laps over

Schneider Trophy

The Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider" (commonly called Schneider Trophy, or prize or cup) was a prize competition for seaplanes. Announced by Jacques Schneider, a financier, balloonist and aircraft enthusiast, in 1911, it offered a prize of roughly £1,000. The race was held eleven times between 1913 and 1931. It was meant to encourage technical advances in civil aviation but became a contest for pure speed with laps over a triangular course (initially 280 km, later 350 km). The races were very popular and some attracted crowds of over 200,000 spectators.

If an aero club won three races in five years, they would retain the cup and the winning pilot would receive 75,000 francs. Each race was hosted by the previous winning country. The races were supervised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and the Aero Club in the hosting country. Each club could enter up to three competitors with an equal number of alternates.

After 1921, an additional requirement was added: the winning seaplane had to remain moored to a buoy for six hours without human intervention.

The trophy was first competed for on April 16, 1913, at Monaco and won by a French Deperdussin at an average speed of 45.75 mph (73.62 km/h).

The British won in 1914 with a Sopwith Tabloid at 86.6 mph (139.4 km/h).

The competition resumed in 1919 at Bournemouth where in foggy conditions the Italian team won. They were later disqualified and the race was voided.

In 1920 and 1921 at Venice the Italians won - in 1920 no other nation entered and in 1921 the only non-Italian entry did not start.

In 1922 in Naples the British and French competed with the Italians and the British private entry (Supermarine Sea Lion II) won.

The 1923 trophy, contested at Cowes, went to the Americans with a sleek, liquid-cooled engined craft designed by Glenn Curtiss. It used the Curtiss D-12 engine, which would serve as inspiration for the Rolls-Royce Merlin.

In 1924 there was no competition as no other nation turned out to face the Americans - the Italians and the French withdrew and both British craft crashed in pre-race trials.

In 1925 at Chesapeake Bay the Americans won again, the British challenger (R.J. Mitchell's Supermarine S.4) and the Italians soundly beaten by pilot Jimmy Doolittle.

In 1926, the Italians returned with a Macchi M.39 and won against the Americans with a 246 mph (396 km/h) run.

In 1927 for Venice there was a strong British entry with government backing and RAF pilots (the High Speed Flight) for Mitchell, Gloster and Shorts. Supermarine's Mitchell designed S.5s came first and second. 1927 was the last annual competition, the event then moving onto a biannual schedule to allow for more development time.

In 1929, at Cowes, Supermarine won again in the Supermarine S.6 with a new Rolls-Royce engine with an average speed of 328.63 mph (528.85 km/h).

In 1931 the British government withdrew support but a private donation of £100,000 from Lucy, Lady Houston allowed Supermarine to compete and win on September 13 against only British opposition with reportedly half a million spectators lining the beachfronts. The Italian, French, and German entrants failed to ready their aircraft in time for the competition. The remaining British team set both a new world speed record (379 mph, 610 km/h) and won the trophy outright with a third straight win.

The following days saw the winning Supermarine S.6b further break the world speed record twice, making it the first craft to break the 400 mph barrier on September 29 at an average speed of 407.5 mph (655.8 km/h).

Development of the other entrants did not cease there. The proposed Italian entrant (the Macchi M.C.72) which pulled out of the contest due to engine problems later went on set two new world speed records. In April 1933 (over Garda Lake, in northern Italy) it set a record with a speed of 424 mph. Then, a year and a half later in the same venue, it broke 700 km/h with an average speed of 709.202 km/h (440.681 mph) in October 1934. Both times the plane was piloted by Francesco Agello. This speed remains (as of 2006) the fastest speed ever attained by a piston-engine seaplane.

Date Location Winning Aircraft Nationality Pilot Speed (km/h, mph)
1913 Monaco Deperdussin France Maurice Prevost 73.56, 45.71
1914 Monaco Sopwith Tabloid UK Howard Pixton 139.74, 86.83
1920 Venice, Italy Savoia S.12 Italy Luigi Bologna 70.54, 43.83
1921 Venice, Italy Macchi M.7bis Italy Giovanni de Briganti 189.66, 117.85
1922 Naples, Italy Supermarine Sea Lion II UK Henri Biard 234.51, 145.72
1923 Cowes, UK Curtiss CR-3 USA David Rittenhouse 285.29, 177.27
1925 Baltimore, USA Curtiss R3C-2 USA James Doolittle 374.28, 232.57
1926 Hampton Roads, USA Macchi M.39 Italy Mario Bernardi 396.69, 246.50
1927 Venice, Italy Supermarine S.5 UK Sidney Webster 453.28, 281.66
1929 Calshot Spit, UK Supermarine S.6 UK Henry Waghorn 528.89, 328.65
1931 Calshot Spit, UK Supermarine S.6B UK John Boothman 547.31, 340.09

The race was very significant in advancing aeroplane design, particularly in the fields of aerodynamics and engine design, and would show its results in the best fighters of WW2. The streamlined shape and the low drag, liquid-cooled engine pioneered by Schneider Trophy designs are obvious in the British Supermarine Spitfire, the American P-51 Mustang, and the Italian Macchi C.202 Folgore.

Schneider Trophy alumni

Reginald J. Mitchell, designer of the winning Supermarine Schneider Trophy entrants, also designed the Supermarine Spitfire.

Mario Castoldi, designer of the 1926 winner, the Macchi M.39. Also designed other contestants such as the M.52, the M.52R, the M.67, and the M.C.72. After the M.C.72 Castoldi designed some of the Italian fighters which flew during World War II, such as the MC.202.

James Doolittle, winning pilot of the 1925 race, was accomplished in many other areas. He was the first pilot to do an outside loop and the first to perform a successful instrument flight with zero visibility. He also led the famous 'Doolittle Raid', a bombing attack on several Japanese targets in April 1942.

The trophy itself has been entrusted to the Royal Aero Club and can be viewed along with the winning Supermarine S.6B floatplane alongside at the London Science Museum Flight exhibition hall.

In popular culture

The Schneider Cup is frequently referred to in the 1992 animated film Porco Rosso, even to the extent of director Hayao Miyazaki naming the film's main antagonist Donald Curtiss, after American aircraft designer Glenn Curtiss.

In the song "Bill Hosie" by Archie Fisher, the protagonist rebuilds a Supermarine S.5 seaplane that survived the 1927 Schneider Trophy Race. The plane, race, and trophy are referred to throughout the song.


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