26 September 1927: Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, A.F.C., of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight, won the 1927 Schneider Trophy Race, flying a Supermarine S.5 float plane, number N220.
The course consisted of seven laps of a 50-kilometer course at Venice, Italy. Webster completed the race in 46 minutes, 20.3 seconds, averaging 281.656 miles per hour (453.281 kilometers per hour). He established a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers.¹
Webster’s teammate, Flight Lieutenant Oswald Worsley, flying S.5 N219, placed second with a time of 47:46.7 and average speed of 272.91 miles per hour (439.21 kilometers per hour).
The Supermarine S.5 was designed by Reginald Mitchell, who would later design the famous Supermarine Spitfire fighter. N220 was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane equipped with pontoons for landing and taking off on water. The airplane was of all metal construction, primarily duralumin (a hardened alloy of aluminum and copper). The airplane used surface radiators in the skin of the wings for engine cooling.
The S.5 had a length of 24 feet, 3½ inches (7.404 meters), wingspan of 26 feet, 9 inches (8.153 meters) and height of 11 feet, 1 inch (3.378 meters). The S.5’s empty weight was 2,680 pounds (1,216 kilograms) and gross weight was 3,242 pounds (1,471 kiograms).
Webster’s Supermarine S.5 was powered by a water-cooled, naturally-aspirated 1,461.135-cubic-inch-displacement (23.943 liter) D. Napier and Son, Ltd., Lion Mk.VIIB, serial number 63106, a double-overhead camshaft (DOHC) twelve-cylinder engine with three banks of four cylinders. This was called a “Triple-Four,” “W-12,” or “broad arrow” configuration. The Napier Lion had an included angle of 60° between each cylinder bank.
The Mk.VIIB had four valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 10:1. It produced 875 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. The Lion VIIB drove a two-bladed fixed-pitch propeller through a gear reduction unit with a ratio of 0.765:1. (Worsley’s Supermarine S.5, N219, was equipped with a 900 horsepower direct-drive Mk.VIIA.) The engine used a mixture of 75% gasoline, 25% benzol, and 0.22% “T.E.L. dope” (tetraethyl lead) additive. The Napier Lion Mk.VII was 5 feet, 6¼ inches (1.683 meters) long, 3 feet, 2½ inches (0.978 meters) wide and 2 feet, 10½ inches (0.876 meters) high. The geared Mk.VIIB was heavier than the direct drive Mk.VIIA, and weighed 920 pounds (417 kilograms).
The Supermarine S.5 had a maximum speed of 319.57 miles per hour (514.3 kilometers per hour).
“Webbie” Webster had been awarded the Air Force Cross on 2 January 1922. He received a second award, signified by a “bar” added the the ribbon of his medal, 11 October 1927:
11th October, 1927.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of a Bar to the Air Force Cross held by Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, A.F.C., in recognition of his achievement winning the recent “Schneider Cup” Air Race.
In January 1946, Air Commodore Webster was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. He was promoted to Air Vice Marshal in 1949 and retired from the Royal Air Force 12 August 1950.
Air Vice Marshal Sidney Norman Webster, C.B.E., A.F.C. and Bar, Royal Air Force, died 5 April 1984 at the age of 83 years.
2–6 July 1919: Two weeks after Alcock and Brown made the first non-stop transatlantic airplane flight, the Royal Air Force rigid airship R 34 landed at Mineola, Long Island, New York, completing the first east-to-west Atlantic crossing by air. The airship was under the command of Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., R.A.F. The total complement, including passengers, was 30 persons.
The 108 hour, 12 minute flight started from East Fortune Airship Station near Edinburgh, Scotland at 2:38 a.m., British Summer Time (1:38 a.m., Greenwich mean time) on Wednesday, 2 July. R 34 arrived at Mineola at 9:54 a.m. Eastern Daylight Savings Time (1:54 p.m. G.M.T.) on Sunday, 6 July. According to records of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, the distance flown by R 34 was 5,797 kilometers (3,602 miles). On arrival, the airship had only 40 minutes of fuel remaining.
R 34 was based on extensive study of the captured German Zeppelin, L-33. It was built for the Royal Naval Air Service ¹ by William Beardmore and Company, Inchinnan, Renfrewshire, Scotland. 643 feet long (196 meters), with a maximum diameter of 78 feet, 9 inches (24 meters), the dirigible had a total volume of 1,950,000 cubic feet (55,218 cubic meters). The airship had a light weight metal structure covered with doped fabric. Buoyancy was provided by 55,185 cubic meters (1,948,840 cubic feet) of gaseous hydrogen contained in 19 gas bags inside the airship’s envelope. R 34 had a gross lift capacity of 59 tons. Useful lift was 58,240 pounds (26,417 kilograms).
