Tag Archives: Schneider Trophy

Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S. (20 May 1895–11 June 1937)

Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S., by Frank Ernest Beresford, 1942. Oil on canvas, 127 x 102 cm. (Southhampton City Art Gallery, via Art UK)

Reginald Joseph Mitchell born 20 May 1895 at Butt Lane, a suburb of Kidsgrove, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, England. He was the first of three sons of Herbert Mitchell, a school teacher, and Eliza Jane Brain Mitchell, whom some sources also describe as a teacher.

Mitchell attended  the Higher Elementary School on Queensbury Road, which provided a “semi-technical and more advanced education” in Normacot, and then Hanley High School, Stoke-on-Trent, leaving at the age of 16. He found work as a Premium Apprentice at the Kerr Stuart & Co., Ltd., locomotive engineering works in Fenton, where he was employed in the drafting room. Mitchell attended night school, studying mathematics, mechanics and technical drawing.

In 1917 Mitchell was employed as assistant to Hubert Scott-Paine, owner of the  Supermarine Aviation Works, Ltd., at Southampton, Hampshire. (Scott-Paine is known for his hard-chine motor torpedo boat designs.) Supermarine concentrated on building flying boats and amphibians.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell married Miss Florence Dayson, a school teacher 11 years his senior, 22 July 1918, at Cheadle, Staffordshire, England. They would have a son, Kenneth Gordon Brunt Mitchell, born 6 November 1920.¹

Mitchell was promoted to Chief Designer at Supermarine in 1919, and Chief Engineer, 1920. Mitchell’s first complete airplane design was the Supermarine Commercial Amphibian of 1920.

Three-view drawing of R.J. Mitchell’s Supermarine Commercial Amphibian, 1920. (FLIGHT, No. 613 (Vol. XII, No. 39) 23 September 1920, at Page 1017)

Supermarine had been involved in the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (the Schneider Trophy races) since 1919, when the company entered its Sea Lion biplane flying boat. The Sea Lion II amphibian won the race at Naples, Italy, in 1922.

Supermarine S.4 (BAE Systems)

For the 1925 Schneider race, Mitchell designed a new monoplane seaplane, the Supermarine S.4, G-EBLP, which was powered by a liquid-cooled Napier Lion VII “broad arrow” W-12 engine. The S.4 was damaged prior to the race, which was won by Jimmy Doolittle with the Curtiss R3C-2 racer.

During this period, Mitchell also designed the Supermarine Southampton biplane flying boat for the R.A.F. He was named Technical Director in 1927.

For the 1927 race, Mitchell designed the Supermarine S.5., which featured a monocoque duralumin fuselage. Three S.5s were built, N219, N220 and N221. Flown by officers of the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight, the S.5s took first and second place.

With its engine running, this Supermarine S.5 shows off its very clean lines.

Two Supermarine S.6 seaplanes, N247 and N248, were built for the 1929 Schneider race held at Calshot, not far from the Supermarine Works. These airplanes were powered by the new Rolls-Royce R liquid-cooled V-12.

called “Mitch” by officers of the High-Speed Flight

Supermarine S.6B S.1596 (Crown Copyright)

For his work on the Supermarine racers, His Majesty George V, King of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions Beyond the Seas, Emperor of India, appointed Reginald Joseph Mitchell a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (C.B.E.).

CENTRAL CHANCERY OF THE ORDERS OF KNIGHTHOOD.

St. James’s Palace, S.W. 1,

1st January, 1932.

     The KING has been graciously pleased 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 :

Reginald Joseph Mitchell, Esq., A.M.I.C.E., F.R.Ae.S. Director and Chief Designer, Supermarine Aviation Works (Vickers) Limited. For services in connection with the Schneider Trophy Contest.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell C.B.E.

In August 1933, Mitchell underwent a routine medical examination, which resulted in a diagnosis of rectal cancer. Treatment options were very limited in the 1930s. He underwent a major surgical procedure which included a permanent colostomy. It can be assumed that Mitchell suffered from illness, significant pain and fatigue, but he continued working.

