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How three successive victories made Great Britain the permanent holder of the famous seaplane trophy

THE AMERICAN SEAPLANE which won the Schneider Trophy race in 1923. Lieutenant D. Rittenhouse gained first place in this Curtiss aircraft at a speed of 177.38 miles an hour. The American entries were backed in 1923 by the United States Government, which paid the expenses and supplied specially trained pilots to fly the seaplanes. In Great Britain private enterprise supplied entries.

A LARGE silver trophy was presented in 1913 to the Aero Club of France by Jacques Schneider, with the object of developing marine aircraft. This trophy was to be competed for annually by the fastest machines in the world. The war of 1914-18 interrupted the annual contests, which were resumed in 1920. After 1923 the annual regularity was interrupted and after 1927 the contests were held every two years. Today the Schneider Trophy rests permanently in the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain, as it was won outright by Great Britain in September 1931. By the rules of the contest it was necessary for a country to win the trophy three times in succession to keep it, and for eighteen years its fate was in the balance. Twice Great Britain nearly lost it, once to Italy and once to the United States of America. In the end Great Britain captured it permanently, at a speed of over 340 miles an hour.

Jacques Schneider’s name will long be remembered because of the competition for his trophy, but in 1913 little interest was aroused. At that time seaplanes were comparatively new craft, and little was known about their potentialities for speed. The principal clauses in the rules governing the competition were that the flights must take place over “open water” and that the craft must be “seaworthy”.

The first round in the contest was arranged in the Principality of Monaco in 1913 - not as a special event, but as an item in a large programme. The arrangements were made by the Aero Club of France and, after preliminary eliminating trials, there were four starters: Prevost, in a Deperdussin seaplane; Garros, in a Morane-Saulnier; Espanet, in a Nieuport; and Weymann, in a Nieuport.

The course of nearly 174 miles was arranged over twenty-eight laps, each of 10 kilometres (6·2 miles). In the first lap two machines retired. Weymann covered four laps and then he, too, retired. Prevost was left to complete the course alone. This he did at an average speed of 45·75 miles an hour.

According to the rules, the machines entered for the competition had to be acknowledged by the Aero Club of the country concerned, and the winning country had to make all arrangements for the next contest. Thus it fell to France to arrange the 1914 contest.

A four-sided course was marked out over the water, between Monaco and Cap Martin, a promontory in the neighbourhood. On April 20, 1914, large crowds saw an exciting race. Entries had been received from Great Britain, France, the United States, Germany and Switzerland, and this time nine contestants were expected to start.

Great Britain was represented by Lord Carbery, in a Morane-Saulnier monoplane, and by Howard Pixton, in a Sopwith Tabloid. Three aviators represented France. They were Espanet and Levasseur, in Nieuport monoplanes, and Garros, in a Morane-Saulnier. America’s representatives were Weymann, in a Nieuport, and Thaw, in a Deperdussin monoplane. Stoffler represented Germany and Burri Switzerland.

Lord Carbery and Stoffler crashed during preliminary practice, but Lord Carbery was able to borrow another machine - a Deperdussin monoplane - in time to start. He flew one lap in this machine but was forced down. Halfway through the race Espanet had to withdraw, and Levasseur retired after having completed seventeen laps. This left five machines in the race. On the twenty-third lap the Swiss pilot had to land for fuel. Meanwhile the remaining British pilot, Howard Pixton, raced on to victory. He won at an average speed of 86·8 miles an hour.

A FOUR-SIDED COURSE was marked out for the 1914 Schneider race

A FOUR-SIDED COURSE was marked out for the 1914 race over the water between the Principality of Monaco and Cap Martin, a neighbouring promontory. Howard Pixton won for Great Britain in a Sopwith Tabloid at a speed of 86·8 miles an hour. This speed was nearly double that of the winner’s speed in the preceding year - the first year in which the race was run.

The performance was as meritorious as it was surprising. Pixton’s margin of speed over the previous winner was 41 miles an hour.

After Pixton’s victory came the war of 1914-18, and the Schneider Trophy contests were temporarily suspended. In 1919, as Great Britain held the trophy, the Royal Aero Club arranged the competition. It was unsuccessful. Fog rolled up over the sea, blotting out the course, and every competitor was lost. Only one entrant - an Italian - came near to completing the course, but he missed the marker buoys and was disqualified.

In 1920 the contest was held at Venice, Italy, under Italian management; but the chief contestants, the French, failed in the preliminary tests and the trophy went to Italy. Luigi Bologna, flying a Savoia flying boat, with a 550 horse-power Ansaldo engine, won the race at an average speed of 107 miles an hour.

