Gee Bee Model R

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Gee Bee Model R
Reproduction of the Gee Bee R-1 at the New England Air Museum.
RoleRacing aircraft
National originUnited States of America
ManufacturerGranville Brothers Aircraft
DesignerHowell W. "Pete" Miller, Zantford Granville
First flight13 August 1932
Developed fromGee Bee Model Z
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Gee Bee Model R
Reproduction of the Gee Bee R-1 at the New England Air Museum.
RoleRacing aircraft
National originUnited States of America
ManufacturerGranville Brothers Aircraft
DesignerHowell W. "Pete" Miller, Zantford Granville
First flight13 August 1932
Developed fromGee Bee Model Z

The Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster was a special purpose racing aircraft made by Granville Brothers Aircraft of Springfield, Massachusetts. Gee Bee stands for Granville Brothers.


Design and development

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[1] 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 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). 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. In addition, it turned out that the fuselage acted as an airfoil, just like the 'lifting-body' designs of the 1960s. This allowed the aircraft to make tight "knife-edge" turns without losing altitude. It was, in effect, a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine with wings and a tail on it.

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

Operational history

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. The distinction of a landplane record was noteworthy because, at that time, specialized speed seaplanes outran landplanes (see Schneider Trophy). The Springfield Union 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."

The R-1 rapidly earned a reputation as a potentially very dangerous machine. The small wings, very low polar moment of inertia, and tiny control surfaces made for an aircraft that could rapidly get away from all but the most skilled pilots.[2] This shortcoming was common to most air racers of the day. During the 1933 Bendix Trophy race, racing pilot Russell Boardman was killed, flying Number 11. After taking off from a refueling stop in Indianapolis, Indiana, the R-1 stalled, caught a wingtip and crashed.[3]

The R-1 was later repaired and now incorporated a fuselage extension of approximately 18 inches, creating the "Long Tail Racer." It was decided not to rebuild the wings but to use the original wings from the R-2, which had been removed in February 1933 when a new wing with flaps was built and installed. This aircraft crashed in a landing overrun incident soon after it was built but, Roy Minor, the pilot, was not severely injured. After another rebuild, the Long Tail Racer was sold to Cecil Allen. Allen, against the advice of the Granvilles, modified it by installing larger gas tanks aft of center, which apparently made the aircraft unstable in pitch. Allen took off with a full fuel tank, crashed, and was killed. After this final crash, the aircraft was never rebuilt.[4]


Gee Bee R2 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.[5] A flying replica of the R-2 was built by Steve Wolf and Delmar Benjamin that first flew in 1991.[6] Benjamin flew an aerobatic routine in this aircraft at numerous airshows until he retired the aircraft in 2002.[7] This aircraft was put on display the Fantasy of Flight in Polk City Florida in 2004.[8]

Specifications (Gee Bee Super Sportster R-1)

Data from "The Influence of Racing Types on Commercial Aircraft Design"[9]

General characteristics


Note that the R-2 originally used a 550 hp Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior nine cylinder radial powerplant, as the aircraft was designed primarily as a cross-country racer with increased tankage that did not require the larger 800 hp Wasp. In 1933, the R-2 was modified for close circuit racing and was fitted with the more powerful engine and cowling of the R-1 version. Other modifications included a larger wing, equipped with flaps.[10]

Notable appearance in media

The 1991 film The Rocketeer opens with a test flight (and crash sequence) using a Gee Bee (Model Z) aircraft. Another Gee Bee appears, in a static sequence, at the end of the film.


  1. ^ Haffke 1989, p. 99.
  2. ^ Gilbert 1978, pp. 68–69.
  3. ^ Gilbert 1978, p. 67.
  4. ^ Graves, Darrell and Scott Brenner. "The Gee Bee 'R-1' and 'R-2'.", via Retrieved: December 22, 2010.
  5. ^ Wolf, Steve. "Gee Bee Super Sportster". EAA Sport Aviation, March 1992.
  6. ^ Benjamin, Delmar. "Flying The Gee Bee R-2". EAA Sport Aviation, March 1992.
  7. ^ Bernier, Robert. "Bring Back the Brute." Air & Space Magazine, March 1, 2009.
  8. ^ Beckett, Jamie. "Gee Bee And Delmar Plan New Lives Apart.", January 21, 2004. Retrieved: September 18, 2011.
  9. ^ Granville, Z.D. "The Influence of Racing Types on Commercial Aircraft Design." Aero Digest magazine, July 1933.
  10. ^ Bowers 1965, pp. 33, 35.
  • 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