The Creation and Promotion of the Schneider Cup Reenactments

NOTE: Throughout these pages and many of the links, there will be references made to the Schneider Trophy Race, or Schneider Cup Races. The origin of the event was Frenchman Jacques Schneider who believed that the future of air travel would be seaplanes. He posted a financial prize and a TROPHY.

The proper name is, Schneider Trophy Race, however, the slang and the most popular name in later years would be Schneider Cup Races, although no cup ever existed. The Trophy is featured in the upper left corner of these pages.


Following the success of the London Bridge Seaplane Classic, I thought we might add another event to make it even more special.

The London Bridge is a landmark and a focal point for tourism in Lake Havasu City. Great Britain won the Schneider event 3 consecutive times, therefore ending the series and keeping the Trophy. The Schneider Trophy and the winning Supermarine S6b are displayed in London at the Science Museum. Not far from that museum stood the London Bridge that now resides in Lake Havasu City, AZ, USA.

The Schneider Cup races were the most prestigious and famous races of their time and were for seaplanes. Do you see the connection?

The question is, a special event or a really special event? A really special event in my mind is where we can play to audiences far beyond the RC community. How can we make this event really special? Short term, we needed to promote the heck out of it. Get the media involved. Long-term, we needed to get mainstream companies involved to sponsor the event and bring along mainstream media.

After consultations with club members, friends in the media and RC industry we came up with a set of rules we believed would make the event very special and viable. Among the primary considerations was the scale of these aircraft. Larger aircraft fly more realistically and can handle rougher water should we experience windy conditions. Another consideration important to our longer-term goal is that at this scale, it would be harder for mainstream people to call these toys, important in getting serious sponsorships

First things first! In order to interest potential sponsors and media, you need a visual presentation. Problem #1, this type of event with these aircraft on this scale has never been done before. How to create a visual presentation without any visuals? Remember back then, home computers were pretty dumb and CGI was the domain of Hollywood.

The solution to problem #1 was to create a visual. We chose to build one of the aircraft. If the event had been in England, Italy or France we probably would have chosen a Supermarine, Macchi or Deperdussin. In that, we were from the USA, Lake Havasu City, Arizona, the American home of the London Bridge we chose one of America’s winning aircraft, the Curtiss R3C-2. With pilot Jimmy Doolittle flying, it won the 1925 Schneider Cup Race. To conform to our rules, the Curtiss would have to be built to 1/3rd scale.


Building and Flying the Curtiss


The Curtiss was used in various ways. We displayed the work in progress Curtiss at events and trade shows. When completed we sent photos to media and took videos of it for developing presentations. The sheer size grabbed the attention of potential sponsors. This was “NO TOY AIRPLANE”. The response from within the industry and especially the media was huge. Four of the major US magazines and a couple of foreign magazines placing articles monthly, nearly a year before the first event, we were ecstatic. We received mixed results when we tried many companies outside our industry. Part of it was timing, (Corporations have budget meetings and allocate funds for the next year.) and part was we had no track record yet to convince them to part with their valuable advertising and promotion budget.

For major sponsorship and television coverage, we needed more money than our industry was willing to part with. We needed to solicit companies that would benefit from mass exposure and association with a special event. We knew it was a long shot in the first year. We also knew “If you do not ask, the answer is always NO!”

It is important to feel that your event is very special and important. It is paramount to realize that you must make your event special, important and valuable to the potential sponsor.
(This is also how you get your community on your side.) Your event is a vehicle to promote the sponsor and make him or his product look good. Make the mass audience want to go out and buy his service or product. Unless you can convince the potential sponsor that he will get more bang for his buck with you than somewhere else, you will not succeed. Know your potential sponsor’s needs and market to tailor your presentation to best promote his product or service. You are looking for financial help, and don’t get greedy, because your hobby and your event have tremendous value also.