The next year there were no challengers, and the Italian pilots flew round the course by themselves. Giovanni de Brigante attained a speed of 111 miles an hour in a Macchi 7 flying boat, with a 250 horse-power Isotta-Fraschini engine, and secured the trophy for Italy for the second year in succession. One more win would have made the trophy Italy’s for good.

British aircraft designers were becoming aware of the growing prestige attached to the holding of the trophy and Great Britain made a special effort to win in 1922. A Vickers Supermarine Sea Lion flying boat was taken to Venice. In this aircraft Henry Biard won the prize with an average speed of 145·7 miles an hour.

America’s Sporting Gesture

In 1923, with the Royal Aero Club as the governing body for the current contest, the race was arranged to take place at Cowes, Isle of Wight. British enterprise had prepared a few surprises in the shape of fast machines, but the days of private endeavour were over. America realized that there was much to be gained from the study of high-speed seaplane flight and, when she handed in her entries, the whole weight of the United States Government was behind them. For speed specially built machines were needed, and they were costly; the United States Government made that money available.

The machines that arrived were remarkable, with their small wings, clean lines and great power. The men who were to fly them were specially trained Government pilots. Thus America had developed a high speed flight, though it was not known as such. America won the contest. In a Curtiss seaplane, powered with a Curtiss 465 horse-power engine, Lieutenant D. Rittenhouse flew the course at a speed of 177·38 miles an hour.

There was no contest in 1924. In Great Britain private enterprise was still relied upon to produce the necessary aircraft, but the Government stepped in to help. Unfortunately, however, British hopes vanished when the best machine crashed. The American authorities were approached and, having learned the position, generously postponed the race for the trophy until the following year. Had they not done so there is little doubt that America, not Great Britain, would hold the Schneider Cup today. Moreover, there might well have been no more Schneider Trophy races after 1925, for in that year America won again, retaining the prize for another year.

The 1925 contest, held in America according to the rules, attracted entries from three countries - the United States, Great Britain and Italy. Again Great Britain was unlucky, as her main hope, a Supermarine seaplane, crashed before the race. A Gloster seaplane, piloted by Hubert Broad, was beaten, and the Americans won with a Curtiss seaplane, at the great speed of 232·57 miles an hour. By 1927 it was generally realized that there was much more in the Schneider Trophy contests than the mere adding of a few miles an hour to an annual record. Design and performance were benefiting to a large degree from the experience gained in the races, and Great Britain could not afford to remain indifferent. The High Speed Flight was formed as part of the Royal Air Force, and pilots and mechanics were selected to train for the next big race. The headquarters of the new flight were at Felixstowe (Suffolk) and Gloster machines were used for practice.

SPECIAL EFFORTS WERE MADE in 1922 to regain the Scneider trophy

SPECIAL EFFORTS WERE MADE in 1922 to regain the trophy for Great Britain. Italy had held it for the past two years and a win for that country in 1922 would have made her the permanent holder. A Vickers Supermarine Sea Lion flying boat won the race for Great Britain, however, at a speed of 145·7 miles an hour. The seaplane was piloted by Henry Biard.

The Italians, too, had planned their Schneider affairs on a grand scale. They were the only challengers in 1926 and their entries were sponsored by their Government. They sailed for America and brought back the trophy with them. Major Mario de Bernadi was the winning pilot; he flew a Macchi seaplane, with an 800 horse-power Fiat engine, at a speed of 246·5 miles an hour.

Six machines were ordered for the 1927 race by the British Government - a Short Crusader with a Jupiter engine, two Supermarine S.5s and three Gloster IVs, these five with Napier engines of 900 horse-power. Final practice was put in at Calshot, Southampton Water, and then the team went to Venice. The Crusader, piloted by Lieutenant Schofield, crashed on a preliminary flight. Great Britain’s three entries (the maximum permitted by the rules) were Flight Lieut. A. M. Webster, flying a Supermarine S.5, with a geared propeller; Flight Lieut. E. N. D. Worsley, flying a Supermarine S.5, with straight drive; and Flight Lieut. S. M. Kinkhead, flying a Gloster IV B.

For the first time since Great Britain had entered the contests, the machines and personnel were supplied by the Government. The Italians knew that they were unlikely to find their rivals easy to beat, and when the machines arrived their worst fears were realized. The S.5s were handsome machines and their attractive exteriors covered power and efficiency hitherto unknown. The result of the race was all that Great Britain had hoped it would be. The S.5, flown by Flight Lieut. Webster, was first, with an average speed of 281·68 miles an hour; Flight Lieut. Worsley’s S.5 came in second. From now on the race was held every two years.

