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"The seaplane speed record of Francesco Agello"

Illustrated by Benjamin Freudenthal

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SCHNEIDER CUP, its origin

The cup is named after its creator, Jacques Schneider. He thought that the prosperity of Aviation depended of the seaplane, because, he used to say, ¾ of the world is covered by water, and the “landplanes” have no future. Of course, he was mistaken but at that time, very few airstrips existed. That’a why he decided in 1912 to create a new international competition engaging seaplanes. The price is a bronze trophy on a marble pedestal and 50 000 francs for the winner of the race. Winnner is the frenchman Maurice Provost with a “Depurdessin”. At the start, the rules are quite surprising as they stress the floating qualities; one must make a figure of eight between two buoys, stand still in the water during 10 minutes, test watertightness, or landings during rough weather and 2m waves. But with increasing age, the event’s reputation is such as to become the most famous speed competition. After their victory in Venice (1927) and Calshot (1929), the English can take permanent possession of the Schneider Cup in 1931. Thereforth, the competing is biennial to allow the development of innovative techniques. The French and italians are obliged to build supercompetitive seaplanes to challenge the English superiority. The Americans abandoned in 1929 because the crisis turned the public away from plane races. In England, private funds finance the participation.

SCHNEIDER CUP OF 1931: England sole competitor

The French government has decided to participate and a Bernard HV 320 seaplane is born July 1931. It is fraught with technical problems and France throws in the towel. At the same time, the Italian engineer Mario Castolti draws the remarkable MC 72. This slim seaplane with a 1500 HP engine is also fraught with technical problems. August 2, 1931 the first prototype arrives at the Denzano base, Italy. It’s captain Monti, old hand in seaplane racing, who will do the test flight. The engine is unreliable. Spectacular backfiring generates explosions that threaten to destruct the engine. Monti makes a pass over the test zone so the engineers can study the phenomenon. Suddenly, the plane raised up, then dove to the lake and hit the water. Captain Monty is the first victim of the MC 72. The investigation will show that the rupture of a propeller’s ball bearing is the culprit. Italy also throws in the towel, and england becomes the sole competitor.

THE SPEED RECORD OF FRANCESCO AGELLO

Then, English and Italians attack the only remainig challenge : the absolute speed record. Immediately after the competition, september 16, 1931, the British Stainforth with a supermarine SB-6 blasts off for the race. His plane is equiped with a 2300 CV engine specially designed for speed records, using a particular fuel, mixture of gazoline, methanol and ethyl. Starting the engine is uneasy and there is considerable danger of engine explosion. Stainforth takes off from the water after a very long run up. The long distance was required because of the absence of flaps. At 400m height he establishes a new record at 655 km/h.

It takes the italians time to correct the initial errors of the MC 72. September 10, 1931, the lieutenant Bellini makes a flight with the MC-72. Immediately after take-off, while the pilote accelarates, a first explosion, then a second. Bellini continues his flight when suddenly the plane explodes in the open sky. After Monti and Bellini, there is only Francesco Agello left for launching himself in the dangerous pursuit of the speed record. The engineer Bona is going to fix the problem; he finds that the backfiring is caused by air turbulence related to the speed of the plane. The air enters to fast the in-take and provokes serious carburation problems. By changing the in-take, the engineers render the capricious engine more trustworthy. At the same time, the power of the engine is gradually increased to 2850 HP. After all the accidents there is one experienced pilot left for beating Stainforth’s record. : the adjudant Francesco Agello. In 1933, at Denzano the Italian dream takes shape. After four runs Agello arrives at an average speed of 682 km/h. But the 700 km/h barrier remains untouched. October 23, 1933 he makes the final try... The chronometry officials are present, there is a slight wind rippling the water surface. The sky is covered and the weather begins to change only after 1:00 P.M. At 1:50 P.M. everybody takes his place and the pilot gets into his plane. At 1:56 P.M. He takes off after an interminable run up. Visibility is far from excellent. For turnnig Agello takes the Montichiari church dome as orientation point. With a baffing speed of 709 km/h he makes four passes and establishes a record that will never be beaten by any seaplane with piston engine. One has to wait August 7, 1961 before the Russian Nicolaï Andrievski does better with a jet seaplane...

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Other stories :
"The Big Show" , Pierre Clostermann
Extract : "Flammes in the dusk"
illustrated by Benjamin Freudenthal

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Macchi Castoldi MC 72
Macchi Castoldi MC 72



Francesco Agello


The supermarine SB-6 flown by Stainforth when he realized the speed record at 655 km/h