Tag Archives: Supermarine S.6

7 September 1929

Flying Officer Wagforth boards his Supermarine S.6, N247, race number 2
Flying Officer H.R.D. Waghorn boards his Supermarine S.6, N247, race number 2. The Rolls-Royce Type R engine is “ticking over” at 475 r.p.m. (Unattributed)

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).

 1929 Schneider Trophy race course, from Flight, 22 August 1928 at Page 895
1929 Schneider Trophy race course, from “Flight,” 22 August 1928 at Page 895

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.

Supermarine S.6 N247. (Unattributed)
Supermarine S.6 N247. (Unattributed)

FLIGHT reported:

     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

Photograph of 1929 Schneider Trophy Race scoreboard, in "Flight," 13 September 1929 at Page 1015
Photograph of 1929 Schneider Trophy Race scoreboard, in “Flight,” 13 September 1929 at Page 1015

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

Pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup Race team, left to right: Flying Officer H.R.D. Waghorn, race winner; Flying Officer T.H. Moon, Technical Officer; Flight Lieutenant D. D'Arcy A. Grieg; Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., Flight Commander; Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth; Flying Officer Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley.' Several of these officers would rise to the rank of Air Vice Marshal.(Royal Air Force)
Pilots of the 1929 British Schneider Cup Race team, left to right: Flying Officer H.R.D. Waghorn, the race winner; Flying Officer T.H. Moon, Technical Officer; Flight Lieutenant David D’Arcy Alexander Grieg, D.F.C.; Squadron Leader Augustus Henry Orlebar, A.F.C., Flight Commander; Flight Lieutenant George Hedley Stainforth; Flying Officer Richard Llewellyn Roger Atcherley. Several of these officers would rise to the rank of Air Commodore, Air Vice Marshal and Air Marshal. (Royal Air Force)

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

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 16.27.45

Air Ministry,

20th September 1929


     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, A.F.C., Royal Air Force, died of injuries, 7 May 1931.

Supermarine S.6 N247 (John K. Shelton Collection)
Supermarine S.6 N247 (John K. Shelton Collection)

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.

Rolls-Royce R and Supermarine S.6 (John K. Shelton Collection)
A Rolls-Royce Type R engine and the Supermarine S.6. The airplane’s designer, R.J. Mitchell, is near the center of the photograph. (John K. Shelton Collection)

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 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-Reed fixed-pitch airscrew through a 0.605:1 gear reduction unit at the front of the engine. The Type R 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.

Supermarine S.6 N247 at RAF Calshot 12 August 1929. (Unattributed)
Supermarine S.6 N247 at RAF Calshot 12 August 1929. (Unattributed)

¹ FAI Record File Number 14999

² FAI Record File Number 11830

Advertisement in Flight, 8 November 1929 (Aviation Ancestry)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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

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.).


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)

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