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To look at the only surviving example of a Gee Bee Sportster of the early 1930s, almost anyone would be convinced that the tiny aircraft could not possibly fly. But it did, and in fact, a Gee Bee with a supercharged 745-horsepower Wasp engine set a world speed record of 281.7 miles per hour. The Gee Bee took its name from the initials of the Granville Brothers, the firm that built the squat little racer.
Designed by engineer Robert Hall, the Gