THE 1949 SCHNEIDER TROPHY RACE

By Tim Nelson
Course Map by Jim Schubert

 

Introduction

The Schneider Trophy race was one of aviation's premier events during the period from 1913 to 1931. The trophy, established by the wealthy French aviation enthusiast Jacques Schneider, promoted the development of 'hydro-aeroplanes' via racing, and led to dramatic contests between the major aircraft producing powers. Names such as Deperdussin, Savoia, Curtiss, Macchi, and Supermarine became synonymous with speed, grace, and power. The Schneider races brought about many advances in aerodynamic and powerplant design, some of which bore fruit years later when the participating nations became combatants in the Second World War.

The United States and Italy both came close to permanently retiring the Schneider Trophy, by nearly reaching the agreed upon criterion of winning three consecutive races. The British finally pulled it off in 1931 when no other nation was prepared to compete on the scheduled date; they sent a Supermarine S.6B aloft and won the race unchallenged. This achievement, following their wins in 1929 and 1927, secured the Schneider Trophy permanently for Great Britain.

Post-War Resurrection

Nothing is permanent. In the years following World War Two, the community of nations sought ways to heal the wounds of the horrific war they had just experienced. The jet age was dawning, while piston engine technology was at its zenith. Rocketry was emerging as a technology of great promise. Rapid strides were being made in speed, altitude, and range capabilities. What better way to unite the world in the new age of technology than with sport? What better way to beat swords into ploughshares than to take the killing machines of the recent conflict and turn them into chariots of peaceful competition? What more graceful form of aircraft than the seaplane? Thus was resurrected the Schneider Trophy race.

Great Britain, still stinging from allegations of 'unsporting' behavior in 1931, and feeling benevolent being among the victorious Allies in the war, proposed the idea of a renewed Schneider competition in the spring of 1946. Recognizing the long lead time required for an advanced technological endeavor of this nature, a committee of participating nations set October 26, 1949 as the date for the great event. As the most recent winner, Great Britain retained the privilege of selecting the race site, and selected a course over the Firth of Forth, off Edinburgh, Scotland. The airfaring nations of the world thus girded their loins for an event of Olympic proportions.

The Course

The Edinburgh/Firth of Forth site was chosen to make a clean break from the previous British-hosted Schneider races in the Portsmouth area. The course layout gave consideration to the advancements in speed since 1931, the need for significant support facilities, and the likely tremendous crowds wishing to see the spectacle.

The final original Schneider races in 1929 and 1931 took place on courses of slightly different layout but based on 7 laps of approximately 50 km each. The 1949 Edinburgh course was lengthened to a 113.86 km triangular layout, with 6 anti-clockwise laps for a total race distance of approximately 683 km. Altitude during the race was limited to no more than 1000 ft.

Race results, consistent with earlier Schneider tradition, were based on the minimum time to complete the race distance, not a head to head competition for position. The course layout required that race designers consider speed, maneuvering capability, and range. The city of Edinburgh provided ample harbor facilities for race logistical support, and the north and south shores of the Firth afforded ample viewing sites for the throngs. A large area in the middle of the course was set aside for boats. Both Cunard and Canadian Pacific moored their top ocean liners inside the main pylons and sold Race Week packages for enthusiasts to enjoy the proceedings in style.

Unseasonably warm and clear weather set the stage for a spectacular event.

The Models

The 1949 Schneider Trophy Race is being commemorated with a model contest at the IPMS/Seattle Spring Show on April 16, 2005, at the Renton Community Center in Renton, WA. The purpose of the project is threefold: fun, fun, and fun. Some of the entries were previewed at the NorthWest Scale Modelers show at Seattlešs Museum of Flight on February 19 ­ 20, 2005.

The 1949 Schneider Trophy Race project has been a chance to be creative, put the reference materials aside, and have some fun modeling. There has been much excitement and enthusiasm about it, and we expect to see a large collection of strange and wondrous 'hydro-aeroplane' models on April 16. Look for a full report in a future issue of Internet Modeler.

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