Hunting the Snargasher.
The Reid and Sigrist R.S.1 Snargasher prototype trainer and its successors in context.
The Snargasher had an elegant, arched, dolphin-like fuselage.
Background to the Reid and Sigrist company
One of the often-overlooked driving forces of early British aviation was Frederick "Fred" Sigrist. The self-taught mechanic was working at a garage in Southampton in 1910 when he was approached by a young Thomas "Tommy" Sopwith to help fit a new engine into a schooner that Sopwith had a part-share in. The relationship blossomed and Sigrist was soon helping Sopwith (who was leading a somewhat playboy lifestyle at the time) in his aviation endeavours. They set up a fledgling aviation business with Sigrist managing construction but money was tight, so Sopwith offered to pay Sigrist £50 for each aircraft the company built instead of a salary. That was worth something like £20,000 today (2022). At the time they envisioned only building two or three aircraft a year, but of course, World War One came along and the Sopwith aircraft company went from strength to strength, building hundreds of Strutters, Pups, Camels, Snipes and Dolphins. Sigrist offered to end the system of payments for each aircraft sold, but Tommy Sopwith insisted on sticking with the arrangement. Thus Sigrist ended up with a considerable personal fortune. When the war ended, the public mood turned against arms manufacturers who had profited from the conflict and in 1920 the British Government demanded a huge "excess war profits" tax from the Sopwith company. This forced the company into receivership, although it did manage to pay the tax bill in full and pay its creditors. Within a few months, the "old team" were back in business under the name of Hawker Engineering. Sigrist invested £5,000 of his money into the new company and became a director. The original idea had been to build motorcycles and sports cars but it was not long until the lure of aviation pulled them back into aircraft construction. Sigrist helped guide the company to the methods of construction that gained the company an increasing share of RAF orders in the 1930s; the "dumb-bell" spar (designed by Roland "Roy" Chaplin) and the tube construction perfected by Sydney Camm.
In 1928, Sigrist went into partnership with Squadron Leader George Hancock Reid, an ex-Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) and RAF pilot (and winner of the DFC) who had invented one of the first effective gyro-controlled turn and slip indicators. The Reid and Sigrist company went on to produce all sorts of aircraft instruments and flourished as aviation rebounded after the depression, moving into a new purpose-built factory in the New Maldon suburb of South West London in 1935. Reid and Sigrist's "Gyorizon" artificial horizon became a standard instrument on British aircraft in the late 1930s. The company also diversified into anodising (UK english spelling) aluminium parts for aircraft.
On the left: Frederick "Fred" Sigrist, a photo taken in 1911 when he was in the USA helping with Thomas Sopwith's flying exhibitions. Centre: Squadron Leader George Reid DFC, pictured in 1939 at the demonstration of another of his inventions, a Morse-code training machine. On the right: Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) George Lowdell AFM, chief flying instructor at Desford, pictured with the Snargasher in 1939.
As war clouds gathered over Europe the RAF started a period of massive expansion. It struggled to train the pilots and other aircrew it needed and the government turned to the private sector for help. It invited offers to set up schools to train aircrew to a syllabus set by the Air Ministry. Reid and Sigrist were one of the companies that responded, winning a contract in 1935 and building a training airfield at Desford, near Leicester. The company would go on to also run the nearby Braunstone airfield and supervise training at other airfields not directly owned by them. They employed Squadron Leader (later Wing Commander) George Lowdell as chief flying instructor.
Enter the Snargasher
The Snargasher G-AEOD, probably pictured at the Royal Aeronautical Society garden party at Heathrow on Sunday the 14th of May 1939. It had a striking livery of yellow with black around the top of the nose and around the cockpit, black chevrons on the spats and engine nacelles and black lines along the top of the wing leading edges. All the black areas were edged by a thin line of white. The registration letters were carried on the fuselage sides and the top and bottom of the wings. Notice the style of lettering made it hard to distinguish between the "O" and "D".
The Reid and Sigrist R.S.1 Snargasher was not produced to any Air Ministry specification. Before the start of WW2, the companies who ran training schools for the Air Ministry did not necessarily use aircraft ordered by the Government; as long as the syllabus was covered they were free to use whatever aircraft they could acquire. For example, the Scottish Aviation company trained navigators for the RAF using Fokker airliners and the Blackburn company trained RAF pilots using their own Blackburn B-2 biplane trainers. The Snargasher was probably designed to give Reid and Sigrist a means of securing a bigger slice of the aircrew training "cake". Its three-seat layout would have been suitable for training a range of aircrew: air-gunners, bomb-aimers, wireless operators and pilots wanting to learn multi-engine operation. Reid and Sigrist's chief flying instructor, George Lowdell, is commonly credited as being the designer of the Snargasher and he probably had the biggest say in its layout and configuration; he may even have produced quite detailed drawings of what he wanted. A Mr. E. M. Blake of Morris Motors is credited, in an article in Flight magazine, with overseeing the design from a production standpoint, to make sure it was suitable for mass-production. However, it is hard to see George Lowdell having the time to have done all the detailed design work and aerodynamic calculations for the new aircraft alongside his other commitments. So there must have been some other back-room boffins involved with the design process at Reid and Sigrist or maybe Fred Sigrist pulled in some favours and got the detail design work done at a good price by Hawkers or Glosters or Armstrong Whitworth (both Glosters and Armstrong Whitworth were part of the larger Hawker Siddeley group by this time). The civil registration allocated to the Snargasher (G-AEOD) was issued as early as 1936, which shows that Reid and Sigrist's consideration for building the Snargasher began just after they were awarded their first training contract.
The R.S.1 Snargasher in flight.
The major parts of the Snargasher were built at New Maldon before being shipped to Desford for final assembly. It was mostly constructed of wood, with wooden spars and wooden skinning, very much like the products of Miles, Airspeed and de Havilland at the time. Powered by two de Havilland Gipsy Six (series 2) engines, each giving 205 horsepower, driving de Havilland variable pitch propellers. It had its main, non-retracting, undercarriage wheels enclosed in spats while the tailwheel had a neat streamlined fairing in front of it. The ailerons and flaps were of the type used on Junkers aircraft, hanging slightly below the elliptical wings as separate units and had a metal skeleton structure, the "core" of them being a metal tube, with the flap section being skinned in metal while the ailerons were covered in fabric. The elevator and rudders were fabric-covered. Two quite small endplate rudders were fitted; combined with the arched back of the fuselage this gave the rear gunner's position an impressive field of fire. The rear wooden wing spar was arranged so that it formed an upward arch inside the fuselage to give space for a bomb aimer to lie down on the floor (although there seems to be no photographic evidence that a window or opening to go with this bomb aimer's position was ever fitted). The Snargasher had a landing light in the nose. There was a fixed step on the port side of the fuselage that led to a rubber-covered walkway on the port side of the cockpit to allow access. There were two fuel tanks, one behind each engine nacelle, giving an endurance of 4 hours 15 minutes and a range of 800 miles (1,287 km) although it was hoped to fit even larger fuel tanks in production machines to give an endurance of 5 hours 30 minutes and a range of 1,000 miles (1,609 km).
Various views of the R.S.1 Snargasher.
The pilot had an excellent view from the elevated position above the nose. He had a canopy which slid backwards but, unusually, it slid back underneath the canopy behind him (this was usually avoided in aircraft design because it meant the canopy could not be discarded as a whole in an emergency). It is interesting to note that none of the available photos of the Snargasher in flight shows the front cockpit canopy closed. Behind the pilot was space for two other crew members. The rear of the fenestration tilted up to form a windshield for the rear-gunner who would presumably have had a Lewis or Vickers "K" gun on a retracting mount, as in Fairey Battles or Blackburn Skuas. The middle crew position would have been available for a variety of roles; a gunnery instructor to give guidance to the trainee gunner at the rear, alternatively, a bomb-aiming or wireless operator instructor or trainee could have been accommodated. The Snargasher could be fitted with dual controls so that it could be used for twin-engined pilot training, with the instructor sitting behind the student pilot.
