviator, Squadron Leader H. J. L. (Bert) Hinkler, was given the award in 1920 for his 650-miles’ flight from Croydon to Turin, Italy, in a tiny Avro Baby biplane with a diminutive Green engine rated at 35 horse-power. He was also destined to win it twice again in the course of his distinguished career — in 1928 for his record- breaking flight from England to Australia in fifteen and a half days, and again in 1931 for the first west to east crossing of the South Atlantic.

The only other pilot to equal this record was Sir Alan Cobham, who has also held the trophy three times — in 1923, 1925 and 1926. On the first occasion he won it with a 12,000-miles’ air tour in a D.H.9, on the second with a 17,000-miles’ flight from London to Rangoon and back in a D.H.50, and finally by a record-breaking flight to Australia and back.

Dominion Prizes

The award of the trophy in 1922 to F. P. Raynham for a gliding flight of nearly two hours’ duration is noteworthy as the only occasion up to the present on which the trophy has been won by other than a power-driven aircraft. The year 1929 was also an historic one in the trophy’s history, as it was then won for the first time by a woman — the Hon. Lady Bailey — with a remarkable solo flight from England to South Africa and back in a light aeroplane — a D.H. Moth.

The only other woman to have won the trophy was Miss Jean Batten, who was successful in 1935 and again in 1936.

Other holders of the Britannia Trophy have been Wing Commander S. J. Goble and Flight Lieut. I. E. McIntyre (1924), Flight Lieut. R. Bentley (1927), Air Commodore Sir Charles Kingsford Smith (1930), Capt. C. F. Uwins (1932), J. A. Mollison (1933), and C. W. A. Scott and T. Campbell Black (1934). In 1937 the trophy was awarded to Flying Officer A. E. Clouston, who won it for his record-breaking flight to South Africa and back.

Less widely known, but with conditions of award similar to those of the Britannia Trophy, is a highly-prized Canadian trophy which is presented each year to the Canadian pilot who does most towards the advancement of Canadian aviation. Known as the McKee Trophy, it was presented in 1926 by J. Dalzell McKee in commemoration of the first seaplane flight across Canada. This was a pioneer venture which McKee made in company with Squadron Leader A. E. Godfrey, M.C., A.F.C., of the Royal Canadian Air Force.

There are two other Dominion trophies with similar objects. The Oswald Watt Gold Plaque is presented yearly for “the most brilliant performance in the air in the Commonwealth of Australia, or to the Australian-born aviator who performs the most brilliant feat outside Australia”. The Mansfield Robinson Gold Trophy is awarded annually for the most meritorious flight in East Africa. Bert Hinkler and Kingsford Smith, both Australian-born, each won the Oswald Watt plaque several times. The late T. Campbell Black was awarded the Mansfield Robinson trophy for the first three years in succession.

THIS MAGNIFICENT GOLD TROPHY was presented to the winners of the MacRobertson race from England to Australia in 1934

THIS MAGNIFICENT GOLD TROPHY was presented to the winners of the MacRobertson race from England to Australia in 1934. The prizes were given by Sir William MacPherson Robertson, of Melbourne. The race was won by C. W. A. Scott and T. Campbell Black in a De Havilland Comet monoplane.

Aerial navigation has its own special award in the Johnston Memorial Air Navigation Trophy, which was bought and presented by friends of the late Squadron Leader E. L. Johnston, O.B.E., A.F.C., navigator of the R 101, who lost his life in the disaster which overcame that airship in October 1930. Squadron Leader Johnston was the first Deputy-Master of the Guild of Air Pilots and Air Navigators of the British Empire. The trophy is awarded by a committee of Guild members for what they consider to be the finest feat of air navigation for the year.

The trophy is in the form of a silver plaque showing a Mercator’s projection of the world, surmounted by an engraving of Squadron Leader Johnston. It was first awarded, in 1931, to Francis Chichester for a remarkable feat of air navigation in flying alone in a light aeroplane from New Zealand to Norfolk Island, 480 miles out in the middle of the Tasman Sea; Chichester had been guided solely by solar observations. At the time of writing the latest recipient of this trophy is Captain A. S. Wilcockson, a veteran pilot of Imperial Airways, with more than 10,000 hours of commercial flying to his credit.

Another memorial prize is the Segrave Trophy, which was presented by private subscription to commemorate the achievements of the late Sir Henry Segrave. It is awarded each year to the British subject who, in the opinion of the Awarding Committee, accomplishes the most out-standing demonstration of the possibilities of transport by air, land or water. In the eight years of its existence, since 1930, it has been awarded on seven occasions for aerial achievements.

The first to hold this trophy was the Australian, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith; the second was another Australian, Bert Hinkler. Miss Amy Johnson won the trophy twice in succession, in 1932 and 1933. In 1934 it went to Kenneth Waller, and in 1936 another woman pilot, Miss Jean Batten, was selected. The award for 1937 was made to Flying Officer A. E. Clouston for the record-breaking flight to South Africa and back with which he won the Britannia Trophy.

Annual R.A.F. Competitions

In addition to these civil flying awards, there are a number of Service trophies which are the subject of annual competition between pilots and squadrons of the Royal Air Force. One of the best known to the general public — as the race for it was for many years a popular event in the programme of the R.A.F. Display at Hendon — is the cup which was presented by King George VI when he was Duke of York.

The cup is awarded as the prize in a handicap speed contest among senior officers of the R.A.F. In 1937 it was competed for by two representatives of the Air Ministry and by two from each of the five Home Commands. The course was over a distance of forty-four miles, and the cup was won by Wing Commander D. V. Carnegie, A.F.C., of the Air Ministry, whose Hawker Hart averaged 164 miles an hour. No less keenly contested by the Auxiliary Air Force is the Esher Trophy, a bronze figure presented in 1925 by the late Viscount Esher for annual award to the Auxiliary Air Force squadron adjudged to have had the best all-round record for the year, The general efficiency competition which is held annually to decide the destination of the award includes bombing and air gunnery contests. In thirteen years it has been won no fewer than nine times by No. 605 (County of Warwick) (Bombing) Squadron. This record included three consecutive victories.

A lesser-known R.A.F. prize is the Laurence Minot Memorial Trophy, which was presented to the Air Council in 1926 to perpetuate the memory of Captain Laurence Minot, M.C., R.F.C., who was killed in air combat during the war of 1914-18, while serving with No. 57 Squadron, R.F.C.

The trophy was originally offered for competition between all bombing squadrons of the Home Defence Area, and from 1927 to 1929 was awarded annually to the crew (pilot and bomb-aimer) of the aeroplane which, during the competition, obtained the highest degree of accuracy in bombing. Since 1929, however, the trophy has been confined to competition between night, or heavy bomber squadrons in the Home Commands.

A DUAL WIN was accomplished in 1930 by Miss Winifred Brown

A DUAL WIN was accomplished in 1930 by Miss Winifred Brown, who is shown in this illustration in her Avro Avian after she had landed at Hanworth, Middlesex. Not only had she won the King’s Cup Air Race, but she had also won the Siddeley Trophy for the Lancashire Aero Club. The Siddeley Trophy was awarded to the light aeroplane club whose representative in the King’s Cup Air Race was the first to complete the course.

One of the most intrinsically valuable trophies ever offered for aeronautical competition was the beautiful gold cup, valued at over £500, which Sir MacPherson Robertson presented in 1934 for an air race between England and Australia. The race, which was to encourage aviation and to mark the occasion of the centenary of the State of Victoria and of its capital city, Melbourne, was an international event open to aircraft of any type and power. It was divided into two sections, a handicap race with a first prize of £2,000, and a speed race, the winner of which received both the gold cup and a cash prize of £10,000. The route for both sections was the same, starting from Mildenhall, in Suffolk, and leading by way of Baghdad, Allahabad, Singapore, Port Darwin and Charleville to a pylon-marked finishing line across the centre of Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne.

The race attracted twenty starters, representing three nations, and was won by C. W. A. Scott and the late T. Campbell Black, co-pilots of a De Havilland Comet. They covered the 12,500 miles of the course in the amazingly short time of 71 hours 18 seconds, reducing by nearly four days the previous England-Australia flying record, set up a year earlier by C. T. P. Ulm, with three companions.

The Duke of Gloucester, then visiting Australia, presented the cup to the two victorious pilots, who received it on behalf of the entrant of their machine, A. O. Edwards, in whose possession it now is. In return, Mr. Edwards presented to the pilots the aircraft in which they had made their flight.

Two years later, in 1936, C. W. A. Scott was again the winner of a trophy offered for an air race to a Dominion. The finishing point was Johannesburg, and the contest was the Schlesinger African Race, held to celebrate Johannesburg’s Jubilee anniversary.

Lapsed Contests

Prize money totalling as much as £10,000 was presented by I. W. Schlesinger, of South Africa, who also offered to the pilot of the machine making the fastest time an impressive silver trophy, representing a globe supported on a pair of wings and showing the route of the race. Small replicas of the trophy were offered to all competitors finishing the course.

The race, which was confined to British aircraft and pilots, was fought out between nine starters and began from Portsmouth Airport at dawn on September 29, 1936. Two days four hours and fifty-seven minutes later it had been won by C. W. A. Scott and Giles Guthrie flying a Percival Vega Gull monoplane. They covered the 6,150 miles of the course at an all-in average speed of 116 miles an hour and at a flying speed of 156·3 miles an hour.

Of international air trophies, there are few now remaining of any great importance. Such once-famous prizes as the International Michelin Cups, the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup, the Beaumont Cup and the First Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup once attracted entries from all over the world, and did much to encourage the development of high-speed aircraft. Now, however, they have either been captured outright or the contests for which they were presented have been allowed to lapse for want of adequate support.

