Granville Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster

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Gee Bee Model R
Gee Bee R-1.jpg
Reproduction of the Gee Bee R-1 at the New England Air Museum.
Role Air racing
National origin United States
Manufacturer Granville Brothers Aircraft
Designer Howell W. "Pete" Miller, Zantford Granville
First flight 13 August 1932
Introduction 1932
Produced 1932-1933
Developed from Gee Bee Model Z

The Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster was a special-purpose racing aircraft made by Granville Brothers Aircraft of Springfield, Massachusetts at the now-abandoned Springfield Airport (Massachusetts).[1] Gee Bee stands for Granville Brothers.

Design and development[edit]

The 1932 R-1 and its sister plane, the R-2, were the successors of the previous year's Thompson Trophy-winning Model Z.

Assistant Chief Engineer[2] Howell "Pete" Miller and Zantford "Granny" Granville spent three days of wind tunnel testing at NYU with aeronautical engineering professor Alexander Klemin. The aircraft had a very peculiar design. Granville reasoned that a teardrop-shaped fuselage — especially as seen from directly above — would have lower drag than a straight-tapered one, so the fuselage was wider than the engine at its widest point (at the wing attachment point[s], within the length of the wing chord). 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.

Operational history[edit]

A reproduction of the R-1 that won the Thompson Trophy Race

The R-1 won the 1932 Thompson Trophy race, piloted by Jimmy Doolittle. He lapped all but one ship in the race, made easy turns and never had to come down and make a tight pylon turn. He also set a new F.A.I. world landplane speed record of 476 km/h (296 mph) in the Shell Speed Dash. The distinction of a landplane record was noteworthy because, at that time, specialized speed seaplanes outran landplanes, e.g. the Macchi M.C.72 with over 700 km/h. The Springfield Union newspaper of September 6, 1932 quoted Doolittle as saying, "She is the sweetest ship I've ever flown. She is perfect in every respect and the motor is just as good as it was a week ago. It never missed a beat and has lots of stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today."[3] Another Springfield paper of the same date quoted Doolittle as saying, "The ship performed admirably. She was so fast that there was no need of my taking sharp turns although if the competition had been stiffer I would have. I just hope Russell Boardman can take her out soon and bring her in for a new record. There were lots of things we might have adjusted more properly if we had had time to run tests with the ship, and they would have meant more speed. I am sure Russell Boardman can take her around at quite a bit more than 300 miles an hour so you see my record may not last long after all."[4] He also personally wrote Zantford "Grannie" Granville a letter dated September 7, 1932, on Shell Petroleum stationary and addressed to Granville Brothers Aircraft reads as follows:

	Dear Grannie:
   Just a note to tell you that the big G. B. functioned perfectly in both the Thompson Trophy and the Shell Speed Dash.
   With sincere best wishes for your continued success, I am as ever.

The R-1 rapidly acquired an unearned reputation as a potentially dangerous machine. This shortcoming was common to most racing machines of any kind. During the 1933 Bendix Trophy race, racing pilot Russell Boardman was killed, flying Number 11. During takeoff from a refueling stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, Boardman pulled up too soon, stalled the R-1 and crashed.[6]

The R-1 was quickly repaired and now incorporated a fuselage extension of approximately 18 inches, creating the "Long Tail Racer." The ship was painted with "I.F." on the cowl for Intestinal Fortitude and the same cartoon "Filaloola Bird" was painted on the side of the fuselage as it was on their successful Model YW. It was decided to save time by not to repairing the R-1 wings, but to use the original wings from the R-2, which had been removed in February 1933 when new wings with flaps were built and installed. The R-1/2, or "Longtail" aircraft carried race number 11 because the R-2's original wings were already painted as Number 11 and the repaired fuselage had to be repainted anyhow. This aircraft then crashed in a landing overrun incident soon after it was built, but Roy Minor, the pilot, was not severely injured. The damage was not severe but there was no money left for repairs. The unrepaired Long Tail Racer was sold to Cecil Allen before the Sheriff's bankruptcy auction ended the Granville Brothers company. Allen renamed the ship "Spirit of Right", built an entirely new wing with a different airfoil and added a new rear fuel tank for the long distance Bendix race. Former Granville Bros. chief engineer "Pete" Miller wrote to Allen warning for him never to put fuel in the rear tank as it would move the center of gravity far to the rear and make the ship too tail heavy to be flown. It is unlikely Allen ever attempted a fully fueled takeoff before the start of the race. In 1935 Allen started the 2,043 mile, Burbank to Cleveland Bendix Trophy race with all tanks full, wallowed off into the morning fog, crashed in a field just beyond the runway and was killed instantly. In spite of all the fuel, there was no fire. After this final crash, the aircraft was never rebuilt.[7][8]


Gee Bee R2 replica flown by Delmar Benjamin at Oshkosh 2001

Non-flying replicas of the R-1 have been built at the New England Air Museum and the San Diego Air & Space Museum using original plans for the aircraft.[9] Another is displayed at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History at the Springfield Museums.[10] A flying replica of the R-2 was built by Steve Wolf and Delmar Benjamin that first flew in 1991.[11] Benjamin flew an aerobatic routine in this aircraft at numerous airshows until he retired the aircraft in 2002.[12] This aircraft was sold to Fantasy of Flight in 2004 and is on display in OrLampa, Florida.[13]

