Thursday 6 August 2020

Supermarine S5 replica project gets under way

Supermarine S5 replica project gets under way 

Staying with the 1930s aviation theme in this post we move from one end of the aeronautical speed spectrum to the other as we return to one of my most favourite aircraft of the period - the Supermarine Schneider Trophy racing aeroplanes.

I wrote about the Schneider Trophy in previous posts on the anniversaries of the final 1931 race and the Spitfire's 1936 maiden flight, as well as a detailed article for In Retrospect magazine.  I had intended to save this post specially for when I was to be at the mercy of the quacks again but that is still up in the air and as the original articles below date back to the beginning of the year I felt that, with the advent of this latest welcome news, it was about time I got down to blogging about this excellent project.

source - Pilot magazine

Supermarine: Call For Investors & Enthusiasts to Help Rebuild an Aviation Legend

As these articles explain, something else that hopefully will soon be up in the air (and which I am looking far more forward to!) is a full-size replica of the 1927 Schneider Trophy-winning British entry, the Supermarine S.5, thanks to the efforts of a team of aeronautical engineers and Schneider Trophy enthusiasts.  Leading the project is professional pilot Will Hosie, whose interest in the famous speed contest and the S.5 in particular is obviously a personal one seeing as his late father Bill once owned an earlier replica of that aircraft in the 1980s (and in which Bill Hosie sadly lost his life following a catastrophic crash off the coast of Falmouth, Cornwall, in May 1987).  This first replica - also full-size - first flew in 1975 and was badly damaged in a take-off crash seven years later in 1982, at which point it passed into the ownership of the Hosie family.

Participants and investors wanted for Supermarine S5 seaplane rebuild project 

Now the son Will Hosie and his team look well on the way to creating a new S.5 replica, with enough funding having come in for work to have begun on building the floats and drawings in place for the rest.  While there is still a long way to go, both in terms of construction and financing, the proposed timescale - first flight in 2023 - seems eminently achievable whilst the call for investors and sponsors is a sensible one and with any luck will inspire a good many well-placed individuals and organisations to get on board.  One hopes that certain museums, historical trusts et cetera will take an interest which could in turn filter down into schools and local workshops as has been seen with other similar projects.  The aim of displaying the finished aircraft at a total of 20 events (10 airshows and 10 static displays) around the world in time for the 100th anniversary of the 1927 Schneider Trophy is again an entirely laudable and realistic goal.  It is moreover extremely important that the story of the Schneider Trophy and the S.5's place within it is kept alive and propagated for future generations, both for the thrilling contest it was and its place in the history of the development of the Spitfire.  To be able to see once again an example of these incredible pieces of engineering in the air will be an amazing treat, especially since so few of the original Supermarine S-series seaplanes survived (and none in flying condition).

Supermarine S.4 G-EBLP
source - Air Racing History
The S.4 of 1925 was the first of Mitchell's revolutionary, streamlined monoplane designs to see the light of day.  Being such a radical departure from previous efforts only one example was produced, taking its place alongside a pair of less advanced Gloster III biplanes for the 1925 race in Baltimore, U.S.A. (having first raised the British and world seaplane speed records to 226 miles per hour during a test run at Southampton in September 1925).  Unfortunately during a subsequent test run at Baltimore's Bay Shore Park the pilot, Henri Biard, lost control at 200 feet after encountering heavy wing vibration and sideslipped into the water, wrecking the all-wood S.4 but managing to walk away with only two broken ribs.

Two years later and Mitchell and his team had taken what they'd learnt from the S.4 and created the S.5, three examples of which - serial numbers N219, N220 and N221 - were produced for the 1927 contest, which was to take place in Venice, Italy.  Only two - N219 and N220 - would take part in the race, with N220 flown by Flt. Lt. Sidney Webster winning at an average speed of 281.65mph and N219 piloted by Flt. Lt. O. E. Worsley coming second at an average of 273.07mph.  The two S.5's had wrested the Schneider Trophy from Italy and the next contest would take place at Calshot, Southampton, in 1929.

A year later in 1928, as part of the preparations for the 1929 race, Flt. Lt. Samuel 'Kink' Kinkead was selected to make an attempt on the world air speed record that had been set by the Italians during the '27 race.  On the 12th March 1928, flying the reserve N221, Kinkead was suddenly seen to nosedive at high speed straight into the Solent.  The aircraft was totally destroyed and 'Kink' was killed instantly.  Although the wreckage and the body were both recovered the cause of the crash has never been satisfactorily explained.