High Speed Flight Re-formed

After the 1927 race the High Speed Flight was more or less disbanded, but it was re-formed under Wing Commander A. H. Orlebar early in 1929. Great Britain was determined to spare no effort to win for a second successive time. When the flight went to Calshot the 1927 S.5s were available for practice, as were also three Gloster biplanes on floats. The team, at the time of its formation at Felixstowe, consisted of Wing Commander A. H. Orlebar, A.F.C., Flight Lieut. D. D’Arcy A. Greig, D.F.C., A.F.C., Flight Lieut. G. H. Stainforth, Flying Officer R. L. R. Atcherley and Flying Officer H. R. D. Waghorn.

Flying Officer T. H. Moon, who had been out to Venice with the 1927 team, was included as engineer. Though the 1929 race was not until September, work was begun at Calshot in April, as it was decided that between four and five months of training would be necessary to familiarize the pilots with their machines. Even the 1927 machines were different from and faster than any others in the Service; even the most skilful pilots had found them difficult to manage at first. When the new seaplanes were delivered it was essential that every member of the team should be fully prepared for something even more powerful and perhaps more difficult to manage.

For speed, high power and small wings were essential. Control surfaces that were designed to operate at maximum efficiency at speed were not ideal for landing, taxying and take-offs.

When coming in to land, the pilots found that it was necessary to glide at about 130 miles an hour. Once the speed began to drop, because of the small wing area and great weight, the machines sank rapidly. The pilots had to become accustomed to this behaviour. It was the take-off that called for the greatest care and judgment. Once in the air, and at speed, the machines answered the controls perfectly.

The Schneider trophy

FOR THE SECOND TIME in succession the Schneider Trophy was won in 1925 by America. With this aircraft, Lieutenant J. Doolittle (standing on the float) achieved a winning speed of 232·57 miles an hour. The aircraft was a Curtiss seaplane with a 600 horse-power Curtiss engine. Great Britain was unfortunate in that her best machine, a Supermarine seaplane, crashed before the race.

THE WINNING AIRCRAFT in 1927, when the race was held in Italy. The British entries were under the charge of the British Government and were handled by RAF personnel. The winning machine was a Supermarine S5, piloted by Flight Lieutenant A. M. Webster, whose average speed for the race was 281.68 miles and hour.

Highly skilled men were needed to keep machines and engines in condition, for they were tuned to racing pitch. After little more than twelve hours’ flying, the engines were taken from the Glosters and sent back to the makers to be pulled to pieces and reassembled. Only three flights were made on one set of plugs, and careful examination of every part followed every practice flight.

While practice continued, the Gloster, Rolls-Royce and Napier companies were preparing the new machines and engines to be used in the contest. Four machines were ordered altogether by the Government - two Gloster IVs and two Supermarine S.6s. As before, the Gloster machines were being fitted with Napier engines, this time of about 1,400 horse-power. The Rolls-Royce engines for the Supermarines were expected to deliver about 1,900 horse-power.

Much was heard at the time of the last two Schneider races of the peculiar sensation of a “black-out”; this was one of the most unpleasant things with which the pilots had to contend. When a pilot was travelling fast in a straight line, a sharp turn caused complete, temporary blindness. Medical opinion explained the blindness as an effect caused by the blood draining away from the optical nerves because of the great centrifugal forces. Although forewarned, the pilots found the first “black-out” alarming. Later, when they became accustomed to it, they climbed to a good height and tried to see how many turns they could make “blacked-out”. A reversal of the controls brought back normal sight immediately, but it was necessary to learn as much as possible about the phenomenon, as the Schneider course called for four sharp turns on every lap. After a fair amount of practice it was found that as many as two and a half turns could be made by a pilot during his temporary blindness.

The contest was fixed for September 9, but the first of the new machines was not launched until September 5. Two days passed before the weather was favourable for a trial flight; then pilots and designers alike received a shock. When the engine was opened up, the torque caused by the increased power dug the left float into the water so much that the machine swung round. Here was a new problem, which had to be solved within a few days. A solution was found. Fuel was carried in the floats in these racing machines, and it was found, by carrying more petrol in the right float, that sufficient balance was obtained.

ONE OF THE ITALIAN ENTRIES in the 1929 Schneider race

ONE OF THE ITALIAN ENTRIES in the 1929 race, which was won for Great Britain by Flying Officer H. R. D. Waghorn in a Supermarine S.6 at a speed of 328·63 miles an hour. The Italian machine illustrated here is a Macchi 67, of which there were two in the race. Both these aircraft had to retire because of engine trouble, but the third Italian entry, an old Macchi 52, gained third position in the race.