Specifications (Gee Bee Super Sportster R-1)[edit]

Gee Bee Super Sportster 3-view drawing from L'Aerophile Salon 1932

Data from "The Influence of Racing Types on Commercial Aircraft Design"[14]

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1
  • Length: 17 ft 8 in (5.38 m)
  • Wingspan: 25 ft 0 in (7.62 m)
  • Height: 8 ft 2 in (2.48 m)
  • Wing area: 75 sq ft (6.97 m2)
  • Airfoil: NACA M6 (modified)
  • Empty weight: 1,840 lb (834 kg)
  • Gross weight: 2,415 lb (1,095 kg)
  • Max takeoff weight: 3,075 lb (1,394.8 kg)Aspect ratio: 6.1
  • Incidence: 2.5 Degrees
  • Powerplant: 1 × Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp 1,344 cubic inch (22 l) displacement Air Cooled 9 cylinder radial, 800 hp (596.5 kW)


  • Maximum speed: 294.38 mph (473.8 km/h, 255.81 kn)
  • Cruise speed: 260 mph (418.4 km/h, 230 kn)
  • Stall speed: 90 mph (144 km/h, 78 kn)
  • Range: 925 mi (1,488 km, 804 nmi) 630 miles, full throttle
  • full throttle: 2.14 hours
  • cruising: 3.65 hours

Note that the 1932 R-2 was identical to the 1932 R-1 except that it used a smaller 550 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior nine cylinder radial powerplant, with its smaller engine cowling, as the aircraft was designed primarily as a cross-country racer and also had the larger fuel capacity of 302 gals. (1,143 l) to increase its range between fuel stops. The gross weight of the R-2 with full tanks was 3,883 lbs. (1,761 Kg). In 1933, the R-2 was modified with the more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1340 Wasp and its cowling from the 1932 R-1 which was uprated for 1933 with the bigger, more powerful Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet. Other 1933 R-2 modifications included a new thicker wing with a longer span of 27.8 ft. for an area=104 sq.ft, and Granville's 2-piece, double hinged flaps to aid in getting in and out of very short runways with a full fuel load. The landing speed of the R-2 was cut from 100 mph to around 65. Both racers also got an aluminum extension to their rudder.[15][16]



  1. ^
  2. ^ Haffke 1989, p. 99.
  3. ^ Robert H. Granville, Sport Aviation, December 1976, "The '7' & '11' Gee Bee"
  4. ^ Robert H. Granville, Sport Aviation, December 1976, "The '7' & '11' Gee Bee"
  5. ^ Robert H. Granville, Sport Aviation, December 1976, "The '7' & '11' Gee Bee"
  6. ^ Gilbert 1978, p.t 67.
  7. ^ Graves, Darrell and Brener,Scott H. "The Gee Bee 'R-1' and 'R-2'.", via Retrieved: December 22, 2010.
  8. ^ O’Leary, Michael Air Classics, Jan 2006, "ILL-FATED HYBRID"
  9. ^ Wolf, Steve. "Gee Bee Super Sportster". EAA Sport Aviation, March 1992.
  10. ^ Springfield Museums
  11. ^ Benjamin, Delmar. "Flying The Gee Bee R-2". EAA Sport Aviation, March 1992.
  12. ^ Bernier, Robert. "Bring Back the Brute." Air & Space Magazine, March 1, 2009.
  13. ^ Beckett, Jamie. "Gee Bee And Delmar Plan New Lives Apart.", January 21, 2004. Retrieved: September 18, 2011.
  14. ^ Granville, Z.D. "The Influence of Racing Types on Commercial Aircraft Design." Aero Digest magazine, July 1933.
  15. ^ Bowers 1965, pp. 33, 35.
  16. ^ Robert H. Granville Sport Aviation February 1977, "The Gee Bee in '33"


  • Benjamin, Delmar and Steve Wolf. Gee Bee. Osceola, Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Co., 1993. ISBN 0-87938-820-X.
  • Bowers, Pete M. The Gee Bee Racers, Number 51. Leatherhead, Surrey, UK: Profile Publications Ltd., 1965.
  • Granville, J.I. Farmers Take Flight. Springfield, Massachusetts: Copy Cat Print Shop, 2000. ISBN 0-9702493-1-4.
  • Gilbert, James. The World's Worst Aircraft. Philadelphia, PA: Coronet Books, 1978. ISBN 0-340-21824-X.
  • Haffke, Henry A. Gee Bee: The Real Story of the Granville Brothers and Their Marvelous Airplanes. Colorado Springs, Colorado: VIP Publishers, Inc., 1989. ISBN 0-934575-04-5.
  • Mendenhall, Charles A. and Tom Murphy. The Gee Bee Racers: A Legacy of Speed. North Branch, Minnesota: Specialty Press, 1994. ISBN 0-933424-05-1.
  • Schmid, S.H. and Truman C. Weaver. The Golden Age of Air Racing: Pre-1940, 2nd rev. edition (EAA Historical Series). Osceola, Wisconsin: MBI Publishing Co., 1991. ISBN 0-940000-00-8.
  • Those Incredible Gee Bees (VHS 60 min). Springfield, Massachusetts: Studio 16, 1992.
  • Winchester, Jim. The World's Worst Aircraft: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. London: Amber Books Ltd., 2005. ISBN 1-904687-34-2.

External links[edit]