26 September 1927: Flight Lieutenant Sidney Norman Webster, 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, CBE, AFC and Bar, Royal Air Force, died 5 April 1984 at the age of 83 years.
13 September 1931: Having won the previous two Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider international seaplane races, the United Kingdom was in the position of permanently winning the famous Schneider Trophy if it were to win a third consecutive race.
The 1931 race was the twelfth in a series of annual or semiannual races which were first held in 1913, specifically for seaplanes. Teams from several nations, France, Great Britain, Italy and the United States, competed with float-equipped airplanes built specifically for the races. The national team which won three consecutive races would win the series and take home the Trophy. Italy had won three times (1920, 1921, and 1926); the United States, twice (1923, 1925); and France, one time (1913). The United Kingdom had previously won in 1922, 1927 and 1929.
Having won the race in 1929, Great Britain was the host nation for 1931. Like the 1929 race, the 1931 race was held over The Solent, a body of water between the harbor city of Portsmouth, England, and the Isle of Wight. Instead of the four-sided polygon used previously, the 1931 race course was a triangle of 50 kilometers (31.07 statute miles). Competitors would make seven circuits of the course, with all left-hand turns, for a total distance of 350 kilometers (217.48 statute miles).
Italy had been developing the Macchi-Castoldi M.C. 72 with its 3,100-horsepower, 24-cylinder Fiat AS.6 engine, but the airplane was not ready by the required date. The United States was unwilling to invest the required money and had not entered since the 1927 race. France also was not prepared to compete. Both France and Italy formally announced their intention not to compete on 4 September 1931.
This meant that only a single British airplane was required to complete the race course to win the race and permanent possession of the trophy. Three airplanes were ready, one Supermarine S.6 and two new S.6Bs.
Postponed because of rain and fog on the previous day, the 1931 race started at 1:02:10 p.m., Sunday, 13 September, with the firing of the starting gun from HMS Medea. Flight-Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman, Royal Air Force, in a blue and silver Supermarine S.6B, number S.1565, taxied across the start line at 1:10:19 p.m.
Race rules required that competitors take off, circle and land on the water. They were then required to taxi on the water for two minutes, before taking off a second time to begin the officially timed race laps. Observers reported that Flight-Lieutenant Boothman’s performance of the preliminary test was flawless. He taxied into position for his second takeoff and was airborne with a 40 second run.
Boothman’s lap times were:
Lap 1: 552.15 kilometers per hour (343.1 miles per hour)
Lap 2: 551.5 kilometers per hour (342.7 miles per hour)
Lap 3: 547.1 kilometers per hour (340.0 miles per hour)
Lap 4: 544.5 kilometers per hour (338.3 miles per hour)
Lap 5: 546.5 kilometers per hour (339.6 miles per hour)
Lap 6: 546.1 kilometers per hour (339.4 miles per hour)
Lap 7: 543.5 kilometers per hour (337.7 miles per hour)
Overall average speed: 547.3 kilometers per hour (340.08 miles per hour)
9th October, 1931.
ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Air Force Cross to the undermentioned officers of the Royal Air Force:—
Flight Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman.
In recognition of his achievement in winning the Schneider Trophy Contest, 1931.
S.1595 was Vickers-Supermarine S.6B Monoplane, designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, who would later design the legendary Supermarine Spitfire fighter of World War II. The racer was developed from Mitchell’s earlier S.4, S.5 and S.6 Schneider Cup racers, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers), Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two S.6Bs, with the second identified as S.1596.
The Supermarine S.6B was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with two fixed pontoons as an undercarriage. It was of all-metal construction and used a high percentage of duralumin, a very hard alloy of aluminum and copper, as well as other elements. The float plane was 28 feet, 10 inches (8.788 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The wing area was 145 square feet (13,5 square meters). The S.6B had an empty weight of 4,560 pounds (2,068 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,995 pounds (2,719 kilograms).