The first few seconds were the most troublesome, for then the speed was insufficient to lift the tips of the floats clear of the water. Once that period had been passed all went well, unless the machine began to “porpoise”, that is, to leap away too quickly and to bounce back on the water (see the chapter “Seaplanes and Their Work”). Numerous troubles were discovered and overcome. In the end, with a few hours in hand, it was believed that the British machines had a good chance of winning.

There was much speculation as to the chances of the Italians, the only challengers in 1929, and there were many rumours about unorthodox machines which were on the way. When the Italians arrived in England, they brought with them two new Macchi 67s, a Macchi 52, redesigned after the 1927 contest, a Fiat and a Savoia.

The Savoia was one of the strangest aircraft ever seen in Great Britain. It was a low-wing monoplane on floats, with two enormous engines, one in front of the pilot’s cockpit and the other behind it. The forward engine drove a tractor airscrew and the rear engine drove a pusher screw, which revolved between two booms which held the tail.

The final entries were Italy: Dal Molin, in a Macchi 52, Cadringher in a Macchi 67 and Monti in a Macchi 67; Great Britain: Waghorn in a Supermarine S.6, D’Arcy Greig in a Supermarine S.5 and Atcherley in a Supermarine S.6.

On the day of the race hundreds of thousands of spectators lined the shores of Hampshire and of the Isle of Wight. They expected to see machines flying faster than anything had ever flown before; they were not disappointed. The contest still called for “seaworthiness” trials, but these, taxying and mooring, were completed before the speed events. Great Britain drew the first start and Waghorn took off in one of the new S.6s. Dal Molin followed him in the old Macchi 52 and then D’Arcy Greig took off in the second British machine, the S.5. Italy’s second pilot, Cadringher, came fourth in the first Macchi 67, Atcherley fifth, in the other S.6, and Monti last, in the second Macchi 67.

Challengers Eliminated

The tiny machines, heavy with concentrated power, flew round the course, the roar of their engines, seeming to trail far behind them. Two Italians, Monti and Cadringher, were forced to retire because of engine trouble. Atcherley was disqualified for missing a pylon - an easy thing to do in the circumstances. The other three machines finished and Great Britain won the first and second places. First was Waghorn, in an S.6, second D’Arcy Greig, in an S.5, and third Dal Molin, in a Macchi 52. The average speed of the winning S.6 was 328·63 miles an hour, no less than 47 miles an hour better than that of the winner in the 1927 contest.

Great Britain had now won the first two rounds, and it remained for her to gain a third victory - and the trophy. The final race was to be held in 1931, but by this time the expense of preparing for such an event was so enormous that the British Government decided to withdraw. Then, almost at the last moment, Lady Houston came forward with a generous offer to finance the race. Her offer was accepted, and she gave the sum of £100,000 to cover expenses.

An advanced type of S.6 - the S.6B - was produced by the Supermarine Company, and Sir Henry Royce designed an engine that has still to be surpassed for performance. Into virtually the same external space, and working within fixed limits of weight, he succeeded in adding another four hundred horse-power.

When the day for the contest arrived, only Great Britain was represented, although it had been hoped that machines from France, Italy and U.S.A. would compete. Bad luck defeated the challengers and Great Britain secured the Schneider trophy permanently by flying round the course. The technical winner was Flight Lieut. J. N. Boothman; his speed was 340·08 miles an hour.

Two years later Italy captured the world’s speed record for seaplanes with a speed of 423·7 miles an hour (increased to 440·6 miles an hour in 1934). It is possible that, had the Italians been able to get their machines ready in time, they might have carried off the trophy once again in 1931. The trophy remains in Great Britain, and the Schneider days are over. But the rewards of Schneider experience are with us today.

A TECHNICAL VICTORY for Great Britain in 1931 won the Schneider Trophy permanently for Great Britain

A TECHNICAL VICTORY for Great Britain in 1931 won the Schneider Trophy permanently for Great Britain. It had been expected that aircraft from France, Italy and the United States would compete, but misfortune prevented this. Flight Lieutenant J. N. Boothman flew round the course in the Supermarine S.6B, illustrated here, at a speed of 340·08 miles an hour. The funds for the British machines in 1931 were provided by Lady Houston, after the Government had decided not to compete because of the high cost.

[From Part 20, published 19 July 1938]

You can read more on “Modern Aero Engines” , “Seaplanes and Their Work” and “Some Famous Air Trophies” on this website.

The Schneider Trophy