The Snagasher's "glasshouse". Note how the rear tilts up to form a windshield for the gunner and the way the pilot's canopy slides back inside the canopy to the rear. Note the walkway on the wing root. which looks to be of the "Simmonds" rubber treaded type.
After assembly at Desford, the Snargasher first took to the air sometime in late 1938 or very early in 1939 (a photo of it flying appeared in the January 18th 1939 edition of the Aeroplane magazine). Its first appearance in public was at the Royal Aeronautical Society garden party at Heathrow on Sunday the 14th of May 1939, being prominently featured in the aeronautical press that month. The following month it received its Certificate of Airworthiness and in July it was displayed at the Brussels International Aviation Salon.
The Snargasher at the Brussels International Aviation Salon. George Reid is standing next to it.
The R.S.1 Snargasher was displayed at the Brussels Aviation Salon next to the Supermarine "Speed Spitfire".
The performance of the Snargasher was surprisingly good and it was described as delightful to fly. Its top speed was chasing that of the famous DH88 Comet racer, which used the same type of Gipsy Six engines but in their boosted "R" racing form, giving greater power, along with a retractable undercarriage.
A Gipsy Six engine.This one is one of the "R" racing variants preserved at the Shuttleworth Collection.
Reid and Sigrist's plan would have likely been to tender for the contracts to train air-gunners and bomb-aimers for the RAF and then construct the required number of Snargashers to fulfil the requirements. It's hard to see the Snargasher being a success in its intended role, it was just too cramped an airframe for effective instruction compared to alternatives like the Airspeed Oxford and Avro Anson. It was not long since the Air Ministry had rejected the de Havilland Don trainer because of its cramped interior, so they were unlikely to have looked favourably at the R.S.1. Even 9 months before war was declared, about the time the Snargasher first flew, Reid and Sigrist were already operating courses in navigation and wireless from their Desford airfield using Avro Ansons.¹ So in a very real sense, the Snargasher had "missed the boat" as far as UK sales were concerned, although there was probably still an aspiration for sales to foreign countries (or licensing production). Hence the R.S.1 being on display at the Brussels Aviation Salon.
The outbreak of war would have ended all hopes of use of the R.S.1 in the UK; all aircraft production planning was then taken over by the government and the training companies lost the ability to purchase their own equipment; instead, they had to accept what was offered by the Air Ministry. The de Havilland Rapide small airliner (which used the same Gipsy Six engine as the R.S.1) was kept in production (renamed the Dominie) as an aircrew trainers to suppliment the Oxfords and Ansons. The surplus production of Fairey Battles also became available as trainers, some fitted with turrets to train air-gunners.
The single prototype R.S.1 was retained by Reid and Sigrist and had camouflage applied to its upper surfaces. It was used as the company "hack" aircraft for communication purposes. However, for a few months in 1941 it was used for an experiment with the flying training school at Desford (No 7 Elementary Flying Training School). This involved training some new prospective pilots in the R.S.1 right from the start (a process known as ab initio). They would not have flown a single-engined aircraft (like the Tiger Moth) at all before sitting in the R.S.1 for the first time with the second set of controls being fitted in the rear cockpit for use by the instructor. The idea being that if a pilot was trained in multi-engine flying from the very beginning, it would be far easier for them to transition to a single-engined aircraft than it was for pilots trained only on single-engined aircraft to transition to multi-engines. The results were regarded as good, but the method was not adopted, although it must have influenced the later R.S.3 Desford design (see below).
In use, the R.S.1 Snargasher had its spats removed to stop them from getting clogged with grass and mud and to allow easier access for servicing the brakes. The Snargasher is believed to have been scrapped sometime in 1944 after a crash, although substantial parts of its fuselage were reported to be still in existence at Desford in 1953 when the aerodrome was sold. Sightings of it flying as late as 1949 are attributed to the later R.S.3 (see below) being mistaken for it.