Distraught but undaunted the remaining members of the RAF High Speed Flight pushed ahead in readiness for the 1929 contest.  Mitchell and Supermarine produced the S.6, an advancement over the S.5 with its all-metal construction and new Rolls-Royce R engine, and two of these - N247 and N248 - were built for the race.

S.6 N247, piloted by Flt. Lt. Richard Waghorn, went on to win the 1929 event at an average speed of 328.63mph, with S.5 N219 finishing a creditable third in the hands of Flt. Lt. d'Arcy Greig (whose autobiography My Flying Years I can heartily recommend) and Britain was only one contest away from claiming the Schneider Trophy in perpetuity.

For the 1931 event, due to time constraints as a result of financial difficulties and a lack of political will, the two S.6s from the 1929 contest were redesigned with new floats, extra radiators and revised control surfaces and designated S.6A, while Mitchell worked on shoehorning in a more powerful version of the Rolls-Royce R engine into the existing airframe design which resulted in the building of two further examples, to be called the S.6B.

Supermarine S.6B S1596
source - Wikimedia Commons

Despite there being no competition for the 1931 race (all other nations having withdrawn for various reasons) the High Speed Flight were determined to put on a show for the capacity crowd lining the banks of the Solent and ensure that the world speed record - and thus the Schneider Trophy - would be held by Britain.  As such they threw everything they had into the contest - the two new S.6Bs S1595 and S1596, the S.6As N247 and N248, plus the surviving S.5s N219 and N220.  The S.5s by this time were used only for practice runs, with the plan being that S.6B S1595 would be the aircraft to fly the race and make the record attempt while the two older S.6As would be kept in reserve.  While training for the race was still underway S.6A N247 crashed on takeoff, killing the pilot Lt. G. L. Brinton, RN, leaving only N248 as the sole surviving S.6A.  Despite this setback the race went off as planned, Flt. Lt. John Boothman taking S.6B S1595 to a record-breaking 340.08mph on the 13th September as part of the final 1931 contest.  The other S.6B S1596 capsized and sank with Flt. Lt. George Stainforth at the controls during practice for the world speed record but both pilot and aircraft survived and two weeks later Stainforth, in S.6B S1595, raised the WSR yet again to 407.5mph.

Thus of the eight S-series seaplanes designed and built by R. J. Mitchell and Supermarine over the course of 6 years, by the end of 1931 three had been lost to accidents leaving only two S.5s, a single S.6A and both the S.6Bs extant.  Designed from the outset as high-performance racing aeroplanes intended for a specific, continually evolving contest their long-term survival was always going to be in question.  The highly-stressed Napier Lion and Rolls-Royce R engines required a complete strip-down and overhaul after every single run (literally a matter of hours) and the strains put on the airframe by the incredible speeds and high-g turns of the courses meant that keeping any of them in an airworthy condition beyond the absolute limit of their use would have been an extreme engineering and economic challenge.

S.6B S1595 on display at the Science Museum, London
source - Wikimedia Commons
As such only two Supermarine aircraft from that fantastic era of seaplane racing survive to this day, the fate of the others (including both the S.5s) being lost to the mists of time.  The winning S.6B S1595 was retired immediately after the 1931 race and donated to the London Science Museum, where it remains today in unrestored condition.  S.6A N248 was displayed at Southampton Royal Pier well into the 1960s (where it was actually misidentified as S.6B S1596) before being moved to the Solent Sky museum (previously the Southampton Hall of Aviation) in Southampton, where it has since been restored and now sits proudly among the exhibits - often being wheeled out for special events such as the Goodwood Revival.

S.6A N248 on display at Solent Sky, Southampton
source - Wikimedia Commons  

While normally one would be sad to see these two survivors hanging in museums rather than soaring through the sky as their maker intended, for the reasons mentioned above - not to mention their incredible rarity value - this is one instance where I am happy to just see them on static display.  It is for this reason as much as any that Mr Hosie's project is so important and, while it may not be able to create quite the same thrill of speed and excitement of the original 12-cylinder-engined thoroughbreds, it will be wonderful to see a representation of these marvellous aircraft take to the skies after almost 100 years and hopefully introduce a whole new generation to this exciting chapter in British aviation history.  I will be following the progress of this project extremely closely and very much look forward to seeing it come to fruition, when we will once again see an S.5 in the air and on the water.

1 comment:

Don't just sit there, type something! I enjoy reading all comments.


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