FORBES MAGAZINE: When an event is promoted properly, it will create its own momentum or life of its own. Negotiation can go on for many months for sponsorships like Coke or Ford, so when my wife Katie, who keeps me and all the crazy stuff I do organized, told me I had a call from Forbes, who I have not contacted, I think she says FORD! To my surprise, the gentleman on the phone explains that he is the editor for FORBES Magazine and Mr. Malcolm Forbes had heard of our event and requested that they cover it. (FORBES Magazine is the most respected financial and business magazine in the country, perhaps the world. See what I mean about a life of its own!) The gentleman says that he has only one request, an exclusive. It is about 6 months until the event and we have 11 RC magazines requesting and having been granted press credentials. I explain this to the gentleman and he says that they request exclusivity for mainstream magazines like Life, Time, People, US News and World Report, etc. I was caught off guard by Forbes, however, I was relatively sure these other magazines were not coming so I granted them their exclusive.

In the big picture, long-term goals could be the key to opening some big financial doors. FORBES magazine finds its way to the CEO’s offices, coffee tables in boardrooms and ad agencies as well as lawyers and dentist offices. This exposure in such a prestigious magazine will only help to get our foot in the door in the future.

FORBES sent a reporter to cover the event and brought in a photographer from the San Diego area. In less than 2 months of the event, they scooped everyone with a 4-page color article entitled “Doolittle’s disciples”. Forbes cover date for the article was December 25, 1989.

I am not sure if the RC Magazines were upset by Forbes beating them to the newsstands by 2 months or what, but the editor of one magazine really got upset about the Forbes article. He felt it necessary to criticize the article and that I would allow facts to be so far off. He was referring to the cost of these aircraft.

The link “Doolittle’s Disciples” will take you to the Forbes article. Read it and see for yourself. Keep in mind that the readership of Forbes is the movers and shakers of finance and industry. These are the people that have prototypes of all kinds made for their companies. They pay designers, pattern makers, toolmakers, and engineers to come up with these prototypes and pay hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars for these one-of-a-kind products. Are they as complicated as an RC Giant Scale aircraft? Maybe they are and maybe they are not! One thing is definitely true, the RC modeler has to research, design, engineer, build, finish, install the electronics and then get up the nerve to test fly the year-long project that has cost him hundreds, perhaps a thousand hours of time or more and a bunch of cash. It takes a great deal of skill to be a scratch builder and if we would be asked to build one of these aircraft for a corporation, they would expect to pay us $50.00 per hour for say 500 hours, that would be $25,000.00. We as modelers undervalue our skills or ignore the time we spend because it is our hobby and we do it because we love it. The example above would be for approximately 12.5 forty-hour weeks. The Curtiss had two people that had been professional pattern makers ($45.00 per hour at the time) and three other modelers and it took us 6 months. Conservatively, the Curtiss would be a $40,000.00 project if commissioned. I have no apologies for the Forbes article.

Forbes is a respected magazine and I feel the article more closely represents the true value of the magnificent replicas that were entered in the Schneider Cup Re-Enactment than the magazine that complained about their value. Apparently, that magazine felt that the talent these scratch builders have has little value. I find that sad and unappreciative of them. Without modelers whose imagination and skill to create unique projects, the magazines would not have anything very interesting to publish, and we would not want to pay to buy their magazines. Enough of that!

I had been involved in gaining major sponsorships and contingency money in the Off-Road racing business, so I learned a lot about how to get corporations and sometimes their ad agencies to partner in a project. I knew that the Schneider Cup Re-Enactment was new and would be a tough sell. I also knew that I needed to start laying the groundwork for long-term goals. The following proposals are to serve as examples of how to go about approaching a company for sponsorship. The goal is to succeed, however, even in failure you learn and maybe get some interest for next time. Remember, If you do not ask, the answer is always NO!

COKE: Coke had been losing market share to Pepsi for some time. Pepsi was the “New Generation” and Coke needed to do something to protect its greater market share. A new CEO at Coke decided that if Coke tasted more like Pepsi, they would do better in the market, so they changed their age-old formula. Big mistake. It was a disaster! Almost immediately their customer base rebelled and they brought back the original formula and called it “Coca-Cola Classic”.

This seemed to be a possible opening and I offered Coke a multi-year progressive event sponsorship. It would start out inexpensive and as the event grew so would the sponsorship amount. The Coca-Cola Classic Schneider Cup Re-Enactment. The worldwide exposure would benefit Coca-Cola far in excess of the cost of the sponsorship. I was unable to convince them of the benefits.