In use at 7EFTS and as a company hack aircraft the Snargasher had the top of the wings and fuselage sides camouflaged in the standard RAF dark earth and green paint scheme with RAF "B" style roundels on top of the wings. Underneath, the wings were yellow with large black registration letters and small RAF "A" style roundels were added near the wingtips. The fuselage had "A1" style roundels with yellow surrounds and the fuselage registration letters were in a yellow box that protruded into the camouflaged sides. The fixed part of the rudders had equal stripes of red/white/blue on both sides.
Snargasher in flight. Notice the separate ailerons and flaps and the lack of wheel spats.
Snargasher in service.
At the start of the war, Reid and Sigrist were asked to set up a production line at Desford for the Boulton Paul Defiant turret fighter with an initial order for 100 Defiants. Only four had been assembled when, on the 11th of June 1940, the roof of the hangar housing the production line collapsed (it was suspected that the weight of snow on the hangar roof during the preceding winter had damaged its structure). But Reid and Sigrist did continue to build sub-assemblies for Defiants and would go on to be the major centre for Defiant overhaul and conversions, including the conversion of a large number to target tugs. Reid and Sigrist also did overhaul and assembly work on American B-25 Mitchell bombers. Desford also housed an assembly facility for Supermarine Spitfires, run by Vickers as a satellite to the huge Castle Bromwich factory.
Why name it Snargasher?
O Snargasher, Snargasher wherefore art thou Snargasher? Was it named after a WW1 slang word for a training aircraft? Or was it simply a funny sounding joke word? Or was it a sly dig at the competition?
Why call the aircraft such an unusual name? Some sources say that the name was used by the staff assembling the aircraft and then adopted by the company as an "in-joke". Other sources say that the term "snargasher" was a Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) slang word for a training aircraft in WW1. Such aircraft would usually be older, worse-for-wear aircraft retired from front line service and were used for training both pilots and observers. Other sources attribute it to use by Canadian pilots in WW2. It is in the 1945 book "A Dictionary of RAF Slang" by Eric Partridge, where it is listed as Canadian slang for a training aircraft, saying that it derived from "tarmac smasher", that is an aircraft used for "circuits and bumps" in a training environment. Mark M Orkin, in his 1971 book "Speaking Canadian English", cast doubts on the Canadian origin of the word, suggesting it came from the RAF, which again hints at an earlier use, perhaps in WW1.
It could be that all these explanations are possible; an obscure slang word for a training aircraft from WW1 might have been used by a veteran involved in building the R.S.1 (perhaps even George Reid?) and then it was picked up and adopted by the company. Then the same term might have resurfaced amongst Canadian flyers in WW2 from some instructor or senior officer who had served during WW1.
However, I would suggest another possibility; I stress this is just speculation, with no direct evidence but certain aspects are compelling. The Reid and Sigrist R.S.1's main competitor for foreign orders was the French SNCAC NC232.2. Manufacturered by the Société Nationale de Constructions Aéronautiques du Centre, one of the nationalised French aviation companies. Could it be that the "SN" in "snargasher" was derived from "SNCAC" and was a joke name to suggest it was a better aircraft than the SNCAC offering? When the R.S.1 was displayed at the Brussels Aviation Salon in 1939, the SNCAC NC232.2 put on a full aerobatic display at the associated flying display and SNCAC had a stand not far from Reid and Sigrist's displaying the related SNCAC NC220-2 mocked up to represent the more powerful SNACAC NC 600. You would see why Reid and Sigrist would be embarrassed to be poking fun at their French allies. So, if challenged by an aviation journalist to explain the name, maybe someone in the company made up the story that snargasher was an old slang word for a training aircraft (there does not seem to be any written mention of the term before 1939). Likewise, someone else in the company might have dismissed it as simply a "family joke" with no meaning. Then, maybe it became self-perpetuating; someone reading the explanation of snargasher alluding to training aircraft in WW1 then started using it in WW2? - Stranger things have happened. If anyone ever does find written evidence of the term "snargasher" prior to 1939, please let me know.
