I bought a copy of John Shelton’s comprehensive reference book ‘Schneider Trophy to Spitfire‘ when visiting the RAF Museum in Hendon. With its chronological factual information, enhanced by original photographs, diagrams, adverts and anecdotes, it a an extremely readable history of early flying boats leading to the development of the Spitfire. Looking at the double page photo of Flt Lt B.D Hobbs in his Supermarine Sea Lion in the sea at Bournemouth is so clear, although black and white, that it looks as if it could have been taken yesterday and not in 1919.
My specific interest in reading background for my novel Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home was only up until 1920, but with my family connections with Supermarine Woolston, with both my uncle and grandfather working there at the start of WW2, I was compelled to read it to the end.
RJ Mitchell was an amazing man with a vision for the future. His engineering skills in designing the first flying boats and then sea planes, culminating in the Supermarine Rolls Royce S.6B winning the Schneider Trophy outright in 1931 over the Solent was an inspiration. John Shelton’s knowledge on the subject and his extensively detailed and meticulous research has produced a volume which would be enjoyed by any person interested in history, especially that of flight.
I was able to refer to ‘Schneider Trophy to Spitfire’ on two occasions recently away from the context of my writing. One was the question posed, ‘When were metal rather than wooden hulls introduced?’
(John Shelton discusses in detail the Napier ‘Lion’ engine which could be supplied with either a metal or wooden hull in the ‘Southampton’ which appeared in March 1925)
The second was, ‘The Schneider Trophy winner was a sea plane, or float plane. When did the design suddenly change from flying boats?’
(Again Shelton describes the Supermarine Napier S4 ‘designed in an inspired moment… the greatest credit is due to RJ Mitchell for his courage in striking out on entirely new lines……..((from ‘Flight’)) and was first flown by Biard in 1925)
Supermarine’s Chief Designer was only 29 years old at the time and it must have been quite revolutionary for its day!
It was not until a recent visit to Solent Sky, the air museum in Southampton, when I looked at an exhibit of small model aircraft in the upper gallery that I could see even more clearly the development from the Schnieder Trophy to the Spitfire. Once the S4 had been established, and the world record in speed had been gained, it was not such a big leap to develop a sleek, fast and enduring landplane, the Type 224 Spitfire which is on display in Hendon today.
As a writer of historical fiction, you need to read around your subject in depth in order to weave the lives of your characters around the facts in certain moments in time so that the story is natural and believable. I would like to thank John for writing such a readable and interesting account, the fact that some of it went way beyond my technical understanding was irrelevant and I can highly recommend his book.