Supermarine S.49 "Lady Lucy"

By Tim Nelson


The 1949 Schneider Trophy Race recently culminated at the IPMS/Seattle Spring Show on 4/16/2005 (see accompanying articles in this and the April issue). This story features one of the racers in that event, the Supermarine S.49 "Lady Lucy".

Supermarine and the Original Schneider Series

The English manufacturer Supermarine, along with engine maker Rolls-Royce, played a prominent role in the original 1913-1931 Schneider Trophy races, and produced the three aircraft which finally secured the trophy for Britain: the S.5, S.6, and S.6B. The S.6B gained greater notoriety as the first aircraft to exceed 400 mph. These beautiful aircraft were direct ancestors of the later legendary Spitfire series of fighters.

The 1949 Race Effort

The man most closely associated with the design of the Supermarine Schneider racers and the Spitfire was R.J. Mitchell. Mitchell died of cancer in 1937, and by the late 1940s, what had been Supermarine was part of the Vickers Armstrong company. At the time of the announcement of the 1949 Schneider race, there was not a consensus view among Britons on how to defend the Trophy. Several British teams eventually formed to field entries, but it was not until early 1949 that the idea of a commemorative Supermarine entry took hold.It was natural that a Spitfire, famous progeny of the S.6B and its stablemates, should be selected as the torchbearer for the retro Supermarine project.

Birth of the S.49

The British government had pulled funding from the 1931 Schneider effort, and the whole endeavor was saved only by the intervention of Lady Lucy Houston, who had inherited her shipping magnate husband's £6m fortune in the 1920s. She offered to pay £100,000 towards the cost of ensuring British participation in what would be the ultimate race of the original series. She died in 1936, and no such matron saint was in the offing for the 1949 Supermarine Schneider project. Despite the nostalgic euphoria associated with the Supermarine team, only a war surplus Mk XIV could be secured as the platform for the racer. The specific airplane that would become the "S.49" had been chasing V-1s over East Anglia 5 years before, and spent most of the ensuing years in storage awaiting the scrapyard.

"Lady Lucy": The Racer and the Model

The S.49 was a resuscitated stock Spitfire Mk XIV modified by loving Vickers Armstrong volunteers. Some of the changes were to remove some wing fairings, install Mk Vb floats with custom pylons, and add a ventral fin for directional stability. An open cockpit was adopted, trading a few knots of speed for the promotion of heritage and nostalgia. The 1931 S.6B's race number of 1 was proudly worn. The S.6B's diagonal "sight" line on the port wing was applied as a decorative, not functional, touch. The team began calling the racer "Lady Lucy", in honor of the savior of Britainıs Schneider hopes some 18 years previous. Maj. Ian Forthman, a crack RAF flight test pilot, was recruited to carry the blue and silver Supermarine colors at the 1949 Schneider Trophy race off Edinburgh. Testing was barely completed prior to race week.

The model of the Supermarine S.49 is based on the very nice Academy Mk XIV kit, with WTH floats and ventral fin, scratchbuilt float pylons, and custom decals.



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