The airship was powered by five water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 15.395-liter (989.483-cubic-inch-displacement) Sunbeam Maori Mk.IV dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12 engines with four valves per cylinder. The Mk.IV’s cylinder bore had been increased from 100 millimeters to 110 millimeters (3.94 to 4.33 inches), resulting in a larger displacement than previous Maori variants. The Maori Mk.IV was a direct-drive engine which produced 275 horsepower at 2,000 r.p.m. Each engine turned a two-bladed, 17 foot diameter (5.182 meter) propeller through a remote gearbox with a 0.257:1 reduction. The two wing engines were equipped with reversible gearboxes. With the engines turning 1,800 r.p.m., the R 34 had a cruising speed of 47 knots (54 miles per hour/87 kilometers per hour) and consumed 65 gallons (246 liters) of fuel per hour.
R 34 made the return flight to England, 10–13 July 1919, in 75 hours, 3 minutes.
Major Scott was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD.
St. James’s Palace, S.W. 1,
23rd August 1919.
The KING has been graciously pleased to give orders for the following appointment to the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, in recognition of distinguished services to Aviation. :—
To be a Commander of the Military Division of the Said Most Excellent Order :—
Major George Herbert Scott, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, Commander of H.M. Airship R/34 on the outward voyage to the United States of America and and also on the homeward journey.
Colonel (A./Brig.-Genl.) Edwards Maitland Maitland, C.M.G., D.S.O., Capt. (A./Major) Gilbert George Herbert Cooke, D.S.C., Lieutenant Guy Harris and 2nd Lieutenant John Durham Shotter were each awarded the Air Force Cross.
The Air Force Medal was awarded to Flight-Sergeant William Rose Gent, Sergt.-Maj. II. Walter Robert Mayes, D.S.M., Flight-Sergeant Walter James Robinson, Flight-Sergeant Reginald William Ripley, Flight-Sergeant Norman Albert Scull, and Sergeant Herbert Murray Watson, D.S.M.
¹ On 1 April 1918, the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps were combined to form the Royal Air Force.
Amy Johnson was born 1 July 1903 at Kingston upon Hull, East Riding of Yorkshire, England, the first of two daughters of John William Johnson and Amy Hodge Johnson. She attended The Boulevard Municipal Secondary School in Kingston before going on to the University of Sheffield in South Yorkshire. There, she majored in Economics and graduated in 1923 with Bachelor of Arts degree.
Miss Johnson worked as a secretary for a London law firm from 1925 to 1929. She joined the London Aeroplane Club at the de Havilland Aerodrome, Stag Lane, where one of her flight instructors was Captain Valentine Henry Baker, M.C., A.F.C., a World War I fighter pilot who would later co-found the Martin-Baker Aircraft Company. She trained in a de Havilland DH.60 Cirrus II Moth, and on 9 June 1929, after 15 hours, 45 minutes of dual instruction, made her first solo flight.
Johnson was issued a Pilot’s Certificate and License by the Air Ministry of Great Britain, 6 July 1929. This was an “A” Flying Certificate, for private pilots. She was also awarded a Certificate for Navigators, and in December 1929, became the first woman to be certified as an Engineer (aircraft mechanic).
With the financial assistance of her father and of Baron Charles Cheers Wakefield, the founder of the Wakefield Oil Company (better known as Castrol), she purchased a one-year-old de Havilland DH.60G Gipsy Moth biplane, c/n 804, registered G-AAAH. It had previously been owned by Air Taxis Ltd., of Stag Lane (a company formed by G.B.H. “Rex” Mundy and Captain W. Laurence Hope) and first registered 30 August 1928. Johnson named her airplane Jason, which was the name of her father’s business.
On 5 May 1929, Amy Johnson and Jason took off from Croyden Aerodrome on a 19-day, 11,000-mile (17,700 kilometer) journey to Australia. She arrived at Darwin, Northern Territory, on 24 May.
For her accomplishment, she won a £10,000 prize offered by the Daily Mail, a London newspaper. The Australian Air Ministry issued her its Pilot Certificate and License Number 1. The International League of Aviators awarded her The Harmon International Aviatrix Trophy for 1930.
In the King’s Birthday Honours, announced 3 June 1930, George V, King of the United Kingdom and British Dominions, appointed Amy Johnson a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD
St. James’s Palace, S.W.1
3rd June, 1930.
The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday, to give orders for the following promotions in, and appointments to, the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire :—
To be Commanders of the Civil Division of the said Most Excellent Order :—
Miss Amy Johnson, in recognition of her outstanding flight to Australia.
—Supplement to the London Gazette, Number 33611, Tuesday, 3 June, 1930, at Page 3481
Amy Johnson made a number of record setting long-distance flights, both solo and with other pilots, one of whom was James Allan Mollison. Mollison proposed marriage only a few hours after first meeting her. They married in July 1932. She soon after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”
The couple made a transatlantic flight, another flight from Britain to India, and competed in the 1934 MacRobertson Air Race from England to Australia. She was twice elected president of the Women’s Engineering Society.
