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The Schneider Cup

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In 1912 Jacques Schneider, son of the famous French arms manufacturer, donated a silver-plated bronze trophy to the Aero Club de France with the aim to promote seaplane development. This trophy was properly called La Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider, popularly known as the Schneider Cup1. Over the next eighteen years nations from Europe and America2 would fiercely compete to win it, with the competition held twelve times in eighteen years.

The Rules

Jacques Schneider announced his creation of the cup and the accompanying rules at the annual dinner of the Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup on 5 December, 1912. The Gordon Bennett Aviation Cup was one of the first aeroplane contests with the first race in 1909.

The rules of the competition were that:

  • Entrants would represent their country, and in particular, their country's National Aero Club, rather than enter as individuals.
  • The winning country would host the next competition in the name of the National Aero Club to which the pilot was affiliated.
  • As well as a test of speed there were tests of seaworthiness:
    • All aircraft had to be seaworthy as well as airworthy – only seaplanes and flying boats3 were allowed to compete.
    • Each plane had to take off and land on water at the end of the first lap.
    • Each plane had to pass basic navigability, watertightness and water taxiing exercises, and stay afloat for six hours before qualifying for the race.
    • If water leaked into the aircraft, the planes would be raced weighed down with whatever liquid had accumulated in the aircraft during the watertightness test.
  • The course had to be flown entirely over water, usually several laps of a usually triangular course to a total length of over 150 nautical miles. This was after 1921 lengthened to 212 nautical miles.
  • The race would be done on a time trial basis.
  • Each flying club could enter up to three competitors, with up to three pilots and aircraft in reserve.
  • Any country that won the Schneider Cup originally three times within five years or later three times in succession would win it outright.
  • The competition was originally held annually (except during the Great War) although this was later changed to every two years.
  • After passing the elimination trials, the aircraft could not be substantially modified or have its engine replaced, although tinkering and basic repairs were allowed.

The Cup

The silver-plated trophy itself, nicknamed the 'flying flirt', is an example of art nouveau style, and was designed by E. Garbard shows a winged woman, representing the Spirit of Flight, flying above the sea waves, in which are four male figures, Neptune and three Tritons, with the Spirit of Flight kissing Neptune. The waves themselves are on a base above octopuses and crabs. This trophy is now on display in the Science Museum, London.

The cup was valued at 25,000 francs, roughly £1,000 and a purse of £1,000 was also offered for the winner each year for the first three years.

The 1913 Cup – Monaco, France

The first Schneider Cup race took place at Monaco4, where another hydro-aeroplane contest was taking place. Seven countries, Belgium, France, Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States entered, which was held at Monaco on 16 April, 1913, however many of the aircraft that had hoped to enter failed the elimination trials or suffered from water-logged engines. Due to this, the first contest, consisting of 28 laps of a 10km course, was held only between France and America, both countries flying in French designed aircraft.

This first contest was a learning experience. Two entrants, Roland Garros flying a Morane-Saulnier, had trouble taking off and his engine became waterlogged. Gabriel Espanet, flying a Nieuport managed a bit better and flew to a height of almost ten feet, before the plane finally plunged nose-first into the water and sank. Both were forced to drop out early from the race.

Marice Prévost, representing France, flew his Deperdussin midwing monoplane converted to a seaplane through the addition of floats. However, he landed 500 yards before the finish line, taxying over it instead. His last lap was therefore disqualified. Prévost was told that if he took his plane back out onto the course he could redo the last lap and in all likelihood come second, however Prévost refused. The American entrant, Charles Weymann, then set out but his oil line burst and he was forced to land just four laps short of victory. Seeing that his competitor had been eliminated from the race, almost an hour after he had originally finished, Prévost decided to fly the last lap after all and as a consequence he won. 58 minutes were added to his time, which gave him an average speed time of 45.75mph when he was actually travelling just over 60mph.

This, the first competition, was the only one that the host nation, France, actually won.

The 1914 Cup – Monaco, France

Germany, France, Switzerland, America and Britain all competed for the second competition, held in Monaco on 20 April 1914. Britain entered two aircraft; a Sopwith Tabloid biplane specially built for the cup piloted by Howard 'Picky' Pixton, and a Deperdussin monoplane similar to the winner of the 1913 Cup piloted by Lord Carbery. The Sopwith Tabloid was a biplane fitted with floats, designed by Thomas Sopwith and Harry Hawker5. This was the lowest powered aircraft in the race and was also small, but highly manoeuvrable and fast. At 8am the race began, 28 laps of the 10km course, with the first lap also requiring two alightings on the water. The Sopwith Tabloid started fourth, after Levasseur and Espanet representing France and Burri representing Switzerland, followed by Lord Carbery, also representing Britain. Howard Pixton easily beat all competition and after completing the race after 28 laps, did two laps of honour, raising the World Seaplane Speed Record to 92mph. Of his competitors, only the five pilots started the race. Lord Carbery was forced to retire after water contaminated his fuel after the first lap, with Espanet retiring after 17 laps and Levasseur after 18. Only Burri representing Switzerland was also able to complete the race, despite his aircraft having extreme trouble taking off.