The SNCAC NC232.2 (formerly the Hanriot 232) was a direct competitor to the R.S.1 / R.S.2 in the twin engined trainer marketplace. Despite the two-seat NC232.2 having slightly more powerful engines and a retracting undercarriage it was only 3 mph (4.8 kph) faster than the three-seat R.S.1 and had less range. Was the name "Snargasher" a sly dig at "SNCAC"?.
The SNCAC 232.2 might even have been the inspiration for the Reid and Sigrist R.S.1. The 232 was the production form of the Hanriot 230 (SNCAC had been formed by the amalgamation of two companies, Hanriot and Farman). The Hanriot 230 was intended to be a trainer for the more powerful Hanriot 220 fighter-bomber but both projects had a protracted development history. When the Hanriot 230 first appeared in the aviation press in 1936, it had a fixed spatted undercarriage and twin rudders. It's possible that someone at Reid and Sigrist thought, "We could build something like that."
Looking at the R.S.1 in hindsight, it is pretty obvious that it was ill-suited to training the next generation of bomber crews, it was just too cramped. However, fitted with dual controls, it looks like the ideal training platform for pilots for the Bristol Beaufighter and Westland Whirlwind twin-engined fighters coming into service in 1940; even more so if it could be fitted with a retracting undercarriage. Reid and Sigrist must have had the same idea because in 1940 a series of adverts appeared in the British aeronautical press showing a dedicated twin-engined fighter trainer with retracting undercarriage and forward armament.
Advert from 1940, showing not only the "twin engine bomber trainer" at the bottom, which is clearly the R.S.1 Snargasher but also above it a "twin engined fighter trainer" with retracting undercarriage, dual control and forward armament.
Another advert for the Reid and Sigrist "Twin Engine Fighter Trainer". Probably the "R.S.2" project. Notice the mention of "fixed gunfire" and "pilot bombing" indicating the aircraft would have had at least one forward firing machine gun for target practice and provision to carry small practice bombs. The top speed of over 230 mph indicates that engines would be at least de Havilland Gipsy Six engines (unlike the less powerful Gipsy Majors of the later R.S.3 Desford). The flaps and ailerons seem to be flush with the wings, unlike the separate units on the Snargasher. One tiny detail to note; the slight kink in the line of the cockpit canopy would seem to indicate the front portion still slid inside the rear section, like the canopy on the Snargasher.
It is known that the company allocated the "R.S.2" project number to some design. It was probably this fighter trainer. However desirable such an aircraft might have been, no production order was forthcoming and pilots for the Beaufighter and Whirlwind usually got their first instruction on twin-engined flying in Ansons, Oxfords, Blenheims or even old General Aircraft Monospar aircraft.
Aircraft with remarkable similarities to the Reid and Sigrist "Twin Engined Fighter Trainer" did take to the skies.The Polish PWS-33 Wyżeł was designed for the same task and had the same layout, albeit with lower-powered engines; production was halted by the German invasion of Poland in 1939. As already mentioned, The French SNCAC NC 232 (Hanriot H.232) was also very similar, seeing limited service before the German invasion of France and two served with the Finnish Air Force until 1950. The American Curtiss-Wright AT-9 was also similar in concept, although it's side-by-side seating layout was geared more towards training bomber pilots rather than twin-engined fighter pilots. However, that didn't stop pilots for the twin-engined Lockheed P-38 Lightning fighter training on the type.
