Douglas Rolphe ran a series of "Air Progress"
and "Auto Progress" features similar to this one where he included line drawings and short factoids
on each vehicle, with a timescale of sorts that shows progression in the state of the art. "The
Search for Speed" has, as you might guess early model aircraft that were designed for racing and/or
setting speed records. Many were one-of-a-kind and might make excellent subjects for scale builds in
any of the competition categories - radio control, control line, free flight, or even static
Air Progress: The Search for Speed
By Douglas Rolfe
Presented on these pages we find a selection of racing planes which, despite the fact that each made
an important contribution to Air Progress, have nevertheless passed into comparative if not complete
oblivion. The best explanation for this state of affairs is that few if any of the designs shown here
were winners in any major racing contest, though two at least established world's speed records in their
All designs have been carefully chosen to illustrate the widely varying approach made by top-notch
designers of the times to the same problem, i.e.; speed. And a mere glance at- the names involved will
show that most of these designs came from the drafting rooms and assembly plants of historically famous
manufacturers many of whom are still just as well known today.
The wide variation between actual speed and the horsepower used is another point of interest. It
will be observed that some of the lower-powered planes attained speeds far beyond, comparatively speaking,
their higher-powered rivals. This situation is of course true today, when the design problem of producing
a really fast piston-engine airplane is just as much a problem as it was to the men who brought forth
the planes portrayed here.
At least one of the firms represented, notably the Gloster Aircraft Co., is still making some of
the world's fastest aircraft; this indicates the importance of racing plane development.
1921 Thomas-Morse Army Racer
400 H.P. Wright-Hispano Engine. - A 1921 Pulitzer
Contestant. Top Speed, 162 MPH.
1924 Aero 18-B Racer
300 H.P. Walter Engine. - This little Czech racer averaged
164-M.P.H. over a closed course.
1925 Clean Lines
Frontal view of the Gloster III Schneider Racer reveals the trim lines and small
wing span of this 25-year old float biplane
1925 Macchi 33 Schneider Cup Racer
450 H.P. Curtiss D-12 engine. - Top speed
was about 250 M.P.H. and though produced 25 years ago it would be regarded as good design today
1927 Kirkham Racer
1,250 H.P Packard 24-Cylinder X-type engine. In this ship
Al Williams established a speed record (unofficial) of 322 M.P.H.
1929 Nieuport-Delage 1,200HP
Hispano-Suiza 18-cylinder engine. Built for the
1929 Schneider Tropy Contest but finished too late to participate in the actual race. - Est. speed,
1922 Verville-Sperry Army Racer
400 H.P. Wright-Hispano Engine (also, later,
500 H.P. Curtiss D-12 Special). This low-wing airplane with fully retractable landing gear had a top
speed of 191 M.P.H., was far in advance of most contemporary designs.
1924 Bernard-Ferbois Racer
450 H.P. Hispano-Suiza 3-row engine. - In 1925 it
set a world's record speed for landplanes when it topped 278 M.P.H.
1925 Gloster III. Schneider Racer
1275 H.P. Napier 3-Row 18-cylinder engine.
It placed second in the 1925 Schneider races with an average speed of 200 M.P.H. and in subsequent trials
attained a speed of 234 M.P.H.
1927 Gloster IV Racer
1275 H.P. Napier Lion 18-cylinder engine. - A Runner-up
in the 1927 Schneider Cup Races it had attained a top speed of 294 M.P.. during preliminary flights.
1931 Lorraine-Hanriot 41
230 HP. Lorraine radial engine. Top speed was 161 M.P.H.
- Truly remarkable in view of the relatively low engine power employed in this trim design which won
the 1931 Coupe Michelin.
1930 Curtiss Racer
600 H.P Curtiss Conqueror 12-cylinder engine. After averaging 207 M.P.H. For
several laps in the 1930 Thompson Trophy Contest it crashed killing the Marine pilot
Douglas Rolfe Drawings
May 1961 American Modeler
Progress: The Jet Engine, July 1951 Air Trails
Air Progress: The Bristol Story, November 1948 Air Trails
Progress: Down Memory Lane III, December 1954 Air Trails
- Auto Progress:
Memory Lane Collection No. 2, August 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress Famous Firsts, August 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: Japanese Air Force World War II Fighters, December 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: Lindbergh Era (1927-1929), July 1954 Air Trails
Air Progress: The Search for Speed, November 1950 Air Trails
Air Progress: Soviet Air Force Latter Day Types, March 1955 Air Trails
Posted October 8, 2016