11 December 1941: Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr., Royal Canadian Air Force, an American serving in England before the United States entered World War II, was killed when his Supermarine Spitfire collided with another airplane in clouds over the village of Roxholm, Lincolnshire, England. He was only 19 years old.
Magee was born in China, the son of Anglican missionaries. His father was an American, giving him American citizenship, and his mother was from England. He was educated in the missionary schools until 1931 when his mother took him to England to continue his education at the Rugby School in Wawickshire.
In 1939, Magee traveled to the United States to visit his father’s family in Pittsburgh, but because of the outbreak of World War II, he was unable to return to England. While in America, he continued his schooling at the Old Avon Farms School in Connecticut and won a scholarship to Yale University.
Instead of studying at Yale, in 1941, John Magee enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force. After completing flight training, he was sent to England. Once there he went through operational training in the Supermarine Spitfire and was assigned to No. 412 (Fighter) Squadron at RAF Digby, Scopwick Heath, and then at RAF Wellingore, Navenby, both in Lincolnshire.
At approximately 11:30 a.m., 11 December 1941, Pilot Officer Magee was flying his Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb, AD291, squadron markings VZ-H. He and three other pilots from No. 412 Squadron descended through a hole in the clouds. At 1,400 feet (427 meters), Magee’s Spitfire collided with an Airspeed A.S. 10 Oxford twin-engine trainer, T1052.
A witness said that he saw the Spitfire pilot struggle to open the airplane’s canopy, then stand up in the cockpit and jump from the doomed fighter. The pilot was too close to the ground for his parachute to open.
Both airplanes crashed. Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee, Jr. was killed, as was the pilot of the other airplane, Leading Aircraftman Ernest Aubrey Griffin.
Pilot Officer Magee is best known for his poem, High Flight:
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds,—and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air. . . .
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace Where never lark nor ever eagle flew— And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod The high untrespassed sanctity of space, Put out my hand, and touched the face of God
A less well-know poem by Magee is Per Ardua, written after his first combat mission, 8 November 1941.
(To those who gave their lives to England during the Battle of Britain and
left such a shining example for us to follow, these lines are dedicated.)
They must have climbed the white mists of the morning; They that have soared, before the world’s awake, To herald up their foemen to them, scorning The thin dawn’s rest their weary folk might take;
Some that left other mouths to tell the story Of high blue battle,—quite young limbs that bled; How they had thundered up the clouds to glory Or fallen to an English field stained red;
Because my faltering feet would fail I find them Laughing beside me, steadying the hand That seeks their deadly courage—yet behind them The cold light dies in that once brilliant land …
Do these, who help the quickened pulse run slowly, Whose stern remembered image cools the brow— To the far dawn of Victory know only Night’s darkness, and Valhalla’s silence now?
John Magee’s fighter was a Supermarine Spitfire F. Mk Vb, built at the Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory, at Warwickshire, West Midlands, and delivered to the 45th Maintenance Unit at RAF Kinloss, Scotland, on 27 September 1941. The new airplane was assigned to No. 412 Squadron on 14 October.
The Supermarine Spitfire was a single-place, single-engine low-wing monoplane of all-metal construction with retractable landing gear. The fighter had been designed by Reginald Joseph Mitchell CBE. The prototype first flew 5 March 1936.
The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was 29 feet, 11 inches (9.119 meters) long with a wingspan of 36 feet, 10 inches (11.227 meters) and overall height of 11 feet, 5 inches (3.480 meters). It had an empty weight of 4,963 pounds (2,129 kilograms) and gross weight of 6,525 pounds (2,960 kilograms).
The Spitfire Vb was powered a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 1,648.959-cubic-inch-displacement (27.022 liters) Rolls-Royce Merlin 45 single overhead camshaft (SOHC) 60° V-12 engine with a single-speed, single-stage supercharger. It was rated at 1,185 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m., at 11,500 feet (3,505 meters). The Merlin 45 drove a three-bladed Rotol constant-speed propeller with a diameter of 10 feet, 9 inches (3.277 meters).
The Spitfire Vb had a maximum speed of 371 miles per hour (597 kilometers per hour) at 20,100 feet (6,126 meters). It could reach 20,000 feet (6,096 meters) in 6 minutes, 24 seconds, and 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) in 12 minutes, 12 seconds. The Vb’s service ceiling 37,500 feet (11,430 meters), and its range was 470 miles (756 kilometers).
