A SEAPLANE had crashed over Southampton Water and the hunt was on to find the wreckage.

At around noon the following day – Tuesday March 13, 1928 – the diving ship Excellent dropped anchor not far from Castle Point buoy.

After four hours they found the wreck with the pilot’s headless body compressed into the tail. They towed the wreckage to Calshot Aerodrome.

Born in South Africa, Flight-Lieutenant Samuel “Kink” Kinkead (1897-1928) was an ace pilot with many heroic exploits. He had volunteered for the Royal National Air Service (RNAS), at just 18.

His gallantry in his Sopwith Camel was recognised with a Distinguished Service Cross.

In 1918 the RNAS merged with the Royal Flying Corp to form the RAF and his naval squadron became 201 Squadron.

Kinkead became its highest-scoring airman with more than 30 “kills”.

High Speed Flight.

High Speed Flight.

Later he served in Russia downing ten Red Russian aircraft, earning him the Distinguished Service Order.

In 1927, he was one of three young pilots selected to join the High Speed Flight based at RAF Calshot.

They were to participate in the 1927 Schneider Trophy race in Venice using a Supermarine S5 with an 875 horsepower Napier engine.

The single-seat racing seaplane was designed by RJ Mitchell and built in Woolston.

The S5 ultimately led to the famous Spitfire plane which first flew from Eastleigh in March 1936.

Calshot Castle.

Calshot Castle.

The Schneider Trophy was regained for Britain with a winning speed of 282mph by Flt Lt Webster.

The High Speed Flight returned to Calshot in February 1928 with the aim of taking the world air speed record from Italy and Kinkead was chosen as the pilot.

His S5 had been built as a reserve plane for the 1927 Schneider Trophy and modified by Supermarine and Napier experts.

After a 17 minute test flight to Cowes and back, a reporter wrote: “His magnificent control of high speed aircraft is almost superhuman”.

However, Kinkead was sick after this flight.



A March snowstorm delayed the world speed record attempt.

The record had been set in November 1927 by the Italian aviator Major Di Bernardi, flying his Macchi M.52R racing seaplane to 297.817mph.

Now the British and Flight-Lieutenant Kinkead were determined to break it.

Finally, at 5.25pm on the first lap of his record attempt, he approached Calshot and the measured three-kilometre course. Possibly only 20 metres above Southampton Water his small plane tragically nosedived.

Sam Kinkead was buried with full military honours at All Saints Church in Fawley four days later.

Dr Julian Lewis, the MP for New Forest East, is an expert on the Kinkead story and wrote a biography Racing Ace in 2011.



But what went wrong? Did the cold affect him? Did he inhale exhaust fumes? Was there engine or fuel trouble? Was he carrying an illness?

He previously had malaria in the Gallipoli campaign.

The Inspector of Accidents, Major Cooper, reported no mechanical problems. The RAF Pathological Laboratory found no evidence of poison fumes in his body.

Major Cooper found that the official cause of the crash was human error by one of the world’s best pilots.

No blame was attached to Supermarine or the RAF.

Samuel Marcus Kinkead.

Samuel Marcus Kinkead.

Maybe due to poor weather Sam had misjudged his height, lost speed and stalled the engine.

Flying at over 300mph close to the sea, Kinkead was never more than a heartbeat from disaster.

But it was only Cooper that inspected the wreckage and only an RAF pathologist that examined the body.

A lot was riding on the development of the S5 and its fuel and this resulted in whisperings of a cover-up.

A room at Calshot Activities centre was named after Flt Lt Kinkead in 1998.

Mural in Calshot.

Mural in Calshot.

Respected by his peers, Kinkead was said by a contemporary to be “thinking straight, talking straight and living straight.”

World War One ace pilot, Ira ‘Taffy’ Jones, wrote:–

“When Kinkead went deep into the Solent in his Supermarine S.5 late in the afternoon of March 12, 1928, when attempting to beat the world’s speed record, the Royal Air Force lost, without doubt, its finest junior officer.”

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Martin Brisland is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .