The Schneider Trophy

Air racing became an institutionalized sport in the 1920s, and the Schneider Trophy competition became the world’s most famous air race. French industrialist and aviator Jacques P. Schneider created the event in 1912 to encourage the development of commercial seaplanes. American and European military teams competed in the name of international prestige, interservice rivalry, and the advancement of technology.

By 1925 the contest was the ultimate expression of high-speed flight and state-of-the-art aeronautical technology. Jimmy Doolittle’s Schneider Trophy victory in the R3C-2 captured the imagination of the public on both sides of the Atlantic.

U.S. Navy Lt. David Rittenhouse (center), poses with his Curtiss CR-3 racer in which he won the 1923 Schneider competition at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight in England. The American victory stunned the European aeronautical community. The Curtiss racers represented completely new ideas of streamlining and fuselage design.

The triangular Schneider race course stretched from Bay Shore Park to Gibson Island to the south and across Chesapeake Bay to Huntingfield Point. Contestants had to fly the 50-kilometer (31-mile) course seven times.

The Schneider Trophy was an Art Noveau sculpture representing Zephyr, Greek God of the Western Wind, kissing the Spirit of the Waves.

A 1925 Schneider Trophy race scorecard.  Doolittle flew the course at an average speed of 232 miles per hour. He credited his win to his new racing technique: climb under full power toward a pylon, then make a steep banked diving turn, which he believed gave him the critical speed advantage.

Doolittle taxis the R3C-2 out to begin his time trial on October 26, 1925. Schneider competitors raced against the clock, not against each other. The fastest average time won the race.

American involvement in air racing culminated in 1925 with one airplane, the Curtiss R3C, flown by the Army in both the Pulitzer and Schneider competitions. Here, Doolittle (left) stands with the winner of the Pulitzer Race, Lt. Cyrus Bettis.