THE SOPWITH SCHNEIDER TROPHY WINNER AND “HIGH SPEED”
THE SCHNEIDER TROPHY
Sopwith’s Schneider Trophy winner was the second Tabloid to be made and differed in a number of respects from the Prototype and indeed the subsequent production aircraft. It was fitted with floats and a 100hp Monosoupape Gnome engine and entered in Schneider Trophy race, which was to be held in Monaco on April 20th, 1914. The timescale of the project is extraordinary. Construction started in early February 1914 and on 1 April it was tested at Hamble near Southampton with a single central float and wing-tip floats, but somersaulted, throwing the pilot, Howard Pixton, clear. This stage of development is illustrated in Fig 1. After recovery the following day (and drying out!) it was successfully tested at Richmond-on-Thames on the 8th with the now familiar twin main floats (The result of sawing the single float in half and re-fitting it further forward) and a rear supporting float, shown at Fig 2. After these tests the tail float was replaced with a larger design incorporating a water rudder and study of the photographs of both aircraft show that the main floats were moved forward again. These and other changes are shown at Fig 3. Pixton then got some air experience with the first of the production land Tabloids (presumably serial no 326) while the crated floatplane was taken to Monaco, arriving on the 16th. It was assembled and tested on the 18th and 19th and Pixton won the race on the 20th, also setting a 300 km speed record of 92 mph. This was “the most important event which had ever happened in the history of British aviation”. And it all happened inside 80 days!
The aircraft had the standard linen covering, with the word “Sopwith” on both sides of the fuselage, in a slightly wider spacing than the prototype. The only other marking was a large racing number “3” in black on the rudder and on the undersurface of each lower wingtip. The cowl, fuselage top and side panels were alloy. There must have been some problems with overheating, as the lower cowl was removed for the race and 4 holes drilled along each side of the front of the upper cowl. In photographs a diagonal line is apparent on the starboard side of the upper cowling, which may perhaps have been a cooling slot.
THE “HIGH SPEED” (drawings to follow)
On its return to England, and by the 20th May, it had been modified into a racing landplane, the subject of the model and shown at Fig 4. It retained the 100hp engine but there were a number of minor changes to the fuselage, which appears to have been re-covered and the trademark repainted in slightly different lettering. The upper cowl was beaded down the centre line, presumably to give some extra rigidity compromised by cutting in two large elliptical cooling slots. The lower cowl was refitted. What look like standard Sopwith inspection hatches were fitted to both sides of the forward fuselage and a smaller clear panel can be seen on the starboard side. Marked as “21” it raced in the 1914 Aerial Derby on June 6th, with Pixton flying another Tabloid numbered 18, which was in fact the fifth production machine for the Army. On the 20th Hawker flew in the London to Manchester and return race as No 14 but had to retire due to ill health. On the 27th of June Hawker was flying it over Kingston-on-Thames when he spun inverted after an engine-off loop and it crashed into some trees near Brooklands. He was unharmed, but the aircraft was very badly damaged and was returned to the factory to be repaired. Unfortunately there is no evidence that this ever took place.
Fig 1. 1 April 1914, Hamble. Unfortunately there are no photographs of the aircraft in its original form with one central and two wing-tip floats. It must have looked something like this illustration, although the “slipper” type floats shown may equally have been the cylindrical sort used on other Sopwith floatplanes. The angles of the struts and the actual location of the floats are speculative. A soon as the throttle was opened up the aircraft cart-wheeled into the estuary, throwing Howard Pixton clear, and lay on the mud overnight until it could be recovered and taken back to the works for modification. Whether the Sopwith logo had been painted on the fuselage sides at this stage is not known.
Fig 2. 8 April 1914, Richmond-on-Thames. Apparently the main float was made into two by simply sawing it down the middle (hence the dimensions in fig 1) and remounting it. Note that the flat lower edge of the floats is parallel to the aircraft centre line. The “slipper” tail float (taken perhaps from a wingtip?) is of rectangular cross-section but has no water rudder. The aircraft taxied and flew successfully in this configuration but must have needed some means of steering on the water. The logo was on the aircraft at this date.
Fig 3. 18-20 April, Monaco. The most obvious change is to the tail float, which now has a rudder and is fixed directly to the fuselage. Less obvious is that the main floats have been moved forward by about 6” (perhaps merely to balance the larger rear float). The lower cowl has been removed, necessitating some bracing to the front bearing. Cooling holes were drilled in the front cowling and a cooling slot (?) cut on its starboard side. The racing number 3 appears in black on each side of the rudder and on the under-side of each lower wing tip.
Fig 4. June 1914. There are excellent photographs of this version of the aircraft in the Tabloid Datafile. Harold Barnwell raced it first as No 21, then Harry Hawker as No 14. The racing numbers appear on the fin and under the lower wingtips but apart from the logo, there are no other markings. The spacing of the “s” and the “o” on the starboard side is slightly different from the Monaco version, which leads to the conclusion that, what with spending time upside down in the Thames and racing in the Mediterranean, the fuselage needed re-covering. The fame of the plane would have been such in mid-1914 that Sopwith’s would have wanted it to appear as much like the floatplane as possible and capitalise on its success. Minor changes were made to the tailplane struts, perhaps following the damage done to the elevators after the Monaco race.