The Schneider Trophy, the common name for the Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider, was awarded annually to the winner of a race for seaplanes and flying boats. The trophy itself is now found in the Science Museum in London.
In 1912, Jacques Schneider, a French financier, balloonist, and aircraft enthusiast, offered a prize of about 1000 pounds for the competition. The race was meant to encourage technical advances in civil aviation, but ultimately became a contest for pure speed, with laps over a normally triangular course of between 280 and 350 kilometres. These contests were actually time trials, with aircraft setting out individually and at pre-agreed times, most often 15 minutes apart. The contests were very popular and drew huge crowds. The race was held twelve times between 1913 and 1931.
If an aero club won three races in five years, they would retain the trophy and the winning pilot would receive 75,000 francs for each of the first three wins. Each race was hosted by the previous winning country and was supervised by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, as well as the aero club in the hosting country. Each club could enter up to three competitors with an equal number of alternatives.
The races were important in terms of advancing aeroplane design, especially in the fields of aerodynamics and engine design; these would then show results in the best fighters of WWII. The streamlined shape and the low drag, liquid-cooled engine pioneered by the Schneider Trophy designs were easy to see in the British Supermarine Spitfire, the American P-51 Mustang, as well as the Italian Macchi C.201 Folgore.
The trophy itself is a sculpture of silver and bronze that is set on a marble base. It depicts a zephyr skimming the waves; a nude winged figure is seen kissing a zephyr on a breaking wave. The heads of two other zephyrs and of Neptune (the god of the sea), are surrounded by octopus and crabs. The symbolism represents speed conquering the elements of sea and air.
The first race was held in April, 1913 in Monaco:
The British won the 1914 race with a Sopwith Tabloid at 139.74 km/hr.
Following WWI, the races continued in 1919.
In 1926, the Italians flew a Macchi M.39 and won against the Americans.
The British government withdrew their support of the race in 1931; however a private donation allowed the Supermarine to compete and win in September of that year.
If you’re wanting to read in more detail, have a look at these books in our Museum’s Library: