Race planes of the 1930s' - Granville Gee Bee

Model R Super Sportster

Willie Bodenstein


The Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster, designed by Howell W. "Pete" Miller and Zantford Granville and built by Granville Brothers Aircraft, was a special-purpose racing aircraft developed from the Gee Bee Model Z, winner of the 1931 Thompson Trophy Races.

The National Air Races (also known as Pulitzer Trophy Races) were a series of pylon and cross-country races that took place in the United States since 1920. The science of aviation, the speed and reliability of aircraft as well as engines grew rapidly during this period: - the National Air Races were both a proving ground and showcase for this.

Starting in 1929, the races ran for up to 10 days, usually from late August to early September which continued until 1939 but went on a hiatus because of WWII. The races included a variety of events, including cross-country races. The more popular events were the Thompson Trophy Races which started in 1929; a closed-course race where aviators raced their planes around pylons and the Bendix Trophy Race across most of the USA, starting in 1931.

Granville's Gee Bee at 5.38 m long, 2.48 high and boasting a wingspan of only 7.62 m was a stubby aircraft. When viewed from the side, she seemed to consist mostly of an engine with a bit of fuselage and tail plane added on as an afterthought. The cockpit was located very far aft, just in front of the vertical stabilizer, in order to give the racing pilot better vision while making crowded pylon turns.

Powered by an 800 hp (596.5 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp 1,344 cubic inch (22 l) displacement Air Cooled 9-cylinder radial; the Gee Bee was capable of reaching a top speed of 294.38 mph (473.8 km/h, 255.81 kts).

The R-1 won the 1932 Thompson Trophy race, piloted by Jimmy Doolittle. He also set a new world landplane speed record of 476 km/h (296 mph) in the Shell Speed Dash. Jimmy Doolitle loved her and called her the sweetest ship he had ever flown. However, she rapidly earned a reputation as a potentially very dangerous machine.

During the 1933 Bendix Trophy race, racing pilot Russell Boardman was killed, flying Number 11. During take-off from a refueling stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, Boardman pulled up too soon, stalled the R-1 and crashed.

She was later repaired and her fuselage lengthened by 18 inches. This time she crashed in a landing over run. The pilot, Roy Minor, fortunately was not seriously injured. She was then sold to Cecil Allen, who installed larger gas tanks aft of its normal center of gravity. Allen took off with a full fuel tank, crashed and was killed.

A number of replicas, both flying and non-flying, were built, some of which found their way into museums.

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