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13th of August 1937

If one historic aircraft stands out by its appearance and its size in combination with its speed it is the Granville Gee Bee Model R Super Sportster, or as it is better known the Gee Bee Racer. It made its first flight on this day in aviation history in 1932.

Gee Bee R-1 replica at New England Air Museum Windsor Locks CT. USA


It was designed and built by a company named Granville Brothers Aircraft from Massachusetts, USA. The designation of the aircraft comes from the company name Gee Bee from the phonetically pronounced first letters of the company name. After their success in the 1931 Model Z aircraft that won them the Thompson Trophy, the company chief engineer (Howell Miller) and Zantford Granville went to the New York university wind tunnel to research a new racer. After 3 days of testing the conclusion was that a droplet shape fuselage had the lowest resistance.

This led to an aircraft that had a fuselage that had the largest diameter at the wing to fuselage joint, wider than the engine cowling. The cockpit was located just forward of the tail section, for better visibility during turns during air races. Two aircraft would be built the R-1 and the R-2. The 1932 R-2 was identical to the 1932 R-1 except that it used a smaller 550 hp (410 kW) Pratt & Whitney R-985 Wasp Junior nine-cylinder radial powerplant, with a narrower engine cowling, as the aircraft was intended primarily as a cross-country racer with a larger fuel capacity of 302 US gal (1,140 l; 251 imp gal) to increase the distance between fuel stops


In the same year as its first flight, the R-1 won the Thompson Trophy air race, piloted by Jimmy Doolittle (the would be US Air Force General, famous for the WW II mission with B-25’s taking off from an aircraft carrier). During the Thompson Trophy, he set a landplane speed record of 257 knots (296 mph / 576 kph) in the “Shell Speed Dash”. After the race, Doolittle praised the aircraft for its speed, reliability and handling. During the years following the Gee Bee racer got the reputation of being a dangerous machine, although most racing aircraft of that era suffered from that reputation. Inherent to the way all aircraft were operated during these air races. Several crash landings and other mishaps led to several rebuilds. In 1935 the aircraft participated in the Burbank (California) to Cleveland (Ohio) air race, a 1775 nm (3288 km) flight. This required the aircraft to have all its fuel tanks filled to capacity. The pilot was warned that this would cause the Center of Gravity to be too far aft, and be uncontrollable in pitch. He still took off with all tanks filled and crashed just past the end of the runway. There was no post-crash fire but the aircraft was not rebuilt. Several replicas have been built for display purposes, one flying replica of the R-2 has been built and it participated in numerous air shows between 1991 and 2002, after which it was retired.

Specifications of the Gee Bee Racer

General characteristics

  • Crew: 1

  • Length: 17 ft 8 in (5.38 m)

  • Wingspan: 25 ft 0 in (7.62 m)

  • Height: 8 ft 2 in (2.48 m)

  • Wing area: 75 sq ft (6.97 m2)

  • Airfoil: NACA M6 (modified)

  • Empty weight: 1,840 lb (834 kg)

  • Gross weight: 2,415 lb (1,095 kg)

  • Max takeoff weight: 3,075 lb (1,394.8 kg)

  • Fuel capacity: 160 US gal (610 l)

  • 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)

Performance

  • Maximum speed: 294.38 mph (473.8 km/h, 255.81 kn)

  • Cruise speed: 260 mph (418.4 km/h, 230 kn)

  • Stall speed: 90 mph (144 km/h, 78 kn)

  • Range: 925 mi (1,488 km, 804 nm) 630 miles, full throttle

  • full throttle: 2.14 hours

  • cruising: 3.65 hours


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