R.S.3 Desford and R.S.4 Bobsleigh
When WW2 drew to a close the company thought it would have another go at the twin-engined trainer market and produced the R.S.3 Desford, named after the company's Leicestershire aerodrome. Designed by Charles Bower ², it followed the same general lines as the earlier R.S.1 Snargasher, with wooden construction, twin rudders, separate flaps and ailerons mounted below the wing trailing edges. It had a tapered wing with straight leading and trailing edges, which should have made it easier and cheaper to build than the elliptical wing of the Snargasher. ³ Surprisingly, it still featured a fixed undercarriage and had Gipsy Major I engines of only 130 horsepower apiece, much less powerful than the Snargasher's 205 horsepower Gipsy Six engines. It seems Reid &Sigrst saw the new R.S.3 design more as an ab-initio basic trainer than as a design to transition pilots to the new de Havilland Hornet and Gloster Meteor twin-engined fighters. The major wooden components of the RS3 were built by a London, by the Austin Veneer Company, before being transported to Desford for final assembly. First flying in July 1945, the Desford was given registration number G-AGOS.
A colourful advert for the R.S.3 Desford, it stresses the ab initio training role that Reid and Sigrist saw the aircraft fulfilling. Notice the pitot tube's position on top of the nose. It's not a refuelling probe! The bulges on the side of the engines look like air intakes in this painting, in fact they just covered large metal engine mounting beams.
The R.S.3 Desford in flight. Note that the tailplane required a strut, unlike that of the earlier Snargasher which was fully cantilevered.
The Desford was not picked for production by the Air Ministry and hopes of selling it to civilian flying clubs also came to nothing. One criticism made of it was that it was too easy to fly! The Desford incorporated an automatic mechanism to retract the flaps to take-off position if the throttles were opened on an overshoot. A good safety feature, but some felt that a pilot trained on the Desford would then not be ready for the normal manual operation of flaps on other types of aircraft.
The Desford was selected to be converted into an experimental prone position role, with the pilot lying down on their stomach. It was hoped that this would better protect the pilot from the effects of excessive "g" forces while also making it easier to produce thinner, more streamlined aircraft. The selection of the Desford for the role was done by the famous test pilot Eric "Winkle" Brown⁴ who took it for a test flight in May 1948. The Desford had its nose extended to end in a glazed bubble, the rear pilots position was retained. It was fitted with slightly more poweful Gipsy Major 8 engines of 145 horsepower, but with fixed-pitch propellers (Eric Brown had recommended that constant-speed propellers should be used). In this form, the aircraft was renamed the R.S.4 "Bobsleigh" and given a new registration number VZ728. It first flew in the new configuration in June 1951 and was involved in trials at the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE) until 1954. Meanwhile, advances in "anti-g" suits having largely made the prone-pilot concept redundant.
The R.S.4 Bobsleigh
After the trials were over the Bobsleigh was purchased for use for aerial photography and survey work and it reverted to its previous civilian registration of G-AGOS. It some stage it was fitted with Gipsy Major 10 engines, but the sources for this specify they replaced Gipsy Major I engines which implies that at some stage the aircraft had been downgraded from the Gipsy Major 8 engines used during the prone-pilot trials. ⁵
Shown in one of its aerial survey markings, in this photo the door to allow access to the front prone position is open, it only opened to the port side and was hinged about halfway up the fuselage. It must have been somewhat awkward to enter.
It passed through the hands of a few aerial survey and film companies. In 1973 it went into private ownership and was painted in a military camouflage scheme and reverted to its military VZ728 registration. Then it was sold to the Strathallan Aircraft collection in Scotland. When that collection was sold off it went to the Scottish Aircraft Collection Trust before being obtained by the Leicestershire Museum of Science and Discovery. The museum did not have space to display it, so it spent over 30 years in storage. It was restored to flying condition in 2018 by Windmill Aviation at the old RAF Spanhoe airfield near Corby. It has now found a new permanent home at the outstanding Newark Air Museum (see press release at <this link>).
At the end of WW2, all German patents were forfeited and Reid & Sigrist obtained the rights to produce the legendary Leica camera. They initially intended the camera only to be supplied to the military, to complement their instrument sales, but it found widespread civilian use. They were built to a high precision, as befits the product of an instrument-making company. Although made only in limited numbers, today it is cameras that Reid and Sigrist are primarily remembered for; examples can command fantastic prices. The Reid and Sigrist company was swallowed up by the Decca Record company in 1954.
