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). Gee Bee stands for Granville Brothers.
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 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.
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 (e.g. the Macchi M.C.72 with over 700 km/h). 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. 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, and crashed.
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 its normal center of gravity, which apparently made the aircraft unstable in pitch from tail-heaviness. Allen took off with a full fuel tank, crashed, and was killed. After this final crash, the aircraft was never rebuilt.
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. Another is displayed at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History at the Springfield Museums. A flying replica of the R-2 was built by Steve Wolf and Delmar Benjamin that first flew in 1991. Benjamin flew an aerobatic routine in this aircraft at numerous airshows until he retired the aircraft in 2002. This aircraft was sold to and is on display at the Fantasy of Flight in Polk City Florida in 2004.
Data from "The Influence of Racing Types on Commercial Aircraft Design"
General characteristicsCrew: 1
Length: 17 ft 8 in (5.38 m)
Wingspan: 25 ft (7.62 m)
Height: 8 ft 2 in (2.48 m)
Wing area: 75 ft² (6.97 m²)
Empty weight: 1840 lbs (834 kg)
Loaded weight: 2,415 lbs (1,095 kg)
Max. takeoff weight: 3075 lbs (1394.8 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)
PerformanceMaximum speed: 294.38 mph (473.8 km/h)
Cruise speed: 260 mph (418.4 km/h)
Stall speed: 90 mph (144 km/h)
Range: 925 miles (1488 km) 630 miles, full throttle
full throttle: 2.14 hours
cruising: 3.65 hours
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 closed-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.
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.