Granville Gee Bee (Series) High Performance Racing Aircraft
The Granville Gee Bee series was the quintessential air racer of the 1930s - though she proved to be quite dangerous to her own pilots.
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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.