In May 1937, Johnson, who was already a rated navigator, traveled to Annapolis, Maryland, in the United States, where she studied advanced navigation under P. V. H. Weems, the acknowledged world authority in celestial navigation. (Among other devices, Weems invented the Weems Mark II Plotter, which every student pilot the world over would immediately recognize.)
Mr. and Mrs. Mollison divorced in 1938.
During World War II, Amy Johnson joined the Air Transport Auxiliary, ferrying Royal Air Force aircraft around the country. (Fellow record-setter Jackie Cochran also flew for the ATA before returning to America to found the WASPs.) Johnson held the civilian rank of Flight Officer, equivalent to an RAF Flight Lieutenant.
On 4 January 1941, Flight Officer Johnson was assigned to take an Airspeed AS.10 Oxford Mk.II, registration V3540, from Prestwick, Scotland, to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire. She landed at RAF Squires Gate, Lancashire, and remained there overnight, visiting her sister.
The following morning, 5 January, although weather was very poor with falling snow limiting visibility, Johnson departed Squires Gate at approximately 10:30 a.m., to continue her assignment. Reportedly advised not to go, she insisted, saying that she would “smell her way” to Kidlington.
What took place thereafter is not known. There was speculation that she was unable to land at Kidlington due to poor weather and continued flying east, perhaps finally running out of fuel.
At approximately 3:30 p.m., Johnson bailed out of the Oxford and parachuted into the Thames Estuary. The airplane crashed into the river a short distance away and sank.
Amy Johnson’s parachute was seen by the crew of HMS Haslemere, a barrage balloon tender assigned to the Channel Mobile Balloon Barrage in the Estuary. They attempted to rescue her and in the process, the ship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander Walter Edmund Fletcher, Royal Navy, dove into the water. In the cold temperatures and rough conditions, Fletcher died. For his effort to rescue Johnson, he was awarded the Albert Medal, posthumously.
Amy Johnson is presumed to have drowned. Her body was not recovered. Some documents related to her flight and personal belongings were found soon after.
In recent years, stories have emerged that the AS.10 was shot down after Johnson twice gave the incorrect response to a radio challenge. Tom Mitchell, an anti-aircraft gunner of the 58th (Kent) Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, at Iwade, a small village along the shore of the Thames Estuary, said in 1999 that he shot her down under orders, firing 16 shells at the Oxford. The men of the battery were ordered to never mention the incident. There were contemporary reports that a destroyer had also fired on Johnson, though the Admiralty denied this.
More recently, former crewmen of HMS Haslemere have said that, rather than having drowned, Amy Johnson was killed by the ship’s propellers as it maneuvered to pick her up.
What is known, however, is that Flight Officer, Amy Johnson, C.B.E., died in the service of her country.
Amy Johnson, C.B.E., B.A., A.R.Ae.S., F.R.G.S., F.S.E., M.W.E.S., was a legendary pioneering aviator. Her accomplishments are far greater, and her skills as a pilot superior, to those of others who may have achieved greater public acclaim (especially in the United States). She is one of the great individuals in the history of aviation.
12 June 1976: The London Gazette announced that The Queen would confer the Honour of Knighthood on Group Captain Robert Steuart Bader, C.B.E., D.S.O., D.F.C., “For services to disabled people.”
Pilot Officer Douglas Bader had lost both of his legs in an airplane crash, 14 December 1931. He was medically retired from the Royal Air Force as medically unfit for service.
With World War II approaching, Bader applied to the Air Ministry for reinstatement but was initially refused. Later, after revaluation, Bader was accepted, sent to refresher flight training, and then on to a fighter squadron.
Bader quickly rose to Section Leader, Flight Commander, Squadron Leader and Wing Commander. Flying Hawker Hurricanes and Supermarine Spitfires, he shot down at least 20 enemy airplanes. He had twice been awarded the Distinguished Service Order and twice, the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On 9 March 1941, Douglas Bader was himself shot down over France. With difficulty he was able to parachute from his Spitfire, and was quickly captured. Initially held in a hospital, Bader escaped. Recaptured, he was taken to a series of prisoner of war camps, where he continued his escape attempts. Finally the Germans imprisoned him in the notorious Colditz Castle where he remained for the rest of the war. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1946 with the rank of Group Captain.
After the war, Douglas Bader flew for the Shell Oil Company. But he also worked unceasingly to better the lives of other disabled persons. He would tell them, “Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that you can’t do this or that. That’s nonsense. Make up your mind, you’ll never use crutches or a stick, then have a go at everything. Go to school, join in all the games you can. Go anywhere you want to. But never, never let them persuade you that things are too difficult or impossible.”
For his services to the disabled, Group Captain Bader received the honor, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.). Twenty years later he was invested Knight Bachelor.
Group Captain Sir Douglas Robert Steuart Bader, CBE, DSO and Bar, DFC and Bar, FRAeS, DL, passed away 5 September 1982, at the age of 72 years.