Later versions of the Sopwith Tabloid built specifically as seaplanes would be named the Sopwith Schneider after this victory. The experience of designing the Sopwith Tabloid was to prove invaluable to Thomas Sopwith, who would design classic fighter aircraft such as the Sopwith Pup and Sopwith Camel for Great Britain during the Great War.

The 1919 Cup – Bournemouth, Hampshire, UK

After the interruption caused by the Great War, the Schneider Trophy was again raced for on 10 September, 1919. Curiously, the venue chosen by the host, the Royal Aero Club, was Bournemouth, Hampshire6, a town with few facilities for flying boats. The 37km course was triangular, with turning points at Christchurch Bay, Bournemouth Pier and Swanage Bay. The contestants from France, Italy and Great Britain were asked to complete ten laps. Although the day of the water elimination trials, 9 September, 1919, had perfect weather the day of the contest itself was struck by extreme fog.

The British entrants were a Supermarine Sea Lion biplane flying boat, an Avro aircraft (which sank in the elimination stages), a Fairey III and a Sopwith Schneider. The Sopwith Schneider was not the same aircraft used in the 1918 cup race, but a unique racing special powered by a 450hp Cosmos Jupiter engine similar to the Sopwith Snipe especially built for the race and piloted by Harry Hawker. The Supermarine Sea Lion, piloted by Squadron Leader Basil D Hobbs, was the first Supermarine aircraft built for the Schneider trophy. It was a development of Supermarine's Sea King which was based on the Supermarine Baby built in 1917, powered by a Napier Lion engine, and was a flying boat biplane with a twin-bladed pusher propeller7. The modifications were designed by RJ Mitchell.

On the day of the race the Supermarine struck a submerged or floating object when it took off from Swanage Bay. The fuselage was holed, so that when the aircraft again alighted near Bournemouth Pier it sank suddenly and was forced to be written off. The other British entrants, Vincent Nicholl, managed a few laps in the Fairey III, and Harry Hawker completed one in the Sopwith Schneider, in the fog before they were forced to retire due to the weather conditions. The three French pilots did not even manage that.

The one Italian pilot, Sergeant Guido Gianello flying a Savoia S.13 biplane flying boat, almost completed the race. Although he flew 11 laps, he too was badly affected by the fog. Instead of sticking to the correct course and flying around a marker ship in Swanage Bay he was confused by a similar shaped ship in Studland Bay, the bay next to Swanage Bay, and actually did 11 laps of a shorter course.

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale ruled the whole event void, but awarded Italy the right to stage the next year's contest.

The 1920 Cup – Venice, Italy

The 1920 Cup contest held in Venice was also a disappointment. Due to the task of designing, developing and constructing a racing aircraft within a year, the only entrant for the 1920 Cup were the Italian team. Lieutenant Luigi Bolognia won the 1920 Schneider Cup on 21 September in a Savoia S.12, completing the ten laps of a 37.5-km course, a total of 231 miles, without competition.

The 1921 Cup – Venice, Italy

It was a similar situation for the 1921 Cup, even though the course length was increased. The only aircraft to complete the 16 laps of the 24.6km course were Italian, with the French aircraft forced to retire before take-off with a damaged float. On 7 August, 1921, Giovanni de Briganti won, flying a Macchi M.7 biplane pusher propeller flying boat at an average speed of 117.85 mph.

The 1922 Cup – Naples, Italy

The next event was held in Naples between 10 and 12 August, 1922 and it looked like Italy would win for a third and final time, thus winning the cup outright. France's entry, two Chantiers-Aéro-Maritime de la Seine CAMS36, capsized in the elimination trials.

The Italians entered three aircraft; two Macchi M.17s and a new biplane flying boat, the Savoia S.51. Britain's solo entry, a Supermarine Sea Lion II, designed by RJ Mitchell, who would later design the Spitfire, looked old fashioned as a pusher-propellered biplane. However it was a refined and modified development of the Sea Lion I that had flown in the 1919 race. It was shorter, had a modified four-bladed propeller design and new rudder, and was a far superior aircraft. It was flown by the skilful Supermarine test pilot Henri Biard.