Reid and Sigrist R.S.1 Snargasher Specifications
Max Speed: 205 mph (330 kph) Cruising Speed: 190 mph at 6,000 feet (306 kph at 1,830 metres). Stalling Speed (fully loaded): 65 mph (105 kph).
Range: 800 miles (1,287 km) - 4 hrs 15 mins duration. The full production version was planned to have larger fuel tanks.
Service Ceiling: 18,000 feet (5,486 metres) Absolute Ceiling: 20,000 feet (6,096 metres)
Weight Empty: 3,000 lbs (1,360 kg) Weight Fully Loaded: 4,900 lbs (2,222 kg)
Span: 36 feet 4 inches (11.073 metres) Length: 25 feet 4 inches (7.720 metres) Wing Area: 212 Sq feet. (19.69 Sq Metres)
Engines: Two de Havilland Gipsy Six Series II engines giving 205 horsepower each.
Reid and Sigrist R.S.3 Desford Specifications
Max Speed: 162 mph (261 kph) Cruising Speed: 148 mph (238 kph).
Range: 460 miles (740 km)
Service Ceiling: 17,700 feet (5,400 metres)
Weight Empty: 2,413 lbs (1,094 kg) Weight Fully Loaded: 3,300 lbs (1,497 kg)
Span: 34 feet (10.6 metres) Length: 25 ft 6 inches (7.77 metres) Wing Area: 186 Sq feet (17.28 Sq Metres).
Engines: Two de Havilland Gipsy Major I engines giving 130 horsepower each.
Reid and Sigrist R.S.4 Bobsleigh
The prone position extension increased the length of the fuselage to 26 feet 6 inches (8.07 metres). The later use of more powerful 145 horsepower Gipsy Major Mk 8 or Mk 10 engines increased maximum speed to 176 mph (283 kph) and cruising speed to 166 mph (267 kph).
¹ An article about training in Avro Ansons at Desford appeared in the January 18th 1939 edition of The Aeroplane magazine. Interestingly, the Snargasher can be seen overflying a group picture of the Reid & Sigrist flying instructors in one of the photos in the article.
² I've not been able to find anything about the life or career of Charles Bower. A Charles Bower did share a 1936 patent with the Hawker Aircraft company for the design of a cockpit canopy (patent number 13855/36), a device that was deemed so revolutionary that the Air Ministry had it assigned as "secret". That could well have been the same Charles Bower who later designed the Desford (maybe even had a hand in designing the Snargasher?). The fact that the patent was shared with the Hawker Aircraft company would seem to indicate he didn't actually work directly for Hawkers at the time; usually a company gets the full patent rights of employees. If anyone has any further information about Charles Bower, please get in touch.
³ An elliptical wing was long known to be the most efficient form of a wing for subsonic flight. If you trace out the area of a constant-chord wing that does not provide sufficient lift you get an ellipse. However, in fabric and wooden construction an elliptical wing is more complex and labour-intensive to construct, so a compromise of a wing with straight tapered edges is usually used instead unless there is an overriding need for absolute maximum efficency. For metal or composite construction, an elliptical wing can still be a cost-effective method of construction if tooling is available to produce the complex shapes involved. This usually involves investment in expensive presses or other machinery which then has to be recouped by a longer production run. Unfortunately, in the famous case of the Supermarine Spitfire's elliptical wing, the first order for only 310 production Spitfires did not warrant the extra investment, so the initial production of Spitfire wings was very expensive and time-consuming. This was remedied later in the war when large presses were used to create the components much more cost-effectively.
⁴ Although Eric Brown flew an extensive test flight in the original Desford to ascertain its suitability for conversion to the prone-pilot role, and was consulted on the design of the conversion, he never actually got to fly it in its R.S.4 Bobsleigh form (as is sometimes claimed). Eric Brown did go on to fly the prone-position Meteor, now conserved at the RAF Cosford Museum. Eric Brown wrote about his involvement with the Desford in his book "Wings of the Weird and Wonderful". He was full of praise for the Desford in its original form.
