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Individuals' Accounts of the Gee Bee R-1
I'd like to point out an omission from your website node, Gee Bee R-1 and to share some of my family history from this era of aviation.
I ran across the omission in pulling together a talk for some kids in the local Civil Air Patrol chapter. I am the grand nephew of Pete Miller, one of the designers of the Gee Bee R-1.
In the website you state that Bob Hall was the designer of the GeeBee airplanes. This is only partially true. The red and white Gee Bee R-1 was not Hall's design. Hall helped to design the yellow and dark blue 'City of Springfield' Gee Bee model Z. I imagine this design was a collaboration between Hall and Zantford 'Grannie' Granville. Grannie was the driving force behind the Gee Bee aircraft. When my great-uncle began work for the Granville Brothers, Bob Hall had left the Gee Bee company. In my great uncle's words, "I found that Grannie and Bob Hall had had a disagreement of a sort and that Bob had left the organization to found his own company, (Springfield Aviation)..." Apparently, Bob Hall and Pete as well as the other brothers continued to exchange ideas with each other, but not around Grannie. Bob went on to design the Springfield Bulldog air-racer that year.
In addition to Grannie and my great-uncle, Don Delackner joined the GeeBee company. They were the Gee Bee R-1, R-2 and subsequent Gee Bee designers. Both Don and Pete were trained in aeronautical sciences; they were truly part of the first class of aeronautical engineers. My uncle held Grannie with the utmost regard. I remember him talking fondly of Grannie's penchant for practical jokes and his innate understand of aircraft design. He believed Grannie to be a mechanical design genius.
From those early and much more dangerous days of aviation there is much to learn, to be awestruck and humbled. And there is much to inspire the young people of today. We should strive to record these 'golden' days of aviation accurately.
Stories about my great uncle were a big part of my choice to pursue aviation in my career. I currently work at NASA in the area of high-speed propulsion. Perhaps your website may influence the future generations.
Don DeLackner, Allen Morse, and Howell W. "Pete" Miller collectively designed all the R series Gee Bee racers (i.e., R-1, R-2, R-5, and R-6 "Q.E.D.") and "Time Flies", not Robert "Bob" Hall. Hall designed the earlier Model No. 4 ("Z") which Lowell Bayles crashed to his death due to an aileron flutter problem causing the rear spar on the right wing to fail, the Senior Sportster Models YW and YL, and the Junior Sportster Models X, B, C, D, E, and F (the D and E being CAA certificated via ATCs 398 and 404).
The only complete surviving examples of the Gee Bee airplanes are a Model A biplane in the New England Air Museum, and the Model R-6H "Q.E.D." located in Ciudad Lerdo, Mexico. Also remaining is the right wing off of the Model E Sportster NC 856Y in which Zantford Granville crashed and died which was later restored by the Granvilles for installation on Bill Walter's Model E NX 72V after an airshow accident damaged the right wing of NX 72V. This wing is in the EAA Museum in Oshkosh, WI.
The R-1 dimensions were as follows:
Wing span: 25 feet
Length: 17 feet 8 inches
Doolittle set a new land plane speed record of 296 mph in the R-1 at the 1932 Cleveland Air Race's Shell Speed Dash.
David B. Jackson, Owner
Model D Sportster NC 11043
[The following is a combination of two emails from the same person.]
For too many years the Gee Bee story has been the providence of hack writers repeating each other's inaccurate stories of "deadly" and "killer" planes. There are also several aviators who want to boast that they were able to tame a "killer" airplane. The Granvilles were professionals who built as good and as safe an airplane as it was humanly possible and they deserve better from history. Let me begin with the very first sentence:
"To look at the only surviving example of a Gee Bee Sportster of the early 1930s..." There simply are NO surviving examples of ANY of the Gee Bee Sportsters. The Granvilles only built 8 Sportsters, 2 Senior Sportsters and 3 Super Sportsters. They are all gone. There are several replicas now flying and even a full-size, non-flying museum copy of the R-1. Delmar Benjamin's 1932 R-2 replica was completed in 1991. He flies it in air shows across the country and has over 1,200 hours on it without any accidents. It has been flown at the Paris air show and this year he intends to be flying it in air shows in Japan and Germany. His airshow act includes many aerobatic maneuvers which "Grannie" would never have approved of including a low-level, inverted ribbon-cutting.
