Almost a century ago, the Schneider Trophy air races thrilled millions on both sides of the Atlantic as a series of remarkable seaplanes vied for victory in glamorous locations ranging from Venice Lido to Monaco and Chesapeake Bay.
Featuring racing machines crafted by legendary aircraft designers including RJ Mitchell of Britain’s Supermarine and Italian counterpart Mario Castoldi of Macchi, the races helped to accelerate the development of sleek airframes as well as V12 engines by the likes of Rolls-Royce. A decade later, this important work led directly to some of the Second World War’s most important fighters, including the iconic Spitfire.
In 1931 at Calshot, on England’s south coast, Britain retained the Schneider Trophy in perpetuity, having secured its third of three victories in five years. The first was won in 1927 on a 50km circuit in Venice when Flight Lieutenant Sidney Webster flew a Supermarine S.5 at an average speed of 281.66mph. With the anniversary of that famous win fast approaching, a small, dedicated team is once again battling the odds – this time to recreate a flying, full-size replica that will bring the S.5 back to life and back into the public consciousness.
During his 22,000 hours of flying, highly experienced commercial and aerobatic pilot William Hosie has flown everything from modern Airbus and Boeing airliners to various general aviation machines. He once flew a Pitts Special biplane across the English Channel – upside down, in fact – to raise money for charity. His family has a distinguished history with the S.5. Hosie’s father Kenneth rebuilt a previous replica out of wood to in the 1980s but was sadly killed flying in 1987. Will Hosie is determined to get his version off the ground.
“I have really wanted to do this for more than 30 years,” Will explains. “Family commitments etcetera meant it was never the right time, until now. We really want to move this into second gear, and we have a plan to get there. I’ve been flying from the age of 15. I had 1000 hours aged just 18 and still fly for a living today. When I come back from flying commercially, I go flying in my own private time.”
He adds: “Whether it’s a model or an aerobatic machine, it’s just all about flying. I love boats and aeroplanes. Anybody who has had anything to do with seaplanes will say they’re the most delightful way to go flying. I want to get the S.5 airborne to prove how much of a lovely aeroplane it is.”
This writer’s own family has a Schneider Trophy connection. My paternal grandfather, who served in the Royal Air Force, was assigned to Calshot during the Supermarine S.5’s testing. A treasured family album features several photographs of the aircraft taken at the time – as well as the funeral of pilot Flight Lieutenant Samuel Kinkead, who was killed testing one of the machines when it plunged into the Solent.
Hosie’s newbuild S.5 – registered as G-SNDR – makes use of modern computer-aided design techniques and advanced engineering skills, which would doubtless have fascinated R J Mitchell and his team back in the 1920s. The original S.5 was described as having ‘no vices’ once airborne and it’s hoped today’s replica will fly just as smoothly. It will feature a Lycoming IO-360 engine producing 210 horsepower instead of the original’s 12,cylinder, 24 liter Napier Lion VII, which churned out an astonishing 900hp. That should make it a more manageable proposition in an era where seaplanes are now a rarity in many parts of the world.
The S.5 was a racing machine and as such it was streamlined as much as possible. That made it tricky to climb into the cockpit, though. Pilots had to lower themselves in sideways until their shoulders were below the sides, then turn to face the instrument panel once seated. Mitchell’s design meant that the cockpit fitted within the silhouette of the engine, to minimize the cross-section facing into the airflow, thus reducing aerodynamic drag.
Experienced Royal Navy test pilot Chris Gotke has been tasked with testing the replica. He describes the challenge as “a truly remarkable moment in time for aviation as a whole; one which I am very much looking forward to seeing”.
The S.5 project team are determined to create something that will celebrate what was, at least for a time, the most prestigious aerial competition in the world and one of Britain’s biggest aeronautical engineering achievements. The 100% scale replica will keep alive the spirit of the 1920s pioneers and will be taken to venues such as Venice and Lake Como, both of which were integral to the Schneider Trophy’s history.
Britain’s Light Aircraft Association is overseeing the project under the ‘Permit to Fly’ regime, which is more cost-effective than the Certificate of Airworthiness required for commercial flight operations. Although modest in terms of cost when compared with the likes of a Spitfire restoration, the S.5 team are nevertheless seeking funding support to complete the project. A crowd-funding page is up and running too, along with a scheme to offer paid flights in de Havilland Chipmunk aircraft with instructor pilots, with the cost being donated directly to the charity.
One major setback to the project was a fire in 2021, during which the seaplane plans, stock of specialist aviation wood and all the work done up to that point went up in smoke. Piece by piece, though, the wings have been remade and shipped from Cornwall to Essex where metal parts and controls have been fitted. The wings will then be wrapped up to keep them in pristine condition while the fuselage and floats are constructed.
The timeline focuses on having the S.5 ready to fly for the Schneider Trophy anniversary in 2027. The type deserves to be commemorated for the effect it had on aircraft design, pushing development of the seaplane towards the eventual Supermarine S.6 and ultimately the war-winning Spitfire fighter.
Hosie explains: “We want to have a 100% scale aeroplane flying to keep alive the spirit of the 1920s. There is no flying S.5 aeroplane, so this will be unique. Our aim is to keep it in everybody’s mind, to educate the next generation and to help keep the Schneider Trophy alive.”