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Gee Bee Model R: A Cute But Dangerous Airplane

The Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster is a classic airplane designed by Granville Brothers Aircraft of Springfield, Massachusetts, and built specifically for the 1932 Thompson Trophy Race. The airplane was billed as "the fastest and most maneuverable licensed airplane for its horsepower in the United States", and it kept up to its name winning the 1932 race for pilot Jimmy Doolittle, and setting a new world landplane speed record of 476 km/h. The Gee Bee Sportsters soon became a prized possession and were frequently shown off at airshows by their owners, attracting much attention wherever they appeared.

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The aircraft had a very peculiar design characterized by a thick stoutly fuselage complete with low-set monoplane wings and lack of a conventional empennage. The airframe was essentially built around the massive radial piston engine mounted at the extreme forward of the design. 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. However, his extreme rearward placement allowed the forward fuselage to block all forward-low views over and out past the engine. Similarly, the small cockpit window areas forced the pilot to work harder than most.

The Gee Bee Model R also had a natural tendency to lift, allowing for the racer to make breakneck turns around pylons while maintaining or gaining altitude as opposed to losing it. This design, although inherently beneficial, provided for some deadly flying experiences for many of her pilots. In fact, the airplane soon earned a reputation as a potentially dangerous machine. The smallish control surfaces, low polar moment of inertia and seemingly unforgiving flight characteristics made sure that only the most experienced pilots could get away from it.

The Granville aircrafts has a long history of crashes starting from earlier models - Model X, Model C, Model D, Model E, Model Y and Model Z, all of which ended with some catastrophe or the other killing many pilots in the process, including one of the Granville brother Z.D. Granville. Model R followed the same pattern. After the 5th major accident, it was decided that any further rebuilds would be pointless and potentially fatal for future pilots.

None of the original Gee Bee Sportster Series aircraft survive today. A flying replica of the R-2 was built by Steve Wolf and Delmar Benjamin who flew it in aerobatic routine at numerous airshows demonstrating what the misunderstood aircraft is capable in the hands of a pilot who understands its characteristics.

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Russell Boardman prior to first test flight of the Gee Bee Model R1. Boardman was later killed during the 1933 Bendix Trophy race when his R1 stalled and crashed. Photo credit

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Gee Bee Model R1 Super Sportster Photo credit

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Gee Bee Model R1 Super Sportster and it's pilot Jimmy Doolittle in 1932. Photo credit

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Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster. Photo credit

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Sources: Wikipedia / Air Racing History / HowStuffWorks / Military factory

2 comments:

  1. When Delmar talks about "a pilot who knows its characteristics", he is referring to the fact that at low speeds the ailerons reverse function. Commanding a left roll, for example, will produce a right roll. When landing the Gee Bee you need to maintain a certain speed to avoid this characteristic.

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  2. hi...

    im from poland...

    what i want to say is:

    in 1930 polish engineur
    Zygmunt Puławski
    was make your pzl p6 aircraft

    https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/PZL_P.6

    it was presented in paris and america...
    in 1931 it won American National Races in Cleveland...

    that was inspiration for american engineur bob HALL
    who was work with geebee airplanes...
    in 1932 he was make your BULL DOG aircraft...
    it was the inspiration for polish p24 aircraft...

    https://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/PZL_P.24

    pulawski died shortly after presentation in america
    in very oddly looking aircraft accident...
    in 1939 there was ww2 - you know...

    shortly before that he was make one not realized project...

    it was looking like geebee but in p6 and bulldog style...
    you know - high wing - similar fixed gear like in p6...
    general base for this construction was cylinder splashed on
    one end... they look like fish or somewhat... that was very
    budget construction... it was make because of supremation of
    german airforce in 1930s... just rectangular wing and tail,
    radial engine with 6-pistons - 150 KM or somewhat...
    3,2 m lengt, 3,2 m wing... without towend ring - like in
    your hot road cars... everything else like in p6 and geebee...
    vmax about 300 km/h... everything maked locally on very low cost
    - even the engine, gears - easy to make for amateurs with
    simply hardware!

    well... in my opinion we was one step to win ww2!
    2x50 kg of cargo under wing, bombs and rockets...
    but polish army was not interested... they just bay p6
    upgraded clones... eventually they was interested
    of super modern cosntruction like spitfire and hurricane...

    that was the mistake... in 1939 we was won fight but we lost the war...
    final score in the game with luftwaffe was 1,5:1... not enough
    unhelpfully... we could have 2500 p6/geebee/bulldog... instead of this
    we was have 350 p6,7,11,24...

    i think that pulawski p6/geebee/bulldog construction was much more
    better than geebee - with all due respect avcose...

    wing of bulldog and geebee are not properly fixed...
    they are fixed from upside and downside in 1-point...
    they should be like in oryginal p6 - 2-point fixed...
    because of something who aircraft engineurs call:
    aeroelasticall divergention of the wing or simply FLATTER...

    gears are not properly fixed to - geebee have that maked more properly
    while bulldog not...

    belive me or not - that design of pulawski looks very good,
    and much better than geebee... and it was very cheap...

    maybe i make one in some day...

    all that is just for your information only...

    have fun with wikipedia!

    with best regards...

    mgr ST

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKLMYZlbIb8


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