"Designed by engineer Robert Hall..." Your illustration GEEBEE.JPG is of the 1932 Model R-1 (Doolittle's record setter). Bob Hall had nothing to do with this design having left the Granville brothers at the end of 1931 to start his own company. After 1931 Howell "Pete" Miller was the chief designer. He graduated as an aeronautical engineer out of New York University in 1926 and had been worked for such aircraft companies as Huff-Daland (later known as Keystone) and Fairchild. In 1932 Miller was assisted by Don de Lackner, Allen Morse and also Zantford Granville. Miller and Granville also got help from Dr. Alexander Klemin of N.Y.U. during their 3 days of wind tunnel tests on the 1932 Super Sportster design. Mr. Hall helped design the Sportsters, the Senior Sportsters and first Super Sportster the 1931 Model Z. His Springfield Aircraft lost the competition to build the 1932 racers for S.A.R.A. to the Granvilles. He found sponsorship from the Guggenheims, but wound up buying the plane back. His gull-winged "Bulldog" was powered by the same 750 hp P&W Wasp engine as the Gee Bee R-1, but at Cleveland it suffered problems either with the carburetor or the controllable-pitch prop. In the Thompson it finished a disappointing 6th place. A short while later it was disassembled and never flown again.
"The Gee Bee made its racing debut in 1931 Thompson Trophy Race..." The Bob Hall designed Model Z debuted at the 1931 National Air Races, but the 110 h.p. Sportster Model X competed in the 1930 All American Flying Derby. Lowell Bayles finished second to Lee Gehlbach. It was his experience in this grueling 5,541 mile race that convinced Bayles to become the majority stockholder in the Springfield Air Racing Association (S.A.R.A.) which built the Model Z for the 1931 National Air Races.
"the stub-winged speedster demonstrated both its speed and its lethal characteristics" No one will ever know for sure what caused Bayles to crash, but the Granvilles were convinced that the gas cap had flown off and crashed through the plastic canopy. Bayles was either killed outright or stunned and jerked the control suddenly which caused the wing failure. In response to this the 1932 Super Sportsters had internal gas caps, bullet-proof windscreens and wings covered with plywood. The Granvilles vowed that no wing would ever fail on their airplanes ever again.
"the following year one of the Granville brothers died when his Gee Bee crashed during takeoff" Zantford 'Grannie' Granville died in 1934 while attempting to LAND at the Spartanburg, SC in his 90 hp Sportster Model E. He found the runway blocked by workers repairing it. His engine quit as he attempted to go around. He died in avoiding those men on the ground and not because of any defect in his airplane.
"but flying the tricky aircraft in competition was too much for Doolittle, who then retired from air racing." Doolittle says in his autobiography that he retired after seeing the "paparazzi" of the day filming his wife and young sons in the stands. They were hoping to catch a fatal, fiery crash and a distraught family. He finally realized just what he was putting his poor family through and was repulsed by the blood-lust of the media. Doolittle sent the following letter to the Granvilles Sept. 7, 1932 following his 1932 Thompson victory.
Just a note to tell you that the big G.B. functioned perfectly in both the Thompson Trophy and the Shell Speed Dash.
With sincere best wishes for your continued success, I am as ever.
The Springfield Union newspaper of Sept. 6, 1932 quotes Doollittle as follows: "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 good stuff in it yet. I think that this proves the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today."