“Dad at work!” Reginald Joseph Mitchell. (Solent Sky Museum)

R.J. Mitchell decided that if he learned to fly, he would better understand the airplanes he was designing. He began flight lessons in December 1933, just a few months after the cancer surgery. He was awarded his pilot’s license in July 1934.

During this period, Mitchell worked on the single engine Supermarine Walrus and twin engine Scapa and Stranraer flying boats. The Walrus first flew 21 June 1933, with deliveries to the Royal Australian Air Force in 1935, and to the Royal Air Force in 1936. The Walrus was used extensively in air-sea rescue operations during World War II, saving more than 1,000 airmen.

In 1936, Mitchell began working on the Type 316 four-engine heavy bomber. Two prototypes were ordered but not completed. They were lost when the Supermarine factory was bombed in 1940.

In October 1936, Mitchell won a landing competition award from the Hampshire Aero Club. His trophy is now in the collection of the Solent Sky Museum.

The protototype Supermarine Stranraer, K3973, in flight over the Solent, 1935. (Charles Brown Collection, RAF Museum)

R.J. Mitchell is, without question, best known as the designer of the Vickers-Supermarine Type 300, a private venture, built to meet an Air Ministry requirement for a new single-place, single-engine interceptor for the Royal Air Force. The prototype, K5054, flown by Vickers Aviation Ltd.’s Chief Test Pilot, Captain Joseph (“Mutt”) Summers, made its first flight at 4:35 p.m., Thursday afternoon, 5 March 1936. Landing after only 8 minutes, Summers is supposed to have said, “Don’t change a thing!”

The Vickers-Supermarine Type 300, K5054, during its first flight, 5 March 1936. The pilot is Captain Joseph Summers. (BAE Systems)

The Air Ministry ordered the Type 300 into production as the Spitfire Mk.I 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.

Supermarine Spitfires under construction at Castle Bromwich.

The Spitfire became a legendary fighter during the Battle of Britain. It is a prime example of the saying that “if an airplane looks good, it will fly good.” And the Spitfire is a beautiful airplane. It was well armed, fast and maneuverable, and performed well at high altitudes.    Reportedly, Luftwaffe pilots felt that there was greater dignity in having been shot down by a Spitfire than by a Hawker Hurricane, or Bolton Paul Defiant. The BBC reported, “It is a plane that came to symbolise British spirit and freedom from aggression. A bird of paradise, and it is still recognised in every country throughout the world.”

Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk.Vb R6923 (QJ-S) of No. 92 Squadron, 19 May 1941. © IWM (CH 2929)

In October 1936, Mitchell won a landing competition award from the Hampshire Aero Club. His trophy is now in the collection of the Solent Sky Museum.

Cancer recurred in 1936. Mitchell was hospitalized in February 1937. This time he stopped working, though he would often go to the airfield to watch his Spitfire being tested. He travelled to Vienna, Austria for medical treatment in April, but returned home in May.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S., died at his home on 11 June 1937. His ashes were interred at the South Stoneham Cemetery, Hampshire, England.

Supermarine S.6. R.J. Mitchell is standing, second from right, wearing “plus fours.”
Main Title

In 1942, a popular film, “The First of the Few”, dramatized Mitchell’s life. The movie was produced, directed and starred Leslie Howard as Mitchell, and David Niven as a composite pilot character. It was released in the United States under the title, “Spitfire,” 12 June 1943, six years after the death of Mitchell, and less than two weeks after Leslie Howard was killed when BOAC Flight 777 was shot down by Luftwaffe fighters over the Bay of Biscay.

Reginald Joseph Mitchell, C.B.E., F.R.Ae.S.

