|The Schneider Trophy on display at the London Science Museum|
The Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (commonly called the 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. Since 1977 the trophy has been on display at the Science Museum in London.
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.
The race was 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.
The trophy was first competed for on 16 April 1913, at Monaco and won by a French Deperdussin at an average speed of 73.56 km/h (45.71 mph). The British won in 1914 with a Sopwith Tabloid at 139.74 km/h (86.83 mph). 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. After 1921, an additional requirement was added: the winning seaplane had to remain moored to a buoy for six hours without human intervention.
In 1922 in Naples the British and French competed with the Italians and the British private entry, the Supermarine Sea Lion II, won. The French aircraft did not start the race which was between the Sea Lion and three Italian aircraft including a Macchi M.7 and a Savoia.
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. US Navy Lieutenant David Rittenhouse won the cup.
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 US pilot Jimmy Doolittle winning ahead of the British Gloster III and the Italian. Two British planes did not compete (R.J. Mitchell's Supermarine S.4 and the other Gloster III were damaged before the race). Two of the American planes did not finish.
In 1927 for Venice there was a strong British entry with government backing and RAF pilots (the High Speed Flight) for Supermarine, 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 Calshot, Supermarine won again in the Supermarine S.6 with the new Rolls-Royce R engine with an average speed of 528.89 km/h (328.64 mph). Both Great Britain and Italy entered 2 new aircraft and 1 backup plane from the previous race.
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 13 September 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 (610 km/h (380 mph)) 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 29 September at an average speed of 655.8 km/h (407.5 mph).
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 to set two new world speed records. In April 1933 (over Lake Garda, in northern Italy) it set a record with a speed of 682.36 km/h (424.00 mph). A year and a half later in the same venue, in October 1934, it broke the 700 km/h barrier with an average speed of 709.202 km/h (440.678 mph). Both times the plane was piloted by Francesco Agello. This speed remains until today the fastest speed ever attained by a piston-engined seaplane.
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 homeland 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 at the London Science Museum Flight exhibition hall. Supermarine S.6, N248, which competed in the 1929 contest but was disqualified, is preserved at Solent Sky maritime museum in Southampton.
In 1981 the race was revived by the Royal Aero Club of Great Britain to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Britain's ultimate retention of the Trophy. The original Trophy remained in the Science Museum, and a full-size replica was cast and the race opened on a handicapped basis to any propeller driven land plane capable of maintaining 100 miles per hour in straight and level flight, and weighing up to 12,500 lbs. Pilots also had to have a minimum of 100 hours as pilot-in-command, and a valid air racing licence.
Following that event, the UK subsidiary of US computer company Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) independently decided to sponsor a long-term revival of the Schneider Trophy, with the first race held in 1984. The idea was submitted by DEC's then UK PR consultancy Infopress as part of a broader commercial sponsorship programme designed to increase DEC's presence in the UK market at that time. DEC sponsored this revived race series from 1984 until 1991, which also marked the diamond jubilee of the final race in the original series. DEC and Infopress turned to the expertise of the Royal Aero Club's Records, Racing & Rally Association which again administered and ran the actual races. The 1981 Solent course, itself a close approximation of the original 1929 and 1931 Schneider Trophy courses over the Solent, was also used and adapted from year to year.
This sponsorship had a profound effect on the awareness and popularity of handicapped air racing in the UK and further afield, as well as markedly increasing DEC's commercial profile in the UK. The appeal of the race, its historic connections, and the fact that prize money was now on offer, meant that the entry list for the race was large enough to warrant the introduction of heats from 1985 onwards. (The 1984 race field was 62 entrants, believed at the time to be the largest-ever in all forms of air racing.)
The event received further boosts in 1986, when it was started by HRH Prince Andrew and his then fiancée Sarah Ferguson; in 1987, when the event was featured as one episode in a BBC television documentary series; and in 1988, when it was a central part of that year's ITV Telethon Appeal.
DEC invited customers and partners to each year's event as guests, and the general public watched in increasing numbers as the series grew in size and popularity.