⁵ The Gipsy Major 8 engine was a standard engine used by the RAF (in the RAF version of the Chipmunk trainer), so it would have been an obvious choice for the government-run Royal Aircraft Establishment to use with the Bobsleigh experiments. It would have been logical to refit Gipsy Major I engines (probably the originals) when the aircraft was sold back into civilian use. Then the desire to carry heavier camera equipment for the air photography role prompted the fitting of Gipsy Major 10 Mk 1 engines, which were very similar to the Gipsy Major 8, but made for commercial, rather than military, use. Eric Brown's desire to see the aircraft fitted with constant-speed propellers was no doubt prompted by his knowledge that de Havillands were investigating this upgrade. However, no version of the Gipsy Major engine was made available with constant-speed propellers but the Mk 2 and 3 versions of the Gipsy Major 10 engine could take a two-position manually-operated variable pitch propeller. It would seem the Desford and Bobsleigh only ever operated with fixed-pitch propellers.
August 2022 press release on the future of the R.S.4 Bobsleigh
An appreciation of Fred Sigrist.
Webpage on George Hancock Reid winning the DFC.
Another webpage on George Hancock Reid's exploits
Plan of the R.S.1 Snargasher on the Solid Model Memories website.
Pictures of the R.S.4 Bobsleigh in the Air-Britain Photographic archive.
YouTube video of the R.S.4 taking off from Spanhoe for its flight to the Newark Air Museum.
YouTube video of the R.S.4 arriving at the Newark Air Museum.
An interesting essay on the nationalisation of the French aircraft industry in the 1930s.
Flight Magazine: 18th May 1939, had a feature on the R.S.1, including a cutaway drawing.
Flight Magazine: July 13th 1939 covers the Brussels Aviation Salon, while the July 27th edition covers the associated flying display at Evere.
Air-Britain Archive Magazine: "Head-on-view" article (No 40) Winter (December) issue, 2011 covers the R.S.1 Snargasher.
Air-Britain Archive Magazine: "Head-on-view" article (No 40 continued) Spring (March) issue, 2012 covers the R.S.3 Desford and R.S.4 Bobsleigh. Both articles are unattributed but may be the work of the magazine editor, David Partington.
Air-Britain Aeromilitaria magazine: Spring 2008 (no 113) edition has a two-page article by Phil Butler on the R.S.4 Bobsleigh.
British Built Aircraft - Volume 4- Central & Eastern England: By Ron Smith, published by Tempus, 2004. ISBN: 0 7524 3162 5.
British Civil Aircraft, 1919-1959 (Vol 2): by AJ Jackson, published by Putnam, lists both aircraft.
Snargasher specifications are taken from an article by H J Cooper in the April 1942 issue of The Aero-Modeller magazine.
To learn more about the R.S.3 Desford and the R.S4 Bobsleigh I recommend The Desford Trainer - The Story of a Unique Aircraft by Melvin Ridgeway, available via Amazon <at this link> ISBN 9798739189967
To learn more about Fred Sigrist I recommend reading "Pure Luck, The Authorised Biography of Sir Thomas Sopwith": by Alan Bramson (ISBN 0-859791-06-8).
A very brief mention of a Charles Bower and his patent can be found in "Sydney Camm - Hurricane and Harrier Designer" by John Sweetman. ISBN: 978 1 52675 6220.
Warning! Wikipedia and other online "cut and paste" articles about the R.S.1 Snargasher list Bill Gunston's book "Back To The Drawing Board - Aircraft That Flew But Never Took Off" as a primary reference for information about the Snargasher. The book does have a short, two-page chapter on prone position piloting (pages 136 and 137 in my 1996 edition by Airlife publishing) in which the R.S.3 Desford and its conversion to the R.S.4 Bobsleigh are briefly mentioned along with a photo of the R.S.4. However, there is no mention at all of the R.S.1 Snargasher, nor is there any background information on the Reid and Sigrist company.