¹ Gordon Mitchell served aboard air-sea rescue launches in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, 1942–1944. (Many of these had been designed by Hubert Scott-Paine.) He was commissioned as a flying officer in September 1944 and served as a meteorological officer until 1947. Dr. Gordon Mitchell, Ph.D. worked at the University of Reading, National Institute for Research in Dairying, from 1952 until 1985. Dr. Mitchell died 24 November 2009.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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13 November 1926

Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Regia Aeronautica Macchi M.39, MM.76, winner of the 1926 Schneider Trophy Race. (U.S. Air Force)
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

13 November 1926: The 1926 race for the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (the Schneider Trophy) was held at Hampton Roads, a large natural harbor between southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina, two states on the Atlantic coast of the United States. There were an estimated 30,000 spectators. The race consisted of seven laps of a 50 kilometer (31 miles) triangular course.

The location of each race went to the country whose national team had won the previous year. Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, had won the 26 October 1925 race at Baltimore, Maryland, flying a Curtiss R3C-2 to an average speed of 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour).

The 1926 Schneider Race included three Italian and three American airplanes. The British team’s aircraft were not ready so they did not compete.

Captain,Arturo Ferrin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)
Captain Arturo Ferrarin, Regia Aeronautica (1895–1941)

All three Regia Aeronautica pilots, Major Mario de Bernardi, Captain Arturo Ferrarin, and Lieutenant Adriano Bacula, flew Macchi M.39 seaplanes, powered by the Fiat AS.2 V-12 engine.

The American team used three different Curtiss biplanes, each with a different Curtiss V-12 engine. 1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, United States Marine Corps, flew a Curtiss R3C-2, serial number A.7054, carrying race number 6. Schilt’s airplane was powered by a Curtiss V-1400. Lieutenant William Gosnell Tomlinson, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss F6C-3 Hawk, A.7128, with race number 2. This airplane was equipped with a Curtiss D-12A. Lieutenant George T. Cuddihy, U.S. Navy, flew a Curtiss R3C-4, A.6979, with race number 4, with a Curtiss V-1550.

Christian Frank Schilt in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
1st Lieutenant Christian Frank Schilt, U.S. Marine Corps, in the cockpit of the Curtis R3C-2 racer, A.7054, race number 6. (National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Italian team celebrates their victory (Virginia Aviation) by Roger Connor at Page 42

The race was delayed for two days because of adverse weather conditions. The race began at 2:35 p.m. on Saturday afternoon, with the first of three Italian racers entering the course.  Airplanes departed at intervals to avoid coming too close to each other while flying the course.

De Bernardi finished the seven laps in 52 minutes, 56.22 seconds, averaging 246.496 miles per hour (396.697 kilometers per hour). Schilt finished in second place in 56 minutes, 23.96 seconds, at 231.364 miles per hour (372.344 kilometers per hour). Bacula was third at 59 minutes, 51.31 seconds, at 218.006 miles per hour (350.847 kilometers per hour). Fourth place went to Tomlinson, completing the course in 1 hour, 35 minutes, 16.72 seconds, at 136.954 miles per hour (220.406 kilometers per hour). Ferrarin’s airplane had an oil line break and he made a precautionary landing at the end of his fourth lap. A fuel pump on Cuddihy’s airplane failed, and his engine stopped. He touched down short of the finish line on his seventh and final lap.

Aeronautica Macchi M.39, circa 1926. (Unattributed)
Aeronautica Macchi M.39 at Lago di Varese, August 1926. (Unattributed)

The Macchi M.39 racing float plane was designed by Mario Castoldi. It is a single engine, single-place, low-wing monoplane with two pontoons, or floats. The wing is externally braced, has 0° dihedral, and incorporates surface radiators. The M.39 is 6.473 meters (22 feet, 2.8 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.26 meters (30 feet, 4.6 inches) and height of 3.06 meters (10 feet, 0.5 inches). The empty weight of the Schneider Trophy racer is 1,300 kilograms (2,866 pounds) and its maximum gross weight is 1,615 kilograms (3,560 pounds).