For the pilots taking part, the event became, along with the King's Cup Air Race, the highlight of the UK's air racing season, and regularly attracted entrants from continental Europe.
After DEC's departure as sponsor after the 1991 race, the race continued. The venue has varied but is still flown on most occasions around a Solent-based course, usually around September of each year.
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 antagonist Donald Curtiss, after American aircraft designers Glenn Curtiss and Donald Douglas.
- 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. (Bill Hosie and the replica were both real. Hosie competed in the 1985 and 1986 Digital Schneider Trophy Races, and DEC part-sponsored his rebuild of the S.5 replica. He crashed during a test-flight of this replica on 23 May 1987, near Mylor, in Cornwall in the UK, just one month before that year's Digital Schneider Trophy Race. Hosie was killed. Details of the crash and its cause are in AIB Bulletin 9/87 published by the Accidents Investigation Branch of the UK's Department of Transport, 1987.)
- The film The First of the Few (1942) starring Leslie Howard as R. J. Mitchell centers on Mitchell's life as the designer of multiple Schneider Trophy winning seaplanes and then the Spitfire fighter plane.
See also 
- Related development
- Related lists
- Barker, Ralph. The Schneider Trophy Races. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 1981. ISBN 0-906393-15-9
- Eves, Edward. The Schneider Trophy Story. Shrewsbury, UK: Airlife Publishing Ltd., 2001. ISBN 1-84037-257-5
- Gunston, Bill. World Encyclopaedia of Aero Engines. Cambridge, UK: Patrick Stephens Limited, 1989. ISBN 1-85260-163-9
- Hawks, Ellison (1945). The Schneider Trophy Contests (1913-1931). Southport: Real Photographs.
- Lewis, Julian. Racing Ace - The Fights and Flights of 'Kink' Kinkead DSO DSC* DFC*. Barnsley, UK: Pen & Sword, 2011. ISBN 978-1-84884-216-8
- Mondey, David. The Schneider Trophy. London, UK: Robert Hale, 1975. ISBN 0-7091-5011-3
- Shelton, John. Schneider Trophy to Spitfire - The Design Career of R.J. Mitchell. Yeovil, UK: Haynes Publishing, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84425-530-6
- Schofield, H. M. High Speed and Other Flights. London, UK. John Hamilton Limited. (Schofield was a member of the 1927 British Schneider Trophy team.)
- Orlebar, A. H. Schneider Trophy. London, UK. Seeley Service & Co. Limited. (Orlebar was the commanding office of the 1929 and 1931 British Schneider Trophy teams.)
- Smith, Alan. Schneider Trophy Diamond Jubilee, Looking Back 60 Years. Poole, UK. Waterfront Publications, 1991. ISBN 0-946184-72-0.
- James, Derek N. Schneider Trophy Aircraft 1913-1931. London, UK. Putnam & Company Limited, 1991. ISBN 0-370-30328-8
Further reading 
- Jane's Encyclopedia of Aviation (1989) has an extensive article on the Schneider Trophy, see pages 794 to 797.
- Baldrey, Dennis & Jerram, Mike. The DEC Schneider Trophy Race. London, UK. Osprey Publishing Limited, 1988. ISBN 0-85045-829-3
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Schneider Trophy|
- "Schneider Contest 1931" (Course layout and general regulations)Flight the Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1181, Vol. XXIII, No. 33, 14 August 1931.
- Schneider Trophy web site
- Royal Air Force official web page on the Schneider Trophy (archive)
- SPEEDBIRDS Graphics study on the Schneider Trophy planes
- Newsreel footage of Macchi M.39 and Major Mario de Bernardi after winning the 1926 Schneider Trophy race
- Newsreel footage of 1929 Schneider Trophy racing teams, British Supermarine S.6A aircraft (#2 and #8), and Italian Macchi M.67 (#10) and Macchi M.52R (#4) aircraft at 1929 Schneider Trophy race
- The Schneider Cup racers