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Granville Gee Bee Racer (Series) High Performance Racing Aircraft (1931)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 7/8/2015

The Granville Gee Bee series was the quintessential air racer of the 1930s - though she proved to be quite dangerous to her own pilots.

Picture of Granville Gee Bee Racer (Series)
The Gee Bee (deriving its name from a shortened form of "Granville Brothers") racers became the unofficial symbol of the "Golden Age" of flight during the interwar years. Its unique design and high-speed performance allowed it to take part in many of the air races that treated fans to something more than what was to be found in the Great Depression. The collapse of world markets all but killed the sport plane business, forcing many smaller aircraft firms to take a turn in designing and producing new implements suitable for air racing - and the prize money inherent in such competition. The Granville line of racers proved quite the success for the little Granville company.

Granville Brothers Aircraft was a relatively small aircraft repair business based out of Springfield, Massachusetts. It was led by five brothers - known collectively as "The Granville Brothers" hence "GB" or "Gee Bee" - consisting of Zantford (of Boston and founder of the company), Thomas, Robert, Mark and Edward. The firm came into existence in 1929 and actively operated until 1934 to which the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. Despite their collapse, Granville racers were still airborne into the latter half of the 1930's with their most memorable models becoming the Gee Bee Z, R-1 and R-2 racers. Granville's aircraft designs operated from Springfield Airport in Massachusetts.

The Granville firm produced just 24 total aircraft during their time aloft. Sadly, many of these designs proved quite lethal in many trained hands and led to multiple crashes and a near multiple number of fatalities for her pilots. Their first production aircraft became a biplane design in the "Model A". Nine examples were ultimately produced with only one known to be surviving today - this at the New England Air Museum.

The Gee Bee racers were characterized by their thick stoutly fuselage designs 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 body contained the powerplant and fuel stores to which sat in front of the pilots cockpit, situated at the base of the vertical tail fin. Horizontal planes were visible as protrusions from either side of the vertical tail fin and mounted at the mid-way point of the fuselage sides. As low-mounted monoplanes, the main wings were straight and relatively small with slight dihedral and bracing handled by twin struts running up towards the upper forward fuselage and another pair running down to the faired-over static main landing gears. A simple tail wheel was usually fitted at the base of the empennage in all designs. The pilot was afforded relatively clear views above-forward and to his sides. Other than that, 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 no doubt forced the pilot to work harder than most - a far cry from the open-air cockpit designs appearing just years before.

Gee Bee design rationale revolved around fitting the most powerful engine available into the smallest airframe possible, with the airframe providing for reduced drag wherever possible. The fuselage was no wider than the engine itself and the lack of a true empennage saved both in weight and drag. The smallish control surfaces and seemingly unforgiving flight characteristics made sure that only experienced pilots need apply. The Gee Bee's airframe had a natural tendency to act as a lifting body, allowing for the racer to make breakneck turns around pylons while maintaining or gaining altitude as opposed to losing it. This design, as inherently beneficial as it might have been, also provided for some deadly flying experiences for many of her pilots. This story in itself is quite reminiscent of the development of the Lockheed F-84 Starfighter - a jet-powered fighter with short stub wings and a pencil-like fuselage. Though the speed was there, the system proved a lethal to fly, leading many to dub her as "The Widowmaker".

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Specifications for the
Granville Gee Bee Racer (Series)
High Performance Racing Aircraft

Focus Model: Granville Gee Bee Super Sportster R-1
Country of Origin: United States
Manufacturer: Granville Brothers Aircraft - USA
Initial Year of Service: 1931
Production Total: 15

Crew: 1

Length: 17.65 ft (5.38 m)
Width: 25.00 ft (7.62 m)
Height: 8.14ft (2.48 m)
Weight (Empty): 1,839 lb (834 kg)
Weight (MTOW): 3,073 lb (1,394 kg)

Powerplant: 1 x Pratt & Whitney Wasp TD3-1 air-cooled 9-cylinder radial piston engine developing 800 horsepower.

Maximum Speed: 294 mph (473 kmh; 255 kts)
Maximum Range: 925 miles (1,488 km)
Service Ceiling: 15,000 ft (4,572 m; 2.8 miles)
Rate-of-Climb: 6,100 feet-per-minute (1,859 m/min)

Hardpoints: 0
Armament Suite:

Model X "Sportster" - Single-Seat Racer; appearing in 1930; lost to accident in September 1931.

Model B "Sportster" - Fitted with Warner radial engine; single example produced; status unknown.

Model C "Sportster" - Fitted with Menasco inline piston engine; single example produced; lost to accident.

Model D "Sportster" - Fitted with Menasco inline piston engine; single example produced; lost to accident in July of 1936.

Model E "Sportster" - Fitted with Warner radial piston engines; four examples produced; all lost to accidents.

Model Y "Senior Sportster" - Two-Seater developed from the Model X; two examples produced, both lost to accident; first example fitted Warner radial engine; second example fitted Lycoming engine then Wright Whirlwind engine; second model lost to accident in 1933 race.

Model Z "Super Sportster"- Dedicated Racer; fitted with 1 x Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior radial engine of 535 horsepower; enclosed cockpit; lost to accident in December of 1931.

Model R-1 "Super Sportster" - Fitted with Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine of 800 horsepower; first flight August 1932; later fitted with 1 x Pratt & Whitney Hornet radial engine of 900 horsepower; single example produced; lost to accident on July 1st, 1933.

Model R-2 "Super Sportster" - Fitted with Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior radial engine of 550 horsepower; single example produced; lost to accident in 1933.

Model R-1/R-2 "Super Sportster" - "Mutt" Design utilizing remains of R-1 and R-2 models; fitting a Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine; single example produced; lost to accident in 1935.

Gee Bee QED - Fitting a Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine; single production example; crashed on June 7th, 1939; later rebuilt and set as a museum piece in Mexico.

United States