In an effort to achieve the maximum possible speed, aerodynamic drag was eliminated wherever possible. There were no radiator or oil cooler intakes. The wing surfaces were constructed of two thin layers of duralumin with a very small space between them. The engine coolant, a mixture of water and ethylene glycol, was circulated between these layers, which are known as surface radiators. The engine had a high oil consumption rate and the vertical fin was the oil supply tank. The skin panels also served as surface radiators. The fuselage panels were corrugated for strength, and several small parallel passages transferred lubricating oil from the fin tank to the engine, and further cooled the oil.
S.1595 was powered by a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.327-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liter) Rolls-Royce Type R single-overhead-camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, number R29. The Type R was a racing engine with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ration of 6:1. In the 1931 configuration, it produced 2,350 horsepower at 3,200 r.p.m. It used a 0.605:1 reduction gear and turned a Fairey Aviation fixed-pitch airscrew with a diameter of 8 feet, 6 inches (2.591 meters). A special fuel, a mixture of benzol, methanol and acetone with TCP anti-detonation additive, was used.
There would have been no 1931 British Schneider Trophy Race team without the generous contribution of Lucy, Lady Houston, D.B.E., who donated £100,000 to Supermarine to finance the new aircraft. Lady Houston would later sponsor the 1933 Houston Mount Everest Flying Expedition.
The winning aircraft, S.1595, is in the collection of the Science Museum, London.
John Nelson Boothman was born at Harrow, northwest London, England, 19 February 1901. He was the son of Thomas John Boothman, a railway clerk, and Mary Burgess Boothman. He became interested in aviation while very young, and took his first flight at the age of 10, as a passenger of Samuel Franklin Cody, the first pilot to fly a powered airplane in England.
Boothman was educated at Harrow High School. In 1918, when he was 16 years old, Boothman volunteered as a driver with the Croix-Rouge française (French Red Cross), serving in the Balkans until World War I came to an end. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre.
On his return to England, he took flying lessons, and joined the Royal Air Force. He received a short-service commission as a Pilot Officer (probationary), 29 March 1921. He trained at No. 1 Flight Training School. He then joined No. 4 Squadron at Constantinople. On 22 March 1922, Boothman was confirmed in the rank of Pilot Officer. He was promoted to Flying Officer 29 September 1922.
Also in 1922, Pilot Officer Boothman married Miss Gertrude Andrews. They would have one son.
Flying Officer Boothman returned to England in 1924 and was assigned as a flight instructor at the Central Flying School. He was also a member of an aerial demonstration team.
After five years of service, on 1 January 1926 Boothman’s commission as a Flying Officer, Royal Air Force, was made permanent. He returned to the Middle East, joining No. 55 Squadron in Iraq, 21 September 1926. This was a bombing squadron, equipped with the de havilland DH-9A. Boothman was promoted to Flight-Lieutenant 1 July 1927. He served with the Air Staff before going on to No. 30 Squadron, which also flew DH-9As, as a flight commander, 24 February 1928.
Flight-Lieutenant Boothman was assigned as a test pilot at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, Felixstowe, Suffolk, 10 February 1930. On 11 May 1931, he became a member of the High-Speed Flight at RAF Calshot.
After winning the Schneider Trophy Race, on 3 October 1931, Flight-Lieutenant Boothman was assigned as a flight commander with No. 22 Squadron, a test squadron supporting the Aeroplane Experimental Establishment at RAF Martlesham Heath. During 1932, he became seriously ill and was removed from duty for several months. He returned to duty 13 August 1932 as a test pilot in the Experimental Section at RAE Farnborough. He then served as Chief Flying Instructor, Central Flying School.
Flight-Lieutenant Boothman attended the Royal Air Force Staff College in 1935. He was promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader, 1 December 1935. From 4 January 1936, he was assigned to Air Staff, Headquarters, Coastal Command. On 26 March 1937, Squadron Leader Boothman was assigned to Air Staff, Headquarters, Royal Air Force, Far East.
Boothman was promoted to Wing Commander, 1 January 1939. In September he was placed in command of No. 44 Squadron at RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire. This was a light bomber squadron which flew Bristol Blenheims and Handley Page Hampdens.