The 1933 crash of the R-2 resulted from a flaps-up, sideslip landing by Jimmy Haizlip, an experienced air racer who should have known better. He dropped a wing and cartwheeled three times down the runway at around 100 mph. He emerged without a scratch. The rebuilt R-1 was crashed by Roy Minor, another experienced air race pilot. He overshot the runway and slid off into a drainage ditch. The plane stood on its nose, then leaped over the airport fence ending up on its gear. Once again the pilot emerged without a scratch. The plane was repairable. But S.A.R.A. had had enough and decided to quit. The assets of the Granville Brothers Aircraft Co. were sold at bankruptcy auction that Fall including the nearly complete 6 passenger commercial job, Model C-6 (never completed). It was the Great Depression that killed the Gee Bee company and not the quality of their airplanes.
For a good place to start looking for the real Gee Bee story, try Henry Haffke's book "Gee Bee" or June Granville's "Farmers Take Flight". Also my friend Darrell Graves maintains an excellent web site with some of the articles that "Grannie" wrote at: http://www.geocities.com/CapeCanaveral/Lab/4515/index3.html
[The following is another email from the same person.]
JAMES G. HAIZLIP
PACIFIC PALISADES, CALIFORNIA
April 27, 1980
Mr. Henry Haffke
Vineland New Jersey 08360
Thank you for your letter of April 17 and the fine photo of your flying model of the Gee Bee Racer It is a beautiful replica and looking at it takes me back to those days many years ago at Cleveland and Springfield when a few of us were in and around the original full-scale articles.
Reading of your childhood I am tempted to reminisce at length about the first time I met the Granville Brothers and their sponsors, the Tait family, one cold damp Sunday afternoon at the original Springfield Airport in May of 1930 when I had been requested by our Eastern Division a the Shell Oil Company to represent the Company by flying our Shell Travel Air Mystery S in the coming week's New England Air tour.
During the next eight days I became well acquainted with the Granvilles, especially Zantford who was nearer my age, and Lowell Bayles who, at the time, was emerging into a pretty sharp pilot. Since from your account you were in the three-year old age bracket at the time much of the detail of that event must have escaped your notice. Some good write ups of the day-to-day activity appeared in the Boston Transcript of that week; written by one of their better reporters who accompanied the Tour For my part, I returned the little Travel Air to our home base at St Louis, but continued to meet Zantford and his brothers at the Cleveland and Chicago air races during the next three years.
About my brief but memorable experience f lying the Gee Bee No. 7; were I to repeat my introductory flights in the light of what I learned later I'm sure the outcome would be different Unmistakably it was a good airplane. I can see now that had I been less sure of myself in believing that I could jump into a strange single seater with slightly less than what we regarded conventional configuration, and start right away demonstrating sideslip landings over obstacles, the airplane and I would have had a longer and less embarrassing association.
Actually, by the time I was making my third landing that warm windless July morning at Bowles Agawam Airport after ferrying No. 7 up from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, where Russell Thaw had left it. I had adapted, so I thought, to the slight handling differences the other experimental racers that I had flown, and was prepared to shoot a few more landings of the kind I might have to make should it be necessary to get into a short field.
I had been on the round at Burbank Airport the before and watched Lee Gehlbach make four passes at the north/south runway before almost overshooting on his final landing. That scene had lingered in my mind and! think that cockiness on my part prompted me to try to prove that all hat space wasn't necessary just to land. My considerable flight time in the Travel Air S in the summer of '30 and my Wedell-Williams experience two years later spliced on to many dozens of landings with Nieuports and Moranes during the war years in France, made me a devotee of that form of getting a small airplane into a short field. My short stature made a sideslip a good way to have a clear look at the ground right down to the last few feet below the wheels. The essential move at the last before touchdown was to rudder into any drift resulting from the sideslip so that wheels (and the tail skid, in the case of a three-point landing) would be moving straight with the ground racing below. That was a carry over from the days of no brakes with which to correct a possible ground loop.