The Spitfire F. Mk Vb was armed with two 20-milimeter Hispano Mk.II autocannon, with 60 rounds of ammunition per gun, and four Browning .303-caliber Mark II machine guns, with 350 rounds per gun.
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.
7 September 1929: Flying Officer Henry Richard Danvers Waghorn, a pilot with the Royal Air Force High-Speed Flight based at RAF Calshot, flew a Supermarine S.6, N247, to win the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (Schneider Cup) race.
The race was the eleventh 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.
The 1929 race was held over The Solent, a body of water between the harbor city of Portsmouth, England, and the Isle of Wight. The course was a four-sided polygon 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).
By 1929, the expense of fielding these teams of technologically-advanced airplanes had caused both France and the United States to drop out. Italy entered three Macchi seaplanes and England entered two Supermarine S.6s and a Gloster VI. The Gloster was powered by the very successful Napier Lion “broad arrow” 12-cylinder engine, while the S.6 was equipped with the new Rolls-Royce Type R V-12. The second Supermarine S.6, flown by Flying Officer Richard L.R. Atcherley, was disqualified for crossing inside a pylon at a turn during the race. Italy’s team had one Aeronautica Macchi M.52, which had flown in the 1927 race, powered by a Fiat Aviazone AS.3 V-12, and two new Aeronautica Macchi M.67s, both of which were equipped with the Isotta Fraschini Asso 1000, a “W-18” 18-cylinder broad arrow engine. Great Britain’s racers were painted blue and silver. The Italian aircraft were painted bright red.
All pilots were military officers of the Regia Aeronautica and the Royal Air Force.
The race was actually a time trial. Beginning at 2:00 p.m. on Saturday, individual aircraft would start at 20-minute intervals. There would be only two aircraft on the course at any time. Flying Officer Waghorn was the first to takeoff.
Precisely at 2 p.m. the boom of the starting gun on the Medea was heard faintly, and exactly two minutes later Waghorn in the Supermarine Rolls-Royce S.6 (No.2) crossed the starting line. Obviously Waghorn had wasted no time in getting into the air. He roared past at tremendous speed, but certainly the impression was not one of some 360 m.p.h., which is what the S.6 must actually have been doing at the time. And the Rolls-Royce racing engine managed to give off its 1,800 or so h.p. with surprisingly little fuss. The large gear ratio resulted in the propeller running relatively slowly and actually from certain points of view, one could see the propeller blades, and not merely a shining shimmering blur marking the disc.
Flying at a constant height of some 200 ft., Waghorn continued on his first lap, and as he sped past along the Hampshire shore the excitement grew intense. What would the speed of the first lap be? That was the question every one was asking. That first lap would give a fair indication of the sort of speeds that could be expected in the contest. After a splendid turn around the West Cowes mark boat, the S.6 once more became, as it was seen by spectators on Ryde pier, a group of three dots approaching and growing larger at a promising rate. The machine roared across the line and disappeared towards the Seaview and Hayling Island mark boats. After a wait of a few minutes, Waghorn’s speed for the first lap was announced: 324 m.p.h. In other words, he not only established a world’s record for the 50-km. closed circuit, but had beaten the speed of de Bernardi over the 3-km. straight-line course! Well done. Oh, very well done! The next question was: “Would the Rolls-Royce engine stay the course?” Watching Waghorn speed around at the same height, lap after lap, the tension eased off. The lap speeds grew at a steady rate, from 324 to 329 and to 331! . . . Then in the fourth lap the speed dropped slightly to 328. Was this a sign that the engine was “tiring”?
. . . Waghorn’s lap speeds were steady around 330 m.p.h., the sixth dropping to 327, but rising again in the seventh to 331. As the S.6 crossed the finishing line the spectators drew a sigh of relief. The Rolls-Royce engine had “stood the racket” for 40 minutes and thus upheld the reputation of an old and famous firm. The average speed for the whole course was 328.63 m.p.h. . . .
—FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, Special Schneider Trophy Report, 13 September 1929, at Pages 1008–1009
Flying Officer Waghorn’s cumulative lap times were recorded as follows:
Lap 1 5 minutes, 45-1/5 seconds 324 miles per hour (521 km/h)
Lap 2 11 minutes, 25 seconds 329.54 miles per hour (530.34 km/h)
Lap 3 17 minutes, 02-4/5 seconds 331.1 miles per hour (532.9 km/h)
Lap 4 22 minutes, 43-4/5 seconds 328 miles per hour (528 km/h)
Lap 5 28 minutes, 22-4/5 seconds 329.93 miles per hour (530.97 km/h)
Lap 6 34 minutes, 04-4/5 seconds 327.04 miles per hour (526.32 km/h)
Lap 7 39 minutes, 42-4/5 seconds 330.91 miles per hour (532.55 km/h)
Dick Waghorn finished the course in 39:42.8, with an overall average speed of 325.63 miles per hour (528.88 kilometers per hour). He established a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Record for Speed Over a 100 kilometer Course, with an average speed over two consecutive race laps of 531.20 kilometers per hour (330.07 miles per hour).¹
Five days later, 12 September 1929, the High-Speed Flight commander, Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., flew N247 to an FAI World Record for Speed Over a 3 Kilometer Course of 575.20 kilometers per hour (357.41 miles per hour).²
The pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup team were members of the RAF High-Speed Flight, based at RAF Calshot. With the exception of Squadron Leader Orlebar, all the pilots had been instructors at the Central Flying School at RAF Wittering. They trained on float planes after transfer to the High-Speed Flight when it was initially established at RAF Felixstowe, later moving to Calshot.
Flying Officer H. R. D. Waghorn is a London man, having been born in Kensington in 1904. Educated at Wellington, he proceeded in 1922 as a cadet to the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, where he was a contemporary of Flying Officer Atcherly.
On graduating in 1924 he was posted to No. 17 (Fighter) Squadron, and after taking a flying instructor’s course in 1926 at the Central Flying School became an instructor there. He remained at the school until February of this year when he joined the High-Speed Flight. He is a noted skier.
—FLIGHT, The Aircraft Engineer and Airships, No. 1077 (No. 33. Vol. XXI.) 15 August 1929, at Page 875, Column 2
20th September 1929
ROYAL AIR FORCE.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Air Force Cross to Flying Officer Henry Richard Danvers Waghorn in recognition of his achievement in winning the recent “Schneider Trophy” Air Race.
—The London Gazette, Number 33536, Friday, 20 September 1929, at Page 6035, Column 2
Flight Lieutenant Henry Wichard Danvers Waghorn, AFC, Royal Air Force, died of injuries, 7 May 1931.
N247 was a Supermarine S.6, designed by the 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 and S.5 Schneider Cup racers, and built at the Supermarine Aviation Works, Ltd., Southampton, on the south coast of England. There were two, with the second S.6 carrying the identification N248.
The Supermarine S.6 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 25 feet, 10 inches (7.874 meters) long, with a wingspan of 30 feet, 0 inches (9.144 meters) and height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). The S.6 had an empty weight of 4,471 pounds (2,028 kilograms) and gross weight of 5,771 pounds (2,618 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.
While the previous design, the Supermarine S.5, used the very successful Napier Lion W-12 engine, the S.6 used a newly-designed Rolls-Royce Type R. This was a liquid-cooled, supercharged, 2,239.33-cubic-inch-displacement (36.696 liters) single overhead cam (SOHC) 60° V-12 with 4 valves per cylinder and a compression ratio of 6:1. The the supercharger could provide up to 18 pounds (p.s.i.), 1.24 bar, of boost. N247’s race engine, number R9, produced 1,900 horsepower at 2,900 r.p.m. (For the 1931, race, R9 was modified to produce 2,350 horsepower at 3,000 r.p.m.) The V-12 drove a two-bladed duralumin Fairey-Reid fixed-pitch airscrew through a 0.605:1 gear reduction unit at the front of the engine. It weighed 1,530 pounds (694 kilograms).
The engine burned an exotic fuel mixture of 11% aviation gasoline and 89% benzol (benzene and toluene). Tetraethyl lead was added to the mixture to limit pre-ignition. The float plane’s fuel supply was carried in the pontoons. Because of the engine’s high rate of consumption and the limited fuel capacity, the S.6 was unable to run at full power during the Schneider race.
Supermarine S.6 N247 was destroyed on takeoff, 18 August 1931. The pilot, Lieutenant Gerald L. Brinton, Royal Navy, assigned to the RAF High-Speed Flight, was killed.