During the early stages of World War II, Wing Commander Boothman was assigned to Air Staff—Directorate of Operations (Home), and Air Staff, Headquarters, Bomber Command. He returned to RAF Waddington in March 1940 as the station’s commanding officer. He was promoted to Group Captain (temporary), 1 March 1941, then sent to the United States as an adviser to the U.S. Army Air Forces. Boothman returned to England as commanding officer of RAF Finningley, South Yorkshire.
On 6 June 1943, Group Captain Boothman was promoted to the rank of Acting Air Commodore, and assigned as Air Officer Commanding, No. 106 Wing. The wing controlled all photographic reconnaissance units in the United Kingdom. In 1 December 1943, Air Commodore Boothman’s rank was changed from Acting to Temporary.
In July 1944 Air Commodore Boothman was assigned as Commandant, Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment (A. & A.E.E.) at RAF Boscombe Down, Wiltshire. In the King’s Birthday Honours, 1944, Air Commodore Boothman was invested Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Military Division (C.B.).
On 2 July 1945, was promoted to Acting Air Vice Marshal and appointed Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Technical Requirements). On 9 October 1945, The U.S. Army Air Forces awarded him the the medal of Commander, Legion of Merit.
Air Vice Marshal Boothman once again returned to Iraq in 1948 as Air Officer Commanding, Air Headquarters, Iraq.
On 4 September 1950, he was promoted to Acting Air Marshal, and Controller of Supply (Air), Ministry of Supply. On 15 November 1953, Air Marshal Boothman became Commander in Chief, Coastal Command and Commander in Chief (Air) Eastern Atlantic Area.
In the King’s Birthday Honours list, 7 June 1951, Air Marshal Boothman, C.B., D.F.C., A.F.C., was promoted to Knight Commander of the Military Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.).
In the Queen’s Birthday Honours, June 1954, Air Marshal Sir John Boothman, K.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., was invested Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (K.C.B.).
On 1 October 1954, Sir John was promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal. He retired from the Royal Air Force in 1956.
Air Chief Marshal Sir John Nelson Boothman, K.C.B., K.B.E., D.F.C., A.F.C., Royal Air Force, died 29 December 1957 at the age of 57 years.
5 March 1936: At 4:35 p.m., Vickers Aviation Ltd. chief test pilot Captain Joseph (“Mutt”) Summers took off on the first flight of the prototype of the legendary Supermarine Spitfire, K5054, at Eastleigh Aerodrome, Southampton, England. Landing after only 8 minutes, he is supposed to have said, “Don’t change a thing!”
The Vickers-Supermarine Type 300 was a private venture, built to meet an Air Ministry requirement¹ for a new single-place, single-engine interceptor for the Royal Air Force. The airplane was designed by a team led by Reginald Joseph Mitchell, CBE, FRAeS, and was built at the Supermarine Aviation Works, Southampton, Hampshire, England.
R.J. Mitchell was famous for his line of Schneider Trophy-winning and world record-setting Supermarine racers of the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Supermarine S.4, S.5, S.6 and S.6B.² Mitchell was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) (CBE) in His Majesty’s New Year’s Honours, 2 January 1932, for “services in connection with the Schneider Trophy Contest.”
Reginald Joseph Mitchell, CBE, FRAeS. (20 May 1895–11 June 1937)
The Vickers-Supermarine Type 300 was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long, with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 8 inches (3.861 meters). Its empty weight was 4,082 pounds (1,151.6 kilograms) and loaded weight was 5,359 pounds (2,430.8 kilograms).
K5054 was powered by a right-hand tractor, liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.9-cubic-inch-displacement (27.04-liter) Rolls-Royce Merlin C (“ramp head”) single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine, serial number C9 (Air Ministry serial number A111,139), which had a Normal Power rating of 1,029 horsepower at 2,600 r.p.m. at an altitude of 11,000 feet (3,353 meters), with +6 pounds per square inch boost (0.41 Bar). The engine turned a Watts two-bladed, fixed-pitch, wooden propeller through a gear reduction drive (possibly 0.420:1). (K5083, the prototype Hawker Hurricane, was also equipped with a Merlin C.) An improved 1,035 horsepower Merlin F engine, serial number F21 (Air Ministry serial n8mber A115,73 ), was later installed.