The M.39 is powered by a water-cooled, normally-aspirated, 31.403 liter (1,916.329 cubic inch) Fiat AS.2 DOHC 60° V-12 direct-drive engine with a compression ratio of 6:1. It used three carburetors and two magnetos, and produced 882 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. The engine drove a two-bladed, fixed-pitch metal propeller designed by Dr. Sylvanus A. Reed. The AS.2 engine was designed by Tranquillo Zerbi, based on the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company’s D-12 engine. The engine was 1.864 meters (6 feet, 1.4 inches) long, 0.720 meters (2 feet, 4.4 inches) wide and 0.948 meters (3 feet, 1.3 inches) high. It weighed 412 kilograms (908 pounds).

The Macchi M.39 could reach 420 kilometers per hour (261 miles per hour).

Macchi M.39 MM.76 is in the collection of the Aeronautica Militare museum.

Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)
Macchi M.39 MM.76 (Bergefalke2/Wikipedia)

Mario de Bernardi served in the Italian Army during the Italo-Turkish War, 1911–1912, and became a pilot during World War I. He rose to the rank of colonel in the Regia Aeronautica. He set several world aviation records and continued his work as a test pilot. He died in 1959 at the age of 65 years.

Adriano Bacula also set several world records. He was killed in an airplane crash in Slovenia, 18 April 1938.

Arturo Ferrarin, another world record holder, was killed while testing an experimental airplane, 18 July 1941.

Christian Frank Schilt enlisted as a private in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1917. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Nicaragua, 6–8 January 1928. During World War II, Schilt served as Commander, Marine Air Group 11 during the Solomons Campaign, and later went on to command Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific. He retired from the Marine Corps with the rank of General in 1957, and died in 1987 at the age of 91 years.

William Gosnell Tomlinson was a 1919 graduate of the United States Naval Academy. During his career in the U.S. Navy, he commanded the aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24), Carrier Division 3, USS Boxer (CVA-21), USS Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) and served as Commander, Task Force 77 (CTF 77) during the Korean War. During World War II, Tomlinson was awarded the Navy Cross, and twice, the Legion of Merit with Combat “V”. He retired in 1953 as a Vice Admiral, and died in 1972 at the age of 75 years.

George T. Cuddihy was a 1918 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. he was the Navy’s chief test pilot. He was killed while testing a Bristol Type 105 Bulldog II fighter, Bu. No. A8485 (c/n 7358) at Anacostia Naval Air Station, 25 November 1929.

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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4 November 1927

Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica
Colonel Mario de Bernardi, Regia Aeronautica

4 November 1927: At Venezia, Mario de Bernardi flew a Macchi M.52 seaplane to a new Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 479.29 kilometers per hour (297.82 miles per hour).¹

Macchi M.52 number 7. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
Macchi M.52 number 7. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

Aeronautica Macchi built three M.52 seaplanes for the Regia Aeronautica (the Italian Air Force) for use in the 1927 Schneider Trophy Races. The M.52 was designed by Mario Castoldi. Like the earlier M.39, it was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal.

The three racers were each powered by a 2,116.14-cubic-inch-displacement (34.677 liter) liquid-cooled Fiat Aviazone AS.3 dual overhead camshaft, four-valve 60° V-12 engine which produced 1,000 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. The design of the AS.3 was based on the Curtiss D-12, although it used individual cylinders and water jackets instead of the American engine’s monoblock castings.

With its cowlings removed, the 1,000 horsepower Fiat AS.3 DOHC V-12 engine of the Macchi M-52 is visible. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)
With its cowlings removed, the 1,000 horsepower Fiat AS.3 DOHC V-12 engine of the Macchi M-52 is visible. (San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive)

¹ FAI Record File Number 11828

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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26 October 1925

Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-2 Schneider Trophy winner, 1925. (U.S. Air Force)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, with the Curtiss R3C-2 Schneider Trophy winner, 1925. (U.S. Air Force)

26 October 1925: Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army, won the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (commonly called the Schneider Trophy) when he placed first flying his Curtiss R3C-2 float plane over a 217-mile (349 kilometer) course near Bay Shores on Chesapeake Bay, Maryland.

His average speed for the seven laps around the triangular race course was 232.57 miles per hour (374.29 kilometers per hour). The second-place airplane, a Gloster-Napier III flown by Captain Hubert Broad, averaged 199.16 miles per hour (320.52 kilometers per hour).

Doolittle also set two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records during the race: World Record for Speed Over 100 Kilometers, with an average speed of 377.83 kilometers per hour (234.77 miles per hour);¹  World Record for Speed Over 200 Kilometers, 377.16 kilometers per hour (234.36 miles per hour).²  On the following day, Doolittle set a third FAI record: World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course, 395.5 kilometers per hour (245.75 miles per hour).³

Lt. Jmes H. Doolittle and Lt. Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C (NARA 31758AC)
Lieutenant James H. Doolittle (left) and Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis with the Curtiss R3C-2. (NARA 31758AC)

A contemporary news article commented on Jimmy Doolittle’s performance:

Gloster III Schneider Cup racer, powered by a 700 horsepower Napier Lion VII “broad arrow” W-12.

“. . . according to reports Lieut. Doolittle’s cornering was superb, and must have been to a great extent responsible for the excellent performance. Reports from America—coming, it is thought, from a reliable source—indicate that one particular engine out of the 12 built for the Pulitzer and Schneider Trophy races proved exceptionally good, as will often happen in a batch of engines, and it is believed that this engine was fitted in Doolittle’s Curtiss-Army Racer. This fact, taken in conjunction with the masterly handling of the machine, would seem to account for the wholly unexpected average speed maintained, which was, of course, far and away ahead of the speeds of the British and Italian competitors.”

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer & Airships, No. 879 (No. 44, Vol. XVII.) October 29, 1923 at Page 703

The Curtiss R3C-2 Racer on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)
The Curtiss R3C-2 Racer on display at the National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution)

The R3C-2 was a single-engine, single-seat, single-bay biplane, equipped with pontoons for taking off and landing on water. It was built especially for air racing. Two R3Cs were built for the United States Navy and one for the Army. (The Army aircraft is identified by a Navy Bureau of Aeronautics serial number (“Bu. No.”) A-7054. It does not seem to have been assigned an Air Service serial number.) The airplane and its V-1400 engine were both built by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, which had been founded by Glenn Hammond Curtiss. The R3C-2 was converted from the R3C-1, the land plane configuration which had been flown by Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, AS, USA, to win the Pulitzer Trophy Race just two weeks earlier.

The RC3-2 is 22 feet long (6.706 meters), an increase of 2 feet, 3.5 inches (0.698 meters) over the R3C-1 configuration, resulting from the replacement of the fixed wheeled landing gear with the single-step pontoons. The upper wing span is 22 feet (6.706 meters), with a chord of 4 feet, 8¼ inches (1.429 meters). The lower wing span is 20 feet (6.096 meters) with a chord of 3 feet, 3¾ inches (1.010 meters).  Weight empty was 2,135 pounds (968 kilograms) and maximum takeoff weight was 2,738 pounds (1,242 kilograms).

Constructed of wood, the fuselage has four ash longerons and seven birch vertical bulkheads. The framework is covered with two layers of 2-inch (51 millimeter) wide, 3/32-inch (2.38 millimeter) thick spruce strips. These were placed on a 45° diagonal from the fuselage horizontal centerline, with the second layer at 90° to the first. These veneer strips were glued and tacked to the frame. The fuselage was then covered with doped fabric. The wings and tail surfaces are also of wood, with spruce ribs and a covering of spruce strips.

Lieutenant Cyrus Bettis, USAAS, with the Curtiss R3C-1 racer at Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York, 12 October 1925. The surface radiators on the wings can be seen. (Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Co.)

The single-bay wings are wire braced and contain surface radiators made of thin brass sheeting. The radiators contained 12 gallons (45.4 liters) of water, circulating at a rate of 75 gallons (283.9 liters) per minute. By using surface radiators to cool the engine, aerodynamic drag was reduced.

