Spitfire Floatplane S6B
Vickers Supermarine

The story of the illustrious Spitfire begins back in the 1920's when nations competed for enormous international prestige in the Schneider Trophy races for seaplanes.

Reginald Mitchell was the young chief designer for the Supermarine Aviation Works which specialized in making amphibious biplanes. Mitchell set himself the task of creating a winner for Britain as this race was becoming a matter of one-upmanship on a grand scale....rather like yacht racing today. 

 Born in 1895, Mitchell was fascinated from a very young age by all things mechanical. He was apprenticed at a locomotive works, where he soon became assistant engineer. In 1917 he left to pursue his love of the fledgling aviation industry and joined Supermarine as a draughtsman. By 1920, he was their number one designer. His superior, Hubert Paine, financed an entry by the company for Britain in 1922 in the Schneider Race. These races had been run since 1913 by the International Aeronautical Federation. The rules stated that the first country to win the trophy three times in succession (or four times overall) would get to permanently keep the coveted prize. It would be all or nothing for Britain as the Italians had won in the two preceding years.

Mitchell's design was the heavily streamlined SEA LION II Flying boat. Unusual for the day, it was a monoplane. It won the race easily and set a new speed record of 145.7 mph.

In 1923 and 1924, the Americans won. In 1926, the Italians took it with a Macchi 39.

In 1927, the Brits were winners again with a new Mitchell design, the Supermarine S5,  in Venice. In '28, Mitchell produced a more powerful version, the S6... , this time with a Rolls Royce 12 cylinder power plant. It won at 328.63 mph.

The following year disaster struck. The government decided to discontinue all support for the event. The aviation industry seemingly wasn't interested either. For two years, there was no contest at all. Then salvation arrived in the person of an eccentric millionairess, Lady Lucy Houston. She donated 100,000 pounds to finance a new entry.

In under six months, Mitchell and his team had modified the existing airplane into the S6-b. Sporting new floats, the machine was able to run at full throttle for the entire race. It was triumphant....the third successive time for Great Britain, which now permanently possessed the prize. Her technological supremacy was now proven for the world.

A few weeks later, Flight Lieutenant George Stainforth, in the same aircraft, set a world speed record of 407.5 mph. This would stand for fourteen more years!

by Lance Russwurm