RJ Mitchell. A life in aviation.
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History of the Schneider Trophy

Jacques Schneider and the birth of the contest

In August 1908, Frenchman Jacques Schneider, son of an armaments manufacturer, met Wilbur Wright at Le Mans during the early demonstrations of the Wright brother's aeroplanes in Europe. Already a keen balloonist, Schneider became fascinated by powered flight and the potential of seaplanes as the best solution for long-range passenger service. With over 70 percent of the earth covered by water, he identified that the World's oceans provided global "airfields" for a plane that could land on them.

On December 5th 1912, at the Aéro-Club de France, Schneider offered a trophy for a competition to encourage the development of seaplanes. The competition was officially titled "La Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider" but become known in Britain as the Schneider Trophy. Monsieur E Gabard was commissioned to create a silver plated trophy on a marble base depicting the Spirit of Flight kissing the waves. Into the waves were worked the heads of Neptune, God of the Sea, and three Tritons.

Picture of the Schneider trophy

In order to encourage the production of practical and reliable machines, the rules for the competition included navigation and mooring tests, as well as a speed event of at least 150 miles distance. The entries were to be sponsored by a national governing body - in Britain the Royal Aero Club - and the number of entrants for each nation was limited to three. The winning country would stage the next event, and any nation with three consecutive victories would win the trophy in perpetuity.

The Schneider competition rules were changed in early 1928. It was agreed that the event should be held every two years instead of annually, to give the competing nations more time to build and test their new machines.

Mitchell's new S.6 plane won the 1929 contest at Cowes. Flown by Fl.Off. 'Dick' Waghorn, it achieved an average speed of 328.63mph, nearly 45mph faster than the second place Italian Macchi M.52R.

With the British now having the opportunity to win the Trophy in perpetuity, the worldwide economic depression of the 1930s forced the British Government to withdraw any funding for the 1931 event. The Supermarine entry was saved when Lady Houston, the widow of a millionaire shipowner, made an unsolicited gift of £100,000. Mitchell modified his successful S.6 and along with a new Roll-Royce R engine won the Schneider Trophy outright with the Supermarine S.6B at a average speed of 340.08mph. A World Speed Record of 407.5mph in an S.6B was later achieved.

1913 - Monaco, France

The first Schneider Trophy contest, held in Monaco in April 1913, was won by a Frenchman, Maurice Prévost, in a monoplane flying at a speed of 45.75mph.

1914 - Monaco, France

The following year, 1914, there were two British competitors at Monaco, Lord Carberry in a French flying boat and Howard Pixton in a Sopwith Schneider biplane fitted with floats. Pixton won the race at an average speed of 86.78mph and his victory brought the Schneider Trophy to Britain for the first time.

1919 - Bournemouth, UK

The outbreak of war in August 1914 put an end to Schneider races until the Bournemouth contest of 1919. This was the first race that Supermarine, and therefore Mitchell, were to compete in with a Sea Lion racing seaplane. On race day, 10th September, thick fog reduced visibility to next to nothing and the event was cancelled. Despite this, Italy was designated as the host country for the next race.

1920 & 1921 - Venice, Italy

The 1920 and 1921 Schneider contests were held at Venice. There were no British entries and on both occaisions the race was won by Italy. The Italians required one more win to keep the Trophy for good.

1922 - Naples, Italy

Supermarine won the 1922 competition with a Sea Lion II designed by Mitchell and flown by Capt. Henri Biard, chief test pilot. He completed the course at Naples at an average speed of 145.7mph with the Italian pilot only 2.5mph slower.

1923 - Cowes, UK

In 1923 the race took place at Cowes. The American's arrived three weeks before the race with two Curtis CR.3 aircraft and Navy Wright N.W.2, the Italians failed to arrive, and the French entered two planes, a Latham L.1 and a Blanchard. The British entery included a Blackburn Pellet and a Supermarine Sea Lion III. At an average speed of 177.38mph Lt Rittenhouse, in a CR.3, won the race for America.

1925 - Baltimore, USA

The 1924 race was postponed until October 1925, when it was held at Baltimore, and was again won by the Americans with a Curtiss R3C.2. This now put them in a position to retain the Trophy outright. The S.4 was entered for the race but crashed in testing.

1926 - Norfolk, Virginia, USA

There were no British Entries to the 1926 race in Virginia. A strong Italian team took the Trophy back to Europe with a Macchi M.39 flown by Mario De Bernardi, at an average speed of 246.5mph.

1927 - Onwards

The 1927 Schneider Trophy at Venice saw the beginning of Mitchell and Supermarine's dominance in the event. The British team finished first and second in Supermaine S5s at an average speed of 281.66mph, a new world speed record for seaplanes and landplanes.


The legacy of the Schneider trophy

Having died in 1928, Jacques Schneider only witnessed the first of Mitchell, and Supermarine's, three consecutive wins. Although his original aims of the contest, namely furthering the development of long-range passenger and freight aircraft using the sea as airports, had not come to pass, there can be no doubt that the Schneider Trophy contributed to the significant advances in aircraft technology. From the first competition, in 1912, until the last, in 1931, average speeds had increased from 45mph to over 340mph and the knowledge gained by designers and engine manufacturers, Mitchell and Roll-Royce especially, would prove invaluable for the significant developments in aviation leading up to, and beyond, the Second World War.

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