The Type 300 had a maximum speed of 349 miles per hour (562 kilometers per hour) at 16,800 feet (5,121 meters). It could reach 15,000 feet (4,572 meters) in 5 minutes, 52 seconds. The prototype had a service ceiling of 35,400 feet (10,790 meters).
A report summarizing the flight testing of K5054 stated, “The aeroplane is simple and easy to fly and has no vices.” Visibility was good, the cockpit was comfortable, and it was a stable gun platform.
On 22 March 1937, K5054’s engine lost oil pressure and the pilot made a belly landing on Marlesham Heath. The Spitfire was damaged, but was repaired and returned to service.
The prototype Spitfire stalled on landing at RAE Farnborough, 4 September 1939. After several bounces on the runway, it nosed over. The pilot, Flight Lieutenant Gilbert Stanbridge (“Spinner”) White, was severely injured. He died 9 September.
K5054 was disassembled and scrapped.
The Air Ministry ordered the Spitfire Mk.I into production before K5054’s first flight, with an initial order for 310 airplanes. The first production fighter was delivered to the Royal Air Force 4 August 1938. Between 1938 and 1948, 20,351 Spitfires were built in 24 variants.
Captain Joseph Summers, CBE, was born 10 March 1904. He was the older brother of Group Captain Maurice Summers, who was also a test pilot for Vickers. In 1922, he married Miss Dulcie Jeanette Belcher at Sculcoates, Yorkshire. They would have several children.
In 1924, Summers received a short-service commission as an officer in the Royal Air Force. He trained as a pilot with No. 2 Flight Training Squadron, at RAF Duxford. He was hospitalized for six months, which delayed his training, but he graduated in 1924 and was assigned to No. 29 Fighter Squadron. Summers was considered to be an exceptional pilot, and with just six months’ operational experience, he was assigned as a test pilot at the Aircraft and Armaments Engineering Establishment (A&AEE) at RAF Martlesham Heath. He remained there for the reminder of his military service. In June 1929 he became a test pilot for Vickers Ltd. (Aviation Department). He became the company’s chief test pilot in 1932.
During his career as a test pilot, “Mutt” Summers made the first flights of 54 prototype aircraft, including the Spitfire, the Vickers Type 618 Nene-Viking, the Vickers Type 630 Viscount four-engine turboprop airliner, and the Vickers Type 667 Valiant, a four-engine jet bomber. He flew more than 5,600 hours in 366 different aircraft types.
“Mutt’s approach to test flying was much more in sympathy with the knee-pad than with the complicated automatic observers which nowadays are an indispensable part of test flying. He vigorously defended the feel of an aeroplane as measured by his hand or by the seat of his pants, and I believe was always suspicious of the scientific approach. . . One learned never to regard his criticism or advice lightly. In a world of science and instrumentation his judgement and horsesense often threw an unscientific but accurate light on some dark problem.” —Sir George R. F. Edwards, OM, CBE, FRS, DL, Executive Director of the British Aircraft Corporation, quoted in Flight and Aircraft Engineer, No. 2357, Vol. 65, Friday, 26 March 1954, at Page 355, Column 2.
Joseph Summers, Esq., was appointed an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, Civil Division (OBE), in His Majesty’s New Year’s Honours, Wednesday, 9 January 1946. He was promoted to Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) (CBE) in Her Majesty’s Coronation Honours, Monday, 1 June 1953.
Summers died 16 March 1954 at the age of 50 years.
¹ Air Ministry Specification F.37/34 High Speed Monoplane Single Seater Fighter
² FAI Record File Number 11833, World Record for Speed Over a 3-Kilometer Course: 364.92 kilometers per hour (226.75 miles per hour). Supermarine S.4, Henri Biard, 13 September 1925.
FAI Record File Number 14999, World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers: 531.20 kilometers per hour (330.07 miles per hour), Supermarine S.6, Henry Richard Danvers Waghorn, 7 September 1929.
FAI Record File Number 11831, World Record for Speed Over a 3-Kilometer Course: 655 kilometers per hour (407 miles per hour), Supermarine S.6B, George Hedley Stainforth, 29 September 1931.