Race planes of the 1930s' - The Bernard H.V.120

By Willie Bodenstein

The Bernard H.V.120 first flew on 25 March 1930, was a French racing seaplane designed and built by the Société des Avions Bernard to compete in the Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider (Schneider Trophy race). Only two were built. The second aircraft crashed into the water on its first flight in July 1931, killing the pilot.

Announced in 1912 by Jacques Schneider, a French financier, balloonist and aircraft enthusiast, the Coupe d'Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider competition, offered a prize of approximately £1,000. The race was held twelve times between 1913 and 1931. It was intended to encourage technical advances in civil aviation but became a contest for pure speed with laps over a (usually) triangular course, initially 280 km (170 miles) and later extended to 350 km (220 miles). The contests were staged as time trials, with aircraft setting off individually at pre-agreed intervals, usually 15 minutes apart. The contests were very popular and some attracted crowds of over 200,000 spectators.

The race was significant in advancing aeroplane design, particularly in the fields of aerodynamics and engine design, the results of which emerged in the best fighters of World War II.

If an aero club won three races in five years, they would retain the trophy and the winning pilot would receive 75,000 francs for each of the first three wins. Each race was hosted by the previous winning country. The races were supervised by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and the aero club in the hosting country. Each club could enter up to three competitors with an equal number of alternatives.

The H.V.120 was a wooden single-seat mid-wing cantilever monoplane with twin floats and was powered by a 1,680 hp (1,253 kW) Hispano Suiza 18R W-18 piston engine that saw the Bernard attain a maximum speed of 530 km/h (330 mph, 290 kts). The first aircraft had a three-bladed propeller but the second had a four-bladed Chauvière propeller.

Development was delayed due to engine problems, as well as technical issues. During December 1933, she was moved to Istres where the prototype was converted into a racing landplane, now badged as the Bernard V.4. The Société des Avions Bernard then decided to try and achieve a French Air Ministry prize for a French aircraft to beat the world speed record before January 1934. Due to take-off on 27 December 1933, strong winds kept the V.4 grounded. Further attempts were made in February 1934 but persisting engine problems as well as a lack of government finance dashed all hope and the project was abandoned without the aircraft having flown.

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