The contest was tight, with the three Italian and one British aircraft all completing the 13 laps of the 28.5km course. The two Macchi M17s piloted by Piero Corgnolino and Arturo Zanetti came in fourth and third respectively, Alessandro Passaleva in the Savoia S.51 second but with a time two minutes in advance and 3mph faster, Henri Biard won the 1922 Schneider Cup for Great Britain.

The 1923 Cup – Cowes, Isle of Wight, UK

In 1923, when Britain next hosted the Schneider Cup, they wisely chose Cowes on the Isle of Wight as the venue for the competition. In many ways, Cowes was the natural choice of venue to host such a prestigious event. As the home of international sailing, Cowes had long associations with holding nautical related events; it was at Cowes that the America's Cup Yacht Race was first held. Cowes also had a thriving seaplane and flying boat industry, with Samuel White's making Wight flying boats at its Somerton works in Cowes. It was at Cowes on the Isle of Wight that the hull of the prototype 'Bat Boat'8 was built and by 1923 Saunders had five sites in Cowes and East Cowes dedicated to aircraft construction. The experience in handling events of this nature combined with the superb aircraft facilities helped make the 1923 cup race a success.

The 1923 cup race was when the race began to get serious. Before 1923 the race had been between individuals and aircraft companies after publicity. However, this was now going to change. Entrants from Britain, France and America entered, with Italy forced to pull out due to lack of funds.

On the day of the race, 28 September, once again France suffered bad luck. Six French applicants had applied to enter the race, with two CAMS aircraft, two Blanchard-Bleriot aircraft and two Latham aircraft built by Société Industrielle de Caudebec-en-Caux, which suffered from engine failure. Only the two CAMS flying boats, a CAMS36 and a CAMS38, made it past the elimination stage. These two French entrants again suffered bad luck, with both French flying boats forced to retire from the race, the CAMS36 failed to take off after a collision and the CAMS38 was forced to retire after lap 2.

The main British entry was a Supermarine Sea Lion III, a more powerful version of the Sea Lion II which had won the previous contest, again designed by RJ Mitchell and piloted by Henri Biard. The other British entrants were a Blackburn Pellet flying-boat piloted by Reginald Kenworthy, which sank spectacularly before the race and a Sopwith-Hawker, which was written off before the contest.

The American entrants, however, were a far more serious and experienced team. The US Navy sought to use high profile air racing events as a means of getting publicity, and felt that the Schneider Cup would be perfect. They commissioned Curtiss and Wright Aeronautical Company to create racing aircraft. Curtiss converted their already successful sleek CR-2 biplane which had already won the 1921 Pulitzer Trophy9 into a seaplane with streamlined pontoon floats and a metal propeller able to cope with its highly powerful innovative Curtiss D-12 engine. The Wright Aeronautical Company designed the Wright NW2 'Mystery Racer' aircraft, which sadly sank during the testing stage. The pilots chosen to represent America were professional US Navy pilots – Lieutenant David Ritterhouse and Lieutenant Rutledge Irvine.

The contestants had to complete 5 laps of a 68.9km. course for a total of 186 nautical miles. This was a triangular course off the north coast of the Isle of Wight over the Solent, with turning points off Selsey Bill and Southsea Castle, with the start and finish of the course off Cowes.

Although skilled pilot Henri Biard tried desperately to get as much speed from his comparatively large and clumsy Sea Lion III flying boat as possible, flying very skilfully, there was no real prospect of his being able to compete with the sleeker, streamlined American aircraft. Lieutenant Ritterhouse won with an average speed of 177mph and Lieutenant Irvine came second with a speed of 173mph, both flying the superb Curtiss CR-3. Henri Biard in the Supermarine Sea Lion III, at a speed of 157mph, over 10mph faster than his winning time the previous year, came third.

The time when flying boats were able to successfully compete against seaplanes in contests of speed had ended.

The 1925 Cup – Baltimore, Maryland, USA

In 1924 America graciously postponed the Schneider Cup race until 1925 to allow Italy time to develop aircraft for the race and as Britain's entry for the 1924 cup, the Gloster II10, had crashed. The next race was therefore held in Baltimore on 26 October 1925. This was expected to be quite a contest, with the American team up against two previous Schneider Cup winners as well as fearsome looking aircraft, in particular the new Supermarine S4 and Gloster III. The Italian entries were two Macchi M.33 monoplane flying boat, much smaller and more compact than previous flying boats. The pilots were Giovanni de Briganti, the winner of the 1921 Schneider Cup, and Riccardo Morselli. The British entries were Henri Biard, the winner of the 1922 cup and back to compete for the third time, Hubert Broad and Squadron Leader HJL 'Bert' Hinkler11. They had new, streamlined aircraft to compete with. The main threat was RJ Mitchell's Supermarine S4, which Henri Biard had set a new seaplane speed record of 226mph in on a test flight. It was a sleek monoplane with streamlined pontoons, the direct ancestor of the Spitfire. Two Gloster III biplanes designed by Henry Folland12 were also entered. These were exceptionally small but powerful biplanes.