The Curtiss V-1400 engine was developed from the earlier Curtiss D-12. It was a water-cooled, normally aspirated, 1,399.91-cubic-inch-displacement (22.940 liter), dual overhead cam (DOHC) 60° V-12, with a compression ratio of 5.5:1. The V-1400 was rated at 510 horsepower at 2,100 r.p.m., and could produce 619 horsepower at 2,500 r.p.m. It was a direct-drive engine and turned a two-bladed duralumin fixed-pitch propeller with a diameter of 7 feet, 8 inches (2.337 meters). The propeller was designed by Sylvanus Albert Reed, Ph.D. The V-1400 engine weighed 660 pounds (299 kilograms).

The R3C-2 had a fuel capacity of 27 gallons (102 liters). Its range was 290 miles (467 kilometers).

The Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider at the Science Museum, London. (Wikipedia, edit by Eric Menneteau)

Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques.

He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During World War II, Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

As a brigadier general, he commanded 12th Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the 15th Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater, and commanded 8th Air Force as a lieutenant general, 1943–1945.

After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General.

Jimmy Doolittle
First Lieutenant James Harold Doolittle, Air Service, United States Army

¹ FAI Record File Number 11866

² FAI Record File Number 11867

³ FAI Record File Number 11868

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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23 October 1934

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica. (FAI)
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica. (FAI)

23 October 1934: At Lago di Garda, Brescia, Italy, Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course when he flew the Macchi Aeronautica M.C. 72 float plane, serial number MM 181, to an average speed of 709.21 kilometers per hour (440.68 miles per hour).¹

A contemporary news article described the event:

FLYING the Machi-Castoldi 72 seaplane (3,000 h.p. special 24-cyl. Fiat) at Lake Garda on Tuesday of last week, Warrant-Officer Francesco Agello, of the Italian Royal Air Force, raised his own world’s air speed record by putting up a mean speed (subject to homologation) of 709.202 km./hr. (440.677 m.p.h.) for the usual four flights. His previous record stood at 682.403 km./hr. (423.76 m.p.h.)

The weather conditions under which the attempts were made were ideal, there being just sufficient breeze to take the glassiness off the water, so assisting the takeoff. Temperature was suitable, and the air was free from bumps.

Just before 3 p.m. Agello took off and made four runs over the three-kilometre course, clocking as follows:—

[Direction]         Secs.               km./hr.          m.p.h

North-South     15 29/100        705.882        438.614
South-North     15 19.2/100     710.433        441.423
North-South     15 18.1/100     711.462        442.081
South-North     15 23.4/100     709.034        440.738

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello with his Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello with his record-setting Macchi M.C.72, MM 181. (FAI)

After the successful attempt a banquet was held in the Officers’ Mess at Desenzano in Agello’s honour. The speeds were announced, and Col. Bernasconi, who is in command of the High-speed Flight, stated that Signor Mussolini had honoured Warrant-Officer Agello by promoting him to a full lieutenant.

Only a few modifications had been made to the Macchi-Castoldi since the previous attempt, chief among them being the substitution of wooden floats for the metal ones previously used.

Illustration of the Fiat AS.6 V-24 aircraft engine, right side.
Illustration of the Fiat AS.6 DOHC V-24 aircraft engine, right side. (Old Machine Press)

As is well known. the most interesting feature of the machine is the extremely unconventional power-unit, the Fiat A.S.6. The problem of frontal area for such a powerful unit as was specified was solved by placing the twenty-four cylinders (totalling in capacity over fifty litres) in two rows, forming a 60 deg. “vee,” and further, arranging them in two mechanically independent groups.

Each group has its own crank shaft, but a single crank case is used for both. The crank shafts, which rotate in opposite directions, are coupled in the centre by spur-gear reduction units, which drive two airscrew shafts. One of these shafts is hollow, and the other operates within it. The two shafts run forward through the “vee” of the front unit, and each carries an airscrew; so that there are two of the latter, close together, but revolving in opposite directions.

