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Supermarine Float Plane sets World Air Speed Record in 1927

HURTLING THROUGH THE AIR at the rate of almost five miles a minute, a twenty-seven-year-old British flight lieutenant won the coveted Schneider trophy for seaplanes at Venice on September 26. Only two planes of the six competing were able to finish the 217-mile triangular course, and both were English entries. All three Italian competitors, including Major de Bernardi, winner of the event last year, were forced by engine trouble to abandon the race.


Not only were all existing aviation speed records for seaplanes smashed during the race, but the record for land machines was exceeded by three miles an hour. The average speed of Lieutenant Webster's Supermarine monoplane, equipped with a Napier engine—281.488 miles an hour—is all the more remarkable, say Venice correspondents of American newspapers, when it is considered that the British machine was equipped with pontoons, which hindered its progress through the air. It was also necessary for the pilot to make fourteen hairpin-turns during the race.

Lieutenant Webster's official time was 46 minutes, 20 28-100 seconds. In other words, he could have flown from Detroit to Chicago, or from St. Louis to Kansas City, on a straightaway course, in about three-quarters of an hour. As a result of the Schneider Cup race, the New York Times is convinced that "in future, the United States will have to reckon with British airmen and airplane designers, rather than with French or Italian." Of our efforts this year, the Washington Post says:

"Through a chain of unfortunate circumstances, the United States was not represented in the race. Following the competition of last year, the Navy announced that it would no longer participate in speed contests. Lieutenant Al Williams succeeded in obtaining, through private subscription, funds with which he built a racing plane. Unable to complete preliminary tests in time, and with Great Britain refusing to sanction a thirty-day postponement of the event, he was forced to withdraw almost at the last minute."

In sharp contrast, says The Times, was the action of the British Government. The machine which won the race was designed under the auspices of the Air Ministry, and six of them were constructed. They were taken to Italy, along with their crews, on a British cruiser. As a result, the winners of first and second places have flown faster than any other human being. At the rate maintained at Venice, notes the New York Herald Tribune, "one could fly from New York to Chicago in three hours." The New York World, by delving into Schneider Cup history, finds that—

"Pilot Prevost won the first race of this series in 1913 with a speed of forty-four miles an hour. The next year fifty-five miles an hour was scored. The war interrupted the tests for five years, but it greatly hastened air speeding, so that in 1919 Janello claimed 124.9 miles an hour, but no award was made. For two years this unofficial record was not exceeded, but in 1922 Baird ran the mark up to 146. The next year raised this to 177. A two-year interval brought the mark up to 232 miles, in Baltimore, an average gain of 27.5 for each year. Then in 1926 Major de Bernardi scored 246.496 miles an hour. Averaging 281.488 miles an hour, Lieutenant Webster bettered the 1926 record by thirty-five miles, the greatest gain ever made in a single year in the history of the race."

Under the rules, Great Britain, having won this year, will sponsor next year's meet. The fact that Great Britain now holds the cup, thinks the Springfield Union, will stimulate interest in the 1928 race. The cup, we are told, is a beautiful $5,000 affair of gold, silver, and bronze. According to a New York Times news item:

"The Schneider Maritime Aviation Cup was captured last year by Italy from the United States. The United States had previously won the cup twice, and Italy's victory deprived this country of the honor of holding the cup permanently. It must be won three times within a period of five years.

"M. Jacques Schneider presented the cup in 1912 to the Aero Club of France, and the following year France won it. The following year the cup went to England. In 1920 Italy took the cup, and again in 1921. Then came England's turn.

"The United States took the cup in 1923. In 1924 the race was canceled by the United States because the British and Italians were not able to get their planes ready. In 1925 Lieut. James Doolittle won the cup again for the United States with a speed of 232.57 miles an hour."

Great Britain, which did not compete last year, made great efforts this year to capture the cup, says the New York Evening Post. Her seaplanes were designed, constructed, and tested secretly. Italy also preserved secrecy, we are told, and little was made public concerning her entrants. She used the same type of plane and motor that won her a "leg" on the cup last year, and Major de Bernardi was again the ace of the Italian team, but the Italian pilots were unable to approach the speed made by the British machines, which captured first and second places.

Looking over the speed and distance records hung up by land and water airplanes during 1927, the Philadelphia Public Ledger finds that "the possible records which the airplane may establish next year stagger the imagination." When September rolls around, however, and the Schneider Cup seaplanes take off from the Solent, the New York American is certain that one of our machines will capture the cup. "Our British cousins had better fondle the trophy while they have an opportunity," says this paper, "for it will be brought back to America next year."

Source: Literary Digest - October 8, 1927