The defending American team had Curtiss R3C-2 aircraft. These were converted from the R3C-1 aircraft that had won the 1925 Pullitzer trophy two weeks earlier converted into seaplanes. The American pilots were George Cuddihy, Ralph Oftsie and James Harold Doolittle13.

On the day of the contest's preliminary tests, Henri Biard took the S4 on a test flight. For Biard, used to the pusher-propellered Sea Lion flying boats and the panoramic view available from having the engine and wings behind him, the visibility from the cockpit on the S4, which was behind the wings and engine, was extremely restricted. Henri almost collided with a ship in the bay. Henri Biard was also quite ill on his arrival in America, and although urged to retire from piloting the S4 in favour of Bert Hinkler, he insisted on piloting the S4, determined not to lose another Schneider Cup race. At 10am on 23 October he took off for a test flight, yet on the second turn the S4 crashed violently into the water, sinking to the bottom of the bay. Biard went down too but managed to struggle free. Later verdicts determined that the accident was probably caused by flutter combined with the indisposition of the pilot as a result of the physical effects of flying at very high speed. For the final race, America would face the Gloster Biplanes and Macchi M33.

On the day of the race itself, the Gloster III piloted by Bert Hinkler was damaged in the trials and failed to race. Two of the Curtiss aircraft were forced to withdraw from the race, one on Lap 6 and one on Lap 7 with the end in sight. Giovanni de Briganti came a respectable third place with an average speed of 168mph, 50mph faster than when he had won in 1921, Hubert Broad came second in the Gloster III at a speed of 199mph, but James 'Jimmy' Doolittle won with 232mph. The following day, James Doolittle set a new seaplane world speed record for seaplanes in the R3C-2 at 245.7mph. America had retained the Schneider Cup and would be the next host. If they won the following event, that would be three wins in a row and the Schneider Cup would be won by America in perpetuity.

The 1926 Cup – Hampton Roads, Vancouver, USA

The 1926 Cup contest was held at Hampton Roads14 on 13 November 1926 over a 7 lap, totalling 189 nautical mile, course. Britain and France's aircraft were not ready to compete, and only Italy was able to compete with America.

However, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had decreed that Italy would win the Schneider Cup, no matter what. Aeronautica Macchi's chief designer Mario Castoldi designed the Macchi M39, a low-wing cruciform tail seaplane. These planes suffered from high torque and heavy floats that affected the plane's balance. On one of the M39's test flights one of the pilots, Vittorio Centurione, crashed into Lake Varesse and died.

The American US Navy team had developed the previous year's Curtiss R3C-2 biplane by installing new and more powerful engines to create the R3C-3 and R3C-4. America too suffered tragedy when one of their pilots flying to the Schneider Cup race, Lieutenant Frank Conant crashed and died on the journey. The trials too saw one of the R3C-3s crash, although the pilot, Lieutenant Tomlinson, survived unharmed.

During the race, Italian Arturo Ferrarin was out on lap 4. Lieutenant George T. Cuddihy attempted valiantly to win before being forced to drop out of the race two miles before the finish line when his fuel pump broke. William Tomlinson, who had written off his Curitss R3C-3 aircraft, finished the race in an older and all but obsolete Curtiss Hawk biplane that, at a speed of 137mph, was no match for the rest of the competitors. Adriano Bacula came third at 218mph in a Macchi M39. Lieutenant Charles Schildt flew his R3C-4 at an impressive 231mph, but Major Mario de Bernardi won for Italy and Mussolini with an average speed was 246.5mph, despite his engine overheating causing him to fly at a high altitude to cool his engine down.

The 1927 Cup – Venice, Italy

By 1927 Britain had realised that in order to compete successfully with Italy and America for the Schneider Cup, like them they would need more than private enterprise and amateur pilots to represent the country. Britain would need highly trained pilots specifically trained at flying seaplanes at speed as well as government sponsorship to pay for the costs of designing the aircraft and training the pilots, and for the first time in 1927 the British Air Ministry agreed to do just that. Three companies were invited to submit designs for the upcoming Schneider Cup; Supermarine, Gloster and Short Bros., who would make the famous Short Sunderland flying boat.

