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The Supermarine S-6B of John Boothman


By Sakhal

The History of Aviation has been marked by competition tests whose goal has been the culmination of an accelerated technology. The famous Schneider Trophy, for which between 1912 and 1931 competed racing seaplanes, was an event that encouraged constant efforts to advance in that dramatic attribute of the aircraft: the speed. In 1927 United Kingdom won the competition when Flight Lieutenant S. N. Webster piloted the Supermarine S-5 designed by Reginald J. Mitchell at the record speed of 453.59 kilometers/hour. Two years later Flying Officer H. R. D. Waghorn brought the Supermarine S-6 to victory in Ryde, in the Isle of Wight, at a speed of 528.88 kilometers/hour. According to the rules, United Kingdom only needed to win the competition of 1931 to win the coveted trophy. However, the British government, due to the economical situation, retired its support to the national racing team in 1931. But a certain Lady Houston threw herself into the gap contributing the required funds and the Royal Air Force High Speed Fleet finally had its operations base in Calshot, Hampshire County, near the waters of Southampton.

Among the small team of pilots grouped under Wing Commander A. H. Orlebar to participate in the competition were the Flight Lieutenants G. H. Stainforth and J. N. Boothman, both experienced pilots who had flown in the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment, in Felixstowe. The seaplanes S-6B, of which two - serialized as S1595 and S1596 - had been prepared, were a direct evolution of the S-6 that had flown in 1929 and they retained the superb engine Rolls-Royce of twelve cylinders refrigerated by water. With better fuels and increased supercharge, the output power of that engine had been raised from 1900 to 2350 horsepower. As the day of the competition approached, it was clear that the foreign participants would not be ready in time. Italy withdrew and the French competitor crashed near Marseille, resulting dead the pilot, which gave advantage to the British. It was Boothman who the 29th September 1931 piloted the S1595 across the seven phases established in the race, at an average speed of 547.31 kilometers/hour, and who was officially declared winner, giving so the victory to United Kingdom. That very afternoon Stainforth set a new worldwide absolute record when reaching 610.05 kilometers/hour, and some days later he raised the record to 655.08 kilometers/hour at sea level. Both pilots were subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross. As Orlebar said when describing the events: "The merit is of the brain that conceived the aircraft, not of the hands that piloted it, but these had much fun".

John Nelson Boothman, born in County Wicklow (Ireland) in February 1901, had been incorporated to the Royal Air Force in the early 1920s. Considered an exceptional pilot, he was attached to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment in Martlesham Heath, later reallocated to Felixstowe. When the Second World War started Boothman had reached the rank of Wing Commander and in 1943 the rank of Air Commodore of the 106th Squadron of photographic reconnaissance in Benson, Oxfordshire. He piloted as his personal aircraft the Spitfire High Speed, an aircraft that had been prepared to beat, later, the worlwide speed record in 1939. In this aircraft Boothman effectuated numerous operations during 1944, particularly over the beachhead in Normandy, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. His remarkable deeds earned him also numerous foreign condecorations and, after the war, with the title of Sir and the rank of Air Marshal, Boothman was appointed the rank of Chief Commander of the Royal Air Force Coastal Command. Boothman had been an exceptional pilot, with the experience and dexterity needed to fly to the maximum limit in a race of prototypes.

The Supermarine S-6B had a wingspan of 9.14 meters, a length of 8.79 meters and a height of 3.73 meters. The powerful engine Rolls-Royce R suffered from a great amount of overheating and hence there were radiator intakes on the floaters and on the entirelly metallic wings; oil cooling required radiator panels running along the most part of the also entirelly metallic fuselage and even the tailplane was used as part of the return plumbing; still, the heat was transmitted to the fuselage, causing the sides of the cockpit to "burn" with the aircraft flying at high speed. The engine was one of twelve cylinders in V which can be easily discerned because of the two fairings on the upper part of the aircraft's nose. The fuel was stored in the large floaters but not at equal quantities; to counter the torque effect the starboard float had a larger load. The Supermarine S-6B greatly contributed to to the development of the Supermarine Spitfire and the engine Rolls-Royce Merlin.

The Supermarine S-6B of John Boothman

Supermarine S-6B of the Royal Air Force High Speed Fleet, piloted by Lieutenant John Nelson Boothman, in Calshot, the 29th September 1931.

The Supermarine S-6B of John Boothman

The Supermarine S-6B in comparison with the Supermarine Spitfire Mk VB.

Categories: Aviation - 20th Century - [General] - [General] - [General]

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Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2015-06-25


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