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Fairey III on the slipway at Lee on Solent pre 1935

Seaplanes at RAF Lee-on_Solent

On 1 April 1920, a School of Naval Co-operation and Aerial Navigation formed at RAF Calshot so as to provide seaplane training, with a detachment operating from Lee-on-Solent as the RAF Seaplane Training School. At this time Lee-on-Solent formed one of only four UK naval air stations following the end of the First World War. Its status was assured due to its continuing convenience as a shore base for aircraft of the Royal Navy Fleet at nearby Portsmouth.

Wardroom, HMS Daedalus

Naval aviation training continued throughout the 1920's under the RAF. Both Calshot and Lee-on-Solent provided training in operating seaplanes, first using the wartime Short Type 184s which was the first ever successful aerial torpedo bomber to sink an enemy ship, its first claim was a Turkish vessel sunk in the Dardanelles in 1915. But the air station was gradually acquiring new equipment and from late 1921 was being equipped with the new Fairey IIID.

S1398 was a Fairey IIIF Mark IIM after a heavy landing.

On 1 May 1923, No. 440 (Fleet Reconnaissance) Flight formed from officers of No. 205 squadron RAF at Lee-on-Solent seaplane base  They were equipped with the new Supermarine Seagull Mk.II biplane amphibian flying boats, and was later to see service in the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle.

Seagull V (Walrus) successor to the Seagull II

On 1 April 1924, naval aviation was formally given the collective title "Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force", and No. 440 Flight joined the School of Naval Co-operation at Lee-on-Solent that year to work up on its new Fairey IIIDs. In the following year it formed a new Fleet Reconnaissance Flight on 15 January 1925 at Lee on Solent for service in the seaplane carrier HMS Vindictive.

Fairey IIIF S1307 built in 1929 and finally delivered to Lee on Solent in August 1935

Lee on Solent and the Schneider Trophy

This competition was known under various names: Schneider Trophy, Schneider Cup, and Flying Flirt. The official name, in French, was "Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider". The trophy was a work of art costing 25,000 francs.  The aero club winning 3 races in 5 years would retain the cup and the winning pilot would receive 75,000 francs.

Lee on Solent saw the race two times, in 1929 and 1931. The area was to again see the Schneider trophy competition in July 1995. RAeC Goodyear & Schneider Trophy Air, starting from Bembridge in the Isle of Wight.

Schneider Competition circuit in the Solent, 1931

Each edition of the race was to be hosted by the previous winning country. The races were to be supervised by the Fédération  Aéronautique Internationale and the Aero Club in the hosting country. Each club would be permitted to enter up to three competitors with an equal number of alternates.

In 1921, the course was increased to 212 nautical miles, with only one authorized take off, after a 2.5 nautical mile water navigation contest. Crowds in excess of 250,000 spectators gathered to watch the Schneider Cup races, proving a keen public interest in this type of competition.

In the late 1920s, the great British contender was the Supermarine S6B, which was designed by R.J. Mitchell, the father and creator of the world famous Supermarine Spitfire of World War II.

Supermarine S6B at the Schneider Trophy trials.

The first Supermarine S6B concept was designed in 1925. It had a wingspan of 30 feet and was powered by a 2,530 hp Rolls Royce engine.  In 1927 the competition was won by Flt Lt SN Webster in a Supermarine S5 with a speed of 281.54mph. Two years later, in 1929, the competition was held in the Solent and victory was denied one pilot when his goggles flew off due to turning the corner to sharply!.

By 1931, the competition was again in the Solent, and the speed had risen to 340 mph. On 29 September 1931, Flight Lieutenant John Bootham won the Schneider Trophy for Britain, flying his S6B aircraft around the course at an average speed of 340.08 mph (549 km/h), and won the trophy outright for Britain. On the same day, his team-mate, Flight Lieutenant G H Stainforth of the High Speed Flight pushed the recognized absolute speed record past 400 mph and established a new World speed record at 407.5mph in the Supermarine S6B at Lee-on-Solent.


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