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Aces of Aviation

Supermarine S 6B of John N. Boothman

Supermarine S 6B of John N. Boothman

Supermarine S 6B from the High Speed Fleet of the RAF, piloted by Flight Lieutenant John N. Boothman, in Calshot, the 29th September 1931.

Wingspan: 9.14 meters.

Length: 8.79 meters.

Height: 3.73 meters.

Engine[s]: Rolls Royce R of 2350 horsepower.

Maximum speed: 655.08 kilometers/hour (worldwide record) at sea level.

Service ceiling: Never measured.

Range: Never measured.

History of Aviation has been marked by competitions whose goal is the culmination of a hastened technology. The famous Schneider Trophy, for which between 1912 and 1931 racing seaplanes competed, was an event which encouraged constant efforts for advancing in that dramatic attribute of aircraft which is 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 a record speed of 453.59 kilometers/hour. Two years later Flight Officer H. R. D. Waghorn led the Supermarine S 6 to victory when flying from 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 achieve the coveted trophy.

The S 6B seaplane, of which two exemplars - numbered as S1595 and S1596 - were prepared for the competition, was a direct evolution of the S 6 from 1929 which retained the superb Rolls-Royce 12-cylinder water-cooled engines. Through improved fuel and increased turbocharge the output power of the engines had rose from 1900 to 2350 horsepower.

As the day of the competition neared, it became clear that the foreign participants would not be ready on time. Italy withdrew, while the French contestant crashed and died near Marseille, granting so the advantage to United Kingdom. The 29th September Boothman piloted the S1595 through the seven stages set on the race at an average speed of 547.31 kilometers/hour, being officially declared winner and achieving so the victory for United Kingdom. That same evening George Stainforth set a new absolute worldwide record when he reached 610 kilometers/hour piloting the S1596, and some days later he raised the record to 655.08 kilometers/hour piloting the S1595. Both pilots were subsequently awarded the Air Force Cross. As Air Vice Marshal Augustus H. Orlebar said when describing the events: "The merit is of the brain that conceived it, not of the hands that piloted it, but the hands had a lot of fun..."

John Nelson Boothman, born in February 1901 in County Wicklow, Ireland, had joined the RAF in the early 1920s. Regarded as an exceptional pilot, he was adscribed to the Aeroplane and Armament Experimental Establishment of Martlesham Heath, later transferred to Felixstowe. At the outbreak of the Second World War Boothman had been promoted to the rank of Wing Commander and in 1943 to that of Air Commodore of the 106th Photographic Reconnaissance Wing in Benson, Oxfordshire. He piloted the High Speed Spitfire, which had been prepared to beat the worldwide speed record of 1939, as his personal aircraft. On this one, Boothman performed numerous operations during 1944, particularly over the beachhead in Normandy, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. For his remarkable deeds he was awarded numerous foreign decorations and, after the war, the title of Sir. As Air Marshal, Boothman became Chief Commander of the RAF Coastal Command.