FORD Motor Company: I was looking for a car to award to the winner of the event. The first event poster featured the1925 race and the Curtiss R3C-2. In 1925 Ford was the #1 auto manufacturer in the world. What if we could produce a TV commercial that highlighted our hobby and promoted Ford. It is a proven fact that if men see an airplane in a TV commercial, they are more likely to watch than to switch channels. If we could pull this off, even if we did not get the car, but Ford would run the commercial, millions of people would be exposed to RC.

I put together a storyboard for a 30 second TV commercial.

The commercial would go like this: Opening scene: in black and white you see the Curtiss R3C-2 flying sort of away from you. In the foreground, you see a young couple in period clothing standing beside a 1925 Ford Model T and watching the airplane. The camera begins to zoom in on the aircraft as it slowly banks and turns towards the camera. As the aircraft is coming straight for the camera, we zoom out and transition to full color. Once again in the foreground is the young couple now in modern clothing standing by a new Ford car and the young man with an RC transmitter in his hands lands the aircraft and taxies it up to the shore.
The voice-over announcer or screen script states, Ford #1 in 1925 and still is! Or something like that.


What about the event, the SCHNEIDER CUP RE-ENACTMENT?

The Schneider Cup Re-enactment was a super event for several reasons. Because the aircraft subject was unique, scale and large it caught the interest of the media and public as well. Seaplanes themselves had little exposure in the previous year, but these were the legendary Schneider Cup aircraft. When the magazines began including articles about the upcoming event in nearly every month’s issue, interest went through the roof.

The concept was unique but be assured, without many talented people, their ideas, diverse talents, enthusiasm, organizational skills and hard work over many months this event would not have been successful. The polished event that looks easy and runs smoothly is one that the presenters have done their homework!

I have mentioned great events can gain a life of their own. Cliff Adams, Tom Easterday, later founded Unlimited Racing, Doug Wilbur, and Bo had an air show team that they mounted floats, added smoke and made a huge apparatus that released hundreds of red, white and blue balloons during the opening ceremonies and national anthem. They did this at their own expense…Thanks again, guys. The mayor of Lake Havasu City dedicated the event and welcomed many visitors and competitors.

To organize an event takes planning and people to do all the big and little things to make it all come together. Long before the Schneider Cup Re-enactment took on a life of its own; we sat down and discussed the event. The Schneider Cup Committee was formed by our members. This group of people was the best committee I have ever been associated with. The committee consisted of the heads of each of the primary departments, and they would choose their own team. Bob Lake would eventually CD the event, but his planning abilities were crucial to our success. How many events do you know have flow charts? Bob asked us for what needs to be done, why and when, we discussed priorities and we gave him the info he requested. Soon Bob asked me to put it into my computer and print it out. Those were the days of dot printers and you could print out a mile if necessary. The chart was updated constantly, but the main items were there for us to discuss at each meeting. The timeline was set and each director would be asked the progress of their team. If any director’s team was having difficulty everyone would pitch in and get that area up to speed. We had a schedule and we made sure everyone was able to meet it. As the event got closer, the meetings became more frequent. The meetings included every area from event publicity to parking layout and everything in between.

The sponsorship negotiations did not look like they would come together for the first event, so I decided to go ahead a find an artist, commission him to create artwork for our poster. The poster would be large and full color and also be a promotional devise to show this event was special. I contacted Jeff Waldrop who had done other aviation art that I liked. Jeff agreed and we worked on a concept for the poster. Our event promotional vehicle was the Curtiss R3C-2 so that would be the primary image and of course I wanted the London Bridge to be in it. After several pencil sketches, one jokingly having the Curtiss flying inverted under the London Bridge, we agreed upon a design. Jeff did a fantastic job. The Curtiss looked fantastic and the reflections on the aircraft were incredible. As the event neared, I had a distinct feeling that there were going to be, not only a lot more contestants than we used to, (The first event was the London Bridge Seaplane Classic and the Schneider Cup Re-enactment combined) but the spectator turnout may be huge. I had received phone calls from all over the U.S., and from Canada and Europe. I told the committee and the club members that we needed to prepare for a huge turnout.