For Supermarine R. J. Mitchell designed the S5, an improved version of the S4 built around a more powerful Napier Lion engine and with reduced weight and drag for better performance. Harry Folland for Gloster designed the Gloster IV biplane, the last biplane entered for the Schneider trophy. The Short Crusader was the only radial-engined aircraft ever entered for the Schneider Cup, but was lighter and smaller than other aircraft. The American team had the Mercury Racer aircraft built by the Mercury Aircraft Company. The Italian team had the Macchi M52 aircraft designed by Castoldi, a development of his successful M39 design with a smaller, swept-back wing, smaller tailplane and shorter floats. He was confident the plane would reach 300mph.

In order to meet the challenge of the 1927 Schneider Cup, the RAF High-Speed Flight was formed to practice and participate in the race, based at Calshot. For two months they practised for the race at Calshot, flying the Supermarine S5, Gloster IV and Short seaplanes before leaving for Venice. However before the race all teams were to face problems.

The American entry, Al Williams flying the Mercury Racer, sank during the tests and never made it past the elimination stage, leaving the contest between Italy and Great Britain. The British Short Crusader, after being shipped to Italy, was discovered to have frayed aileron control cables. New ones were fitted, however this was done incorrectly so that when Flying Officer HM Schofield flew the aircraft it crashed into the sea and broke in half. An Italian test pilot, Lieutenant Borra, was killed during a test flight in the M52 when his engine stalled and he crashed into Lake Varese.

On 25 September 1927, in front of a 200,000 strong Italian crowd in Venice, the contest between Italy and Britain began. Britain was represented by two Supermarine S5s, piloted by Flight Lieutenants Sidney Webster and Oswald Worsley, and a Gloster IV piloted by Flight Lieutenant Sam Kinhead. Italy was represented by three Macchi M52s piloted by Major Mario de Bernardi, who had won the previous year's cup, as well as Arturo Ferrarin and Frederico Guazetti. Unfortunately, the Macchi M52s all had reliability problems and none of them were able to complete the 189 nautical mile course, much to the disappointment of the home Italian crowd. Frederico Guazetti had flown at a speed greater than that of Sam Kinhead in the Gloster IV, almost rivalling the Supermarine S5s for speed. Sam Kinhead was forced to withdraw on the fourth lap when something hit his propeller. Frederico Guazetti was then forced to withdraw on the seventh lap with engine trouble.

The S5s came in first and second places, with Flight Lieutenant Sidney 'Webby' Webster, later Air Vice-Marshal, winning at a speed of almost 282mph. It was a rather Pyrrhic consolation when, a month after the Schneider Cup contest, a Macchi M52 flown by Major Mario de Bernardi broke the World Speed Record and flew at 296.94mph and later even reaching 318.57mph. This, though, was too little too late. Britain had won the Schneider Cup and would host the next event.

The 1929 Cup – Calshot, Hampshire, UK

After the 1927 Cup it was agreed to hold the Schneider Cup every two years, to allow more time to develop aircraft. However, on their return to England from Venice the High-Speed Flight continued practising in 1928 for the next competition, to be held in 1929 and based at Calshot. On 12 March, 1928, whilst attempting to break Major Mario de Bernardi's new speed record, Flight Lieutenant Sam Kinhead fatally crashed into the Solent whilst piloting a Supermarine S5. His plan had been to fly a measured 3 kilometre course over Southampton Water, and to get the maximum possible speed, he would dive just before he reached the start. He never pulled out of the dive.

The British Air Ministry commissioned Supermarine15 and Gloster to build more seaplanes for the 1929 Schneider Trophy race. RJ Mitchell designed the Supermarine S6. These were the first aircraft he designed powered by a Rolls Royce engine, as he felt that the Napier Lion engine had reached its limit. The Rolls Royce engine, the R, was the precursor to the Merlin16 engine, and was reportedly designed by Sir Henry Royce whilst sketching in the sand with a stick at the beach. It was requested, sketched, designed, constructed and installed in the S6 within six months.

Henry Folland designed first the Gloster V, a biplane modification of the Gloster IV, and then realised the inevitable and designed the Gloster VI 'Golden Arrow' monoplane still based on the Napier Lion engine, with wings thinner at the roots than the midsection for better control at low speeds.

The 1929 contest received interest from not only Britain and Italy, but also America, Germany and France. The Italian team developed four new aircraft for the race. The first was the Piaggio-Pegna Pc.7, an unusual aircraft more similar to a flying boat than a seaplane. It had hydroplanes like a hydrofoil rather than floats, which meant it had trouble taking off. The second was the Savoia-Marchetti S65, a pusher propellered two tandem engined aircraft with twin booms, the third was the Fiat C29, and the fourth the Macchi M67. The Fiat C29 and Savoia S65 both proved unreliable. The Fiat C29 crashed during trials and almost killed Sergeant Agello, the pilot. The Macchi M67 also proved unreliable, as during a trial run over Lake Garda in August 1929, Captain Guiseppe Motta, reaching the speed of 362 mph, crashed fatally. As well as two Macchi M67s a modified M52 from 1927, now designated an M52R, was entered at the last minute to represent Italy. The three French aircraft were not finished in time to enter the contest, Germany's design had stalled at the model stage. The American entry, 1923 Pulitzer winner Lieutenant Al Williams and his Mercury aircraft, again did not make it to the contest, having been forced to withdraw in 1927 also. Lacking government sponsorship, he had been promised travel across the Atlantic by the US Navy, but they withdrew their offer shortly before the contest. Al Williams' aircraft however was underpowered and had trouble taking off.