Each engine unit has independent camshafts (two per engine), water pump and dual Marelli magnetos, but a common induction system is used, an eight-jet carburetter being mounted behind the rear unit and mixture being drawn from it passed to the cylinders by a supercharger geared up to 20,000 r.p.m. An interesting point is that this supercharger absorbs 200 h.p., and, since it is driven by the rear engine, the blades of the front airscrew (which the rear engine drives) are given different inclination to correct for the slight difference in power.

The power units develop 3,000 h.p. at 3,200 r.p.m., and weighs 2,045lb., giving a weight per h.p. of 0.706lb. The all-up weight of the machine, with pilot and full tanks, is 6,670lb.

British equipment figured in the success, for Castrol oil and K.L.G. plugs were used.

FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1349, Vol. XXVI, November 1, 1934, at Page 1152.

Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, with the record-setting Macchi M.C.72, 23 October 1934.
Warrant Officer Francesco Agello, Regia Aeronautica, with the record-setting Macchi M.C.72, 23 October 1934. (Historic Wings)
Left rear quarter view of the Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)
Left rear quarter view of a Macchi M.C.72. (FAI)

The Macchi-Castoldi M.C.72 was designed by Mario Castoldi for Aeronautica Macchi. It was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane float plane constructed of wood and metal. It was 8.32 meters (27 feet, 3.5 inches) long with a wingspan of 9.48 meters (31 feet, 1.25 inches) and height of 3.30 meters (10.83 feet). The M.C.72 had an empty weight of 2,505 kilograms (5,512 pounds), loaded weight of 2,907 kilograms (6,409 pounds) and maximum takeoff weight of 3,031 kilograms (6,669 pounds).

It was powered by a 50.256 liter (3,067 cubic inch) liquid-cooled, supercharged Fiat S.p.A. AS.6 24-cylinder 60° dual overhead cam (DOHC) V-24 engine with 4 valves per cylinder. The engine produced 3,100 horsepower at 3,300 r.p.m. and drove two counter-rotating metal two-bladed fixed pitch propellers with a diameter of 8 feet (2.56 meters). The counter-rotating blades cancelled the torque effect of the engine.

Surface radiators were placed on top of each wing and surface oil coolers on the floats.

Radiators were placed on the upper surface of each wing. (Aeronautica Militare)
Radiators were placed on the upper surface of each wing. (Aeronautica Militare) 
The Henry De la Vaulx Medal.
The Henry de la Vaulx Medal.

Five Macchi M.C.72 float planes had been built for the 1931 Schneider Trophy race, but problems with the Fiat AS.6 engine, which was essentially two AS.5 V-12s assembled back-to-back, prevented them from competing.

Four test pilots, including Francesco Agello, had been selected to fly the airplanes for speed record attempts. Two were killed while testing the M.C.72, and the third died when another airplane crashed. The cause of the accidents were explosions within the engines’ intake tract. Though they ran perfectly on test stands, in flight, they began to backfire, then explode.

It was discovered by Rod Banks, a British engineer who had been called in to develop a special high-octane fuel, that the Fiat engineers had overlooked the ram effect of the 400 mile per hour slipstream. This caused the fuel mixture to become too lean, resulting in predetonation and backfiring. A modification was made to the intake and the problem was resolved.

Macchi M.C.72 at Aeronautica Militare
Macchi M.C.72 MM 181 at the Museo Storico dell’Aeronautica Militare (Italian Air Force Museum) in Vigna di Valle, Italy. (Unattributed)

Francesco Agello was twice awarded the Henry De La Vaulx Medal by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale, and also awarded the Medaglia d’oro al valore aeronautico. In part, his citation read, “A high speed pilot of exceptional courage and, after competition in difficult and dangerous test flights during the development of the fastest seaplane in the world, twice he conquered the absolute world speed record.”

Captain Agello was killed in a mid-air collision, 26 November 1942, while testing a Macchi C.202 Fogore fighter.

Medalglia d'oro al valore aeronautico
Medalglia d’oro al valore aeronautico

¹ FAI Record File Number 4497

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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