The rules for the Schneider Cup Re-enactment awarded points for fidelity to scale, fidelity to speed, and flight realism which was divided into takeoff, flight and landing.

The Schneider Cup aircraft were assembled and judged prior to transporting to the Speed Trials. We had three judges of significant background and experience.

The morning of the event we had mixed feelings. We were ecstatic the line for registration went clear out to the parking lot, but we underestimated the turnout. There were more than 250 entries and as the day wore on the spectator crowd was estimated at more than 5,000 by the hotel management.

We were under the gun to get the event under control. True to form, the parking crew, registration, pit control, crowd control, and vendor crew followed the plan and soon everything was under control. With warm morning sunbathing the vendor’s display booths lined up against the hotel, the pits filling up with Fun Fly and Schneider Cup aircraft, the spectators, the palm trees, and grass, it was a very special sight.

Because of insurance and safety reasons, the entry forms required the contestants to declare that their aircraft had flown successfully prior to the event. The Schneider Cup Re-enactment required all aircraft to go through speed trials. Their speed was determined by scale, so all aircraft would have to be launched, taxi out to the take-off area, take off and fly a two-way course through the traps to determine the fidelity to the required speed, land, and taxi back.

Every aircraft brought to this event had been scratch built and its airworthiness unproven to us, so the speed trials were held on Spectator Point, a peninsula a couple of hundred yards away from the hotel and the spectators. We had trailers and tow vehicles to transport the aircraft to and from this remote location. Most of the aircraft performed well, but a few crashed during the speed trials.

The surviving Schneider Cup aircraft were transported back to the Schneider Cup pit area. We separated the Fun Fly and Schneider Cup pits, however, all entrants could access any of the pit areas. The pit area designed so that the spectators could get close to all aircraft. See below. This is not to scale, but you can get the idea.

The London Bridge Seaplane Classic fun fly aircraft would have open flying and the sky was filled with them as they would register for their time slot, fly and then someone else would go up. There were several flight stations, each with a Desert Hawk member to monitor the frequencies used and assist flyers as spotters or help if needed. We had two pontoon recovery boats should a downed aircraft need assistance. We divided the day into time slots, alternating the fun fly and the Schneider Cup aircraft.

The Schneider Cup aircraft would taxi out, take off, fly a triangle course around three 16 foot high floating buoys, land, and taxi back. The tension was terrific as the crowd held its’ collective breath as these one-of-a-kind replicas raced around the pylons and when they landed, the crowd would erupt into applause. The judges would score each aircraft’s performance for each flight of the day. These scores for each day are added to the Static and Speed Trials scores and the total represents their finishing position for the meet.

At the conclusion of the day of flying the giant Schneider Cup aircraft were transported to the convention center and put on display so everyone could get a real close look at these magnificent aircraft.

In the next three years, the Schneider Cup Re-Enactment would be separated from the London Bridge Seaplane Classic. Although wind would play an important part in these next few years, the event continued to gain popularity and we would add antique cars and period costume contests to the show. Bob Curtain from Scottsdale, AZ would bring his restored Tiger Moth vintage bi-plane up and let us raffle off a ride. The publicity of this event was not restricted to RC or model industry, but the state Chamber of Commerce would feature the Schneider Cup Re-enactment in their annual event for the state of Arizona. On many occasions, we would see full-scale aircraft make the trip to Lake Havasu and make flybys or if seaplanes, land on the lake.

The Schneider Cup Re-Enactment ran for 4 years. The city of Lake Havasu has told us that the publicity value for the city because of this event runs into the millions of dollars. The community gained publicity and income from the visitors to this event. Many of our current Desert Hawks RC Club members are here because of the publicity and community-friendly attitude about RC and hopefully, the RC industry benefited from the exposure gained from a prestigious event like this.

It is impossible to adequately express the gratitude we have for the contestants who created these magnificent aircraft and brought them here to compete and for all of us to enjoy. They thanked us for presenting the Schneider Cup Re-Enactment and without them, there would be no history to look back on. We thank them for giving us this history to look back on.