Like the 1923 contest, the 1929 contest was held over the Solent north of Cowes, with the aircraft stored at Calshot, Hampshire. Among those involved with organising the 1929 Schneider Cup competition at Calshot was Aircraftsman Lawrence Shaw, a pseudonym for Lawrence of Arabia. The contest was held on Saturday 7 September, 1929, with over a million people watching the race. The diamond course's starting line was just off Ryde Pier on the Isle of Wight, with four turning points: off Seaview, south of Hayling Island, near Southsea Castle and north of Cowes. Competitors had to complete seven laps.

With the Gloster VI aircraft in reserve for Britain, it would be a case of the two new Supermarine S6s and one Supermarine S5 against the two Macchi M67s and one M52R. However, the night before the race, disaster struck the British team. It was realised that one of the S6's engines had developed a fault. The rules stated that after the elimination trials the engine could not be replaced, and the Supermarine team did not have the knowledge or experience to fix the problem in the cylinder block. Fortunately it was realised that the team of Rolls Royce technicians had come down to Southampton to witness the race, and were celebrating in a pub. The police were recruited to search Southampton's pubs for Rolls Royce engineers who were taken to Calshot and were able to fix the problem overnight without disqualifying the aircraft from the race.

On the day of the race itself the new Macchi M67s suffered from engine problems. Lieutenants Remo Cadringher and Giovanni Monti flying the new Italian aircraft both experienced potentially life threatening problems, with Cadringher's engine exploding on the first lap, causing smoke and fumes to all-but choke him, forcing him to withdraw, although he valiantly completed the first lap. Giovanni Monti completed his first lap without incident, but on his second lap the radiator burst, pouring boiling water and steam over him, scalding his arms and legs. Tomaso Dal Molin in the old but reliable Macchi M52R completed the course at 284mph.

D'Arcy Greig, flying the older Supermarine S5, was narrowly beaten by Tomaso Dal Molin, and completed the race at 282mph. Flight Officer Richard 'Batchy' Atcherley, flying one of the Supermarine S6s was flying round the course at an impressive 325mph when his goggles were blown off in the slipstream. As a result of this he flew off course, missing one of the turning pylons, and as a consequence was disqualified. Flight Lieutenant Waghorn raced the remaining S6 around the course at a speed of 328mph. He had completed what he thought was his sixth lap and was nearing the end of the seventh when he noticed he was running out of fuel. He climbed in the hope of being able to glide the remaining distance to win, yet only made it to Old Castle Point, Cowes, and not the finish at Ryde, a few miles short. It was only 20 minutes later that he was told that he had, in the excitement, incorrectly counted the number of laps he had done and had completed the 7 lap course and almost completed an eighth.

Five days later Squadron Leader Orlebar flew an S6 to break the air-speed record, flying at 365mph. The Supermarine S6 flown by Flight Officer Atcherley is on display at Solent Sky, the Southampton Hall of Aviation. Britain had won two Schneider contests in a row, and only needed one more victory to win the cup outright.

The 1931 Race – Calshot, Hampshire, UK

In 1931, when Britain had the opportunity to defend its title and win the Schneider Trophy outright, the world's financial position had changed. With Britain, and indeed the world, in the recession known as the Great Depression, which had started in the end of 1929, the British government was unwilling to finance developing a new aircraft for the race. The rich and patriotic Lady Houston saved the day nine months before the competition by sponsoring Britain's team. She provided the Supermarine team with £100,000, which was enough money for RJ Mitchell to refine his S6 aircraft, but not enough to develop a new one, nor was there time to do so. The two existing S6 aircraft were fitted with a more powerful Rolls Royce engine and known as the S6A while two completely new aircraft were built, known as the S6.B. The British government had also wished to close down the High Speed Flight based at Calshot, but were persuaded to postpone the closure until after the race. A British test pilot, Lieutenant G. L. 'Gerry' Brinton was killed when taking off in the S6A on 18 August, 1931.