A RECORD FLIGHT TO CAPETOWN AND BACK was made by Flying Officer A. E. Clouston with Mrs. Kirby Green as co-pilot in November 1937

A RECORD FLIGHT TO CAPETOWN AND BACK was made by Flying Officer A. E. Clouston with Mrs. Kirby Green as co-pilot in November 1937. They broke Miss Amy Johnson’s record on the outward flight, H. L. Brook’s record on the return flight, and Miss Amy Johnson’s record for the round trip. For this achievement Clouston was awarded the Britannia Trophy for the year 1937.

There is still an international Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup for competition. This cup was presented by the daughter of M. Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe when the original cup that he had offered was captured outright by France. Sporadic challenges for this cup have been made in recent years by British pilots, but it has never aroused the international interest of its predecessor. Perhaps the reason is that the rules of the contest exclude the entry of aircraft fitted with engines of more than eight litres capacity, whereas the most popular light aeroplane engines of today are of slightly greater capacity.

Contests for this trophy take place at least every two years. The race is held over a course of 2,000 kilometres (about 1,240 miles), which must be completed with only one stop of not more than ninety minutes’ duration.

One famous international trophy, whose history dates back to 1906, still survives and is dedicated to that oldest of all forms of flight — ballooning. This is the Gordon Bennett Aeronautic Cup, offered for annual competition between free balloons.

The sport of ballooning largely owes its continued existence to the incentive provided by this yearly contest. The contest is primarily one of distance, though it may be changed into one for duration, subject to atmospheric conditions. The rules also stipulate that all balloons taking part shall be filled with the same kind of gas and that lots shall be drawn to determine the order of ascent. The present Gordon Bennett Aeronautic Cup is the third in the series. The first cup, presented in 1906, was eventually won outright by Belgium with three successive yearly victories in 1922, 1923 and 1924. The second cup, presented in 1925, had a much shorter life and was won outright by America with three successive victories in 1926, 1927 and 1928.

World Circuit

The third cup, again the subject of a contest in 1938, was presented in 1929 and was won in 1937 by the crew of a Belgian balloon which covered a distance of 870 miles non-stop in forty-six hours. Throughout the long history of the Gordon Bennett balloon races the Cup has never yet been won by Great Britain, though British teams were, for many years, regular competitors.

The essential difference between the Gordon Bennett Aeronautic Cup race and the contests for most other international air trophies is that when the Gordon Bennett competitors set off they

have no idea as to where or when the race will end.

This element of uncertainty no doubt has much to do with the long-maintained popularity of the contest. It involves also the possibility of an indefinite stay in the air — the longest period on record was seventy-three hours in 1908 — and so competitors have to be prepared for all possible emergencies and to be fully equipped.

A newer international air trophy, possibly destined to become even more famous in the near future than was the Schneider Trophy, is the challenge cup for a high-speed circuit of the world which has been presented for competition by Prince Bibesco, President of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, the governing body of international air sport.

The conditions of the award specify a definite route to be followed by competitors. They may start from Paris, London, Berlin, Rome or Bucharest, and they must land at Karachi, Tokyo, San Francisco and New York, which form control points for the flight. Alternatively, they may start from Karachi, Tokyo, San Francisco or New York and any one of the European capitals mentioned must be included in the control points. The world circuit must end at the aerodrome of departure. Any number of landings may be made between the control points and refuelling in the air is permitted.

The trophy was presented for competition late in 1932, with the proviso that its first holder would be the first pilot to encircle the world at an average speed, including all stops, of at least a hundred kilometres (62 miles) an hour. Up to the present the trophy has never been awarded. Neither Wiley Post, who in 1933 encircled the globe in 7 days 18 hours 49 minutes, nor Howard Hughes, who in 1938 reduced the record to 3 days 19 hours, followed the course prescribed for the contest.

To capture this trophy, when it has been won, challengers must exceed the holder’s speed by at least half a kilometre (0·31 mile) an hour. It will be won outright by the first competitor who flies round the world at an average speed, including all stops, of at least 500 kilometres (310·7 miles) an hour.

In 1932, when tThe Deutsch de la Meurthe Cuphe rules of the trophy were drawn up, such a feat might well have seemed remote, but so great have been the advances in the development of high-speed aircraft that it would be hazardous to prophesy that, within the next decade, the Bibesco Cup will not have been added to the long list of captured trophies which have helped to make air history.

AN INTERNATIONAL TROPHY which is presented to the winner of a race for aeroplanes with engines of not more than eight litres capacity. It is known as the Deutsch de la Meurthe Cup, after a former President of the Aero Club of France, in whose memory the trophy was offered. Normally the race is held at least every two years.

You can read more on “The Influence of Air Racing”, “The London to Manchester Race” and “The Schneider Trophy” on this website.

Some Famous Air Trophies