This time at Springfield, I decided to use the least possible length of field for this particular landing. The no-wind condition would be a good test My big mistake, as I re-live the moment was that I hadn't practiced stalls and a few kicks back and forth without the trailing edge flaps. Those had been recently installed when the Wasp Junior had been replaced with the big Wasp.
As I've told on more than one occasion, everything smoothly over the boundary trees, with the airspeed comfortably above stall and the airplane and I were speeding just above sod at an indicated 110 mph when I gave a final and maybe too vigorous kick to the right rudder to correct the last leftward drift. Had the airplane and I been a few thousand feet up I would have just had a momentary surprise and would have set about to learn some more of its unique characteristics in a nose high stall. But like poor Russ Boardman in No. 11 at Indianapolis, we were near the round for such a sudden surprise.
The rest is history: an all too short one at that. The sequence as I recall it was that with the wheels no more than two feet off the ground the left wing tip slapped the turf with enough force to jerk the whole airplane sideways. The forward ground speed, still at least 100 mph, snatched off both landing gear struts then the right wing. By this time the propeller and engine dug in and tumbled the rest of the wreckage into a forward somersault This disposed the entire empennage, the fuselage, engine, 150 gallons of fuel and a cringing pilot came to rest on the airplane's right side blocking the little access door During the tumbling sequence I hadn't been able to reach the ignition switch, so my immediate preoccupation was getting clear before the fuel might flash. The space directly behind the pilot's seat was an open array of fairing strips like the top of a large unfinished willow basket. When I popped the transparent canopy overhead to go out that way, I couldn't squeeze through until I unstrapped the three parachute straps and went out clean.
After a short dash to be in the clear in case of fire, I took stock of the results. I had one scratched elbow where I'd braced my bare arm against the side of the cockpit, and a small nick in my forehead where the flap control crank below the instrument panel had met it as! ducked for cover. The instrument panel, by design placed far enough forward to miss the pilot's head, hadn't touched me. A three inch welt across my thighs like a heavy sun burn gave proof to what had held me in the saddle. But as the fellows dashed down from the hangar almost a half mile away it was a terribly crestfallen pilot that had to tell Zantford Granville that he didn't really mean to bend his nice airplane.
My wife's experience with one of the smaller Gee Bees was confined to one race at Cleveland in 1931. Zantford came to us hurriedly one afternoon and asked if Mary would fly one of their airplanes in a Woman's Race. We were across the field from the starting line and the race was due to start in less than ten minutes. One of the boys taxied the Gee Bee across while we went by car. I showed Mary the ignition switch and the throttle and reminded her that after the race there was plenty of fuel to fly a little familiarization before landing which it turned out she didn't need. She placed in the race ahead of the other identical Gee Bee and turned the airplane back to the Granvilles in perfect condition. That year she had competed in seven different race events for women and had flown six different airplanes in them including one of her own that she flew in the Coast-to-Coast Derby. In all the contests she entered she placed either first or second to the delight and admiration of the other airplane owners.
Summing up the little bit I teamed about the senior Gee Bees, I'd say that they were remarkable examples of forward looking design, but because of the unusually large diameter fuselage in proportion to its length, it had stall characteristics that merited more study than the urgency of the times and the availability of funds permitted. In those days of un-subsidized experimental aircraft development, the builders working most of the time without precedent or example to follow had to have more than the genius that some like the Granvilles and Bob Hall displayed. They needed pilots who could keep up with the advanced designs, since a pilot, no matter how willing had no simulator to practice on before he tried the finished article. Whether he would admit it or not, he was constantly having his experience and skill challenged. Altogether, it was stimulating and fun when you could win, and for those of us who have survived a pleasant experience now that it has been mellowed by time.
Mary and I wish you the best for your Gee Bee book and if I can be of further assistance (within the limits of the time at my disposal) let me hear from you again.
James G. Haizlip
[The following is yet another email by Scott Brener.]
[The following is yet another combination of two emails sent by Scott Brener.]
The preceding information was provided by Dave Saunders, David B. Jackson, and Scott Brener.
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