While the British Government were cutting their sponsorship with the Schneider Cup team, the Italian dictatorship was doing the opposite. With the backing of the Mussolini government, Balbo established a flying school, known as the Reparto Alta Velocita or High Speed Section, on Lake Garda in 1930. It aimed to train seven specially selected and skilled pilots over almost 18 months specifically to win the 1931 race.

Italy and France had problems too. The French entry, the Bernard HV220, was not completed in time and the principal pilot, died in a crash in the Bernard HV120 training aircraft. The Italian team suffered tragic setbacks when on 18 January 1930 Warrant Officer Tomasso Dal Molin flew the Savoia Marchetti S-65 in an attempt at the world speed record, but crashed and died. The main Italian aircraft, the Mario Castoldi designed Macchi MC72, first flew in June 1931 and during flight testing in August the first MC72 Captain Giovanni Monti was killed when it crashed into Lake Garda. Two days before the contest Stanislao Bellini flew the second MC72 into a hill in an attempt to break the speed record. As a consequence, Italy withdrew from the competition. For the first time since 1920 the host country was the only country competing for the cup.

The triangular course was in the eastern Solent and had to be completed 7 times, making the course a total distance of 218 miles. Contestants flew from Ryde Pier, round the first maker near Bembridge, north east to West Wittering, and then west to a point off Cowes, before turning south east back to Ryde Pier. Flight Lieutenant Boothman easily won the race at Calshot in 1931 at a speed on 340mph, winning the Schneider Trophy outright on Sunday 13 September, 1931. This aircraft is on display in the London Science Museum. Two weeks later Flight Lieutenant Stainforth flew the other S6.B at a record air-speed of 407.5mph, the first man to fly at over 400mph.17

Three years later Warrant Officer Francesco Agello finally flew the M.C.72 at a speed of 434.7 mph, setting a world speed record, but this was too late. Britain had won the Schneider Cup outright.


The Schneider Cup condensed aircraft development and result in the creation of some of the greatest aircraft of all time. Engine development, streamlining, understanding medical effects of high speed flight and the development of engine superchargers all were progressed as a result of the cup. AF Sidgreaves, managing director of Rolls-Royce, declared that his company's involvement in the Schneider Cup had compressed 10 years of engine development into two years, and would result in the Merlin engine, the aircraft engine that would power the Spitfire, Hurricane and Mustang. Three of the principal designers involved would go on to design some of the most remarkable aircraft of the Second World War – Mario Castoldie would design the Macchi MC200 Saetta and MC202 Folgore fighters, the principal Italian fighter aircraft. Henry Folland would design the Gloster Gladiator, although by the outbreak of war as a biplane it was an outdated aircraft, it still held its own against more advanced designs and defended the island of Malta from invasion. RJ Mitchell took the lessons he had learnt from the contest to design the Spitfire, an aircraft that would become a nation's symbol and the most famous aircraft in the world.

It is true that this did not occur without cost. Over the 18 years of the contest, thirteen pilots, one French, two American, three British, and seven Italian, died in developing aircraft for the Cup, although no-one died during the race itself. This shows the extent to which these aircraft pioneers were pushing the boundaries of what was possible to achieve with aircraft and the spirit of adventure with which they pursued it.

The Schneider Cup plays a large part in the 1942 war film First of the Few, (released as Spitfire in America). This film focuses on the life of RJ Mitchell and the Schneider Trophy.

YearCompetition HeldNationWinning AircraftPilotSpeed (mph)
1913Monaco, FranceFranceDeperdussin MonocoqueMaurice Prévost45.71
1914Monaco, FranceUnited KingdomSopwith TabloidHoward Pixton86.83
1919Bournemouth, Hampshire, UK(Void)(Void)(Void)(Void)
1920Venice, ItalyItalySavoia S.12Luigi Bologna43.83
1921Venice, ItalyItalyMacchi M7bisGiovanni de Briganti117.85
1922Naples, ItalyUnited KingdomSupermarine Sea Lion IIHenri Biard145.72
1923Cowes, Isle of Wight, UKUnited StatesCurtiss CR-3David Rittenhouse177.27
1925Baltimore, United StatesUnited StatesCurtiss R3C-2First Lieutenant James Doolittle232.57
1926Hampton Roads, United StatesItalyMacchi M39Major Mario de Bernardi246.5
1927Venice, ItalyUnited KingdomSupermarine S5Flying Officer Sidney Webster281.66
1929Calshot, Hampshire, UKUnited KingdomSupermarine S6Flying Officer Henry R.Waghorn328.65
1931Calshot, Hampshire, UKUnited KingdomSupermarine S6BFlight Lieutenant John Boothman340.09
Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1900 - 1919Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1920 - 1945Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1946 - 1960Aircraft of the Isle of Wight: 1960 - 2000Southampton Airport, Eastleigh, Hampshire, UKBehind The Battle Of BritainWestland WhirlwindGloster MeteorConcordeOld Sarum AirfieldAircraftAircraft SpottingFlying Aces Of Great War
1Also known as the Schneider Trophy as the trophy was not cup shaped.2Countries that entered the contest were Belgium, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the United States, although aircraft from Belgium, Germany and Spain never made it past the elimination stage to the race itself.3A Flying Boat was originally conceived to be a boat that flies, and therefore different from a seaplane, which is an aeroplane that can land on water. In practical terms, a seaplane has floats instead of wheels to prevent the body of the plane touching the water, whereas a flying boat's fuselage is shaped like the hull of a boat and floats in the water. A flying boat is often, but not always, larger than a seaplane. Seaplanes were originally known as 'hydro-aeroplanes' until they were renamed 'seaplanes' by the then First Lord of the Admiralty and later Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. Confusingly, in America, flying boats are known as seaplanes, and seaplanes are known as 'floatplanes'.4For the first two Schneider Cup races, France took the unusual step of hosting the event in a different, neighbouring country. Although Monaco is an independent country to France, for the sake of the Schneider Cup it was felt that France was hosting the cup in Monaco.5After the Sopwith Aviation Company dissolved in 1920, Harry Hawker and Thomas Sopwith would purchase it to form the Hawker Aircraft Company. This would go on to design the Hawker Hurricane, one of the Second World War's greatest aircraft, and Hawker Harrier jump-jet aircraft. Harry Hawker died in the 1921 Hendon Aerial Derby.6In 1974 Bournemouth would become part of Dorset.7A pusher propeller aircraft has its propeller or propellers facing the rear of the aircraft. The aeroplane is in effect 'pushed' from the rear rather than 'pulled' from the front.8The 'Bat Boat' was Europe's first flying boat. The fuselage was built by Saunders under contract from Sopwith, who designed and constructed the rest of the Bat Boat at Kingston upon Thames. It was never entered for the Schneider Trophy but a later variant was fitted with wheels and was the first amphibious aircraft.9The Pulitzer Trophy was an aircraft speed contest established in 1920 by Ralph Pulitzer, an American publishing magnate.10This was a seaplane development of the Gloster I racer.11Australian born Bert Hinkler was an Avro test pilot and broke many flying records. He was the first person to fly solo from England to Australia, which he managed in under 16 days in 1928. In 1931 he flew across the South Atlantic solo, the first person to do so. His house in Southampton, Mon Repos, was dismantled in 1983, shipped to Bundaberg, Australia and rebuilt as a memorial to Australian aviation as part of the Hinkler Hall of Aviation. Bert Hinkler also has a street, park and pub named after him in Southampton.12Henry Folland was the chief designer for The Nieuport & General Aircraft Co. Ltd, which initially produced French Nieuport aircraft under licence in Britain before designing their own aircraft. Nieuport & General closed in 1920, and their rights to Nieuport designs were taken over by the Gloster Aircraft Company, who hired Henry Folland as their designer. Henry Folland was particularly skilled at designing biplane aircraft, in particular the Gloster Gladiator fighter. Henry Folland left Gloster in 1937 after Gloster were taken over by Hawker's. Henry Folland bought British Marine Aircraft Ltd, a Southampton company which had been set up in the hope of manufacturing American-designed Sikorsky helicopters in Britain under licence, although the right was revoked before production commenced. Henry Folland renamed British Marine Aircraft to Folland Aircraft Ltd in 1937, and manufactured other company's aircraft under licence. In the 1950s Folland's created fighter jet aircraft in the Folland name in the 1950s, although Henry Folland died in 1954. In 1959 Folland's were taken over by Hawker's.13James 'Jimmy' Doolittle was one of the finest professional American pilots of the era. An ex-boxer, he was one of America's finest test pilots and studied the effects that gravity and centrifugal force had on aircraft and pilots in theory and practice, writing the seminal work Accelerations in Flight. James Doolittle would later lead the Doolittle Raid on Tokyo during the Second World War.14The site of the first battle between ironclad warships on 9 March 1862 during the American Civil War.15In 1928 Supermarine aircraft was purchased by Vickers-Armstrong Ltd. Vickers-Armstrong Ltd was forcibly nationalised in 1960 to become British Aerospace and is now part of BAE Systems.16Merlin engines powered aircraft including the Spitfire, Hurricane Boulton Paul Defiant, Fairey Battle, De Havilland Mosquito and North American Mustang fighters as well as the Wellington, Halifax and Lancaster bombers.17There is a Memorial to Flight Lieutenant GH Stainforth in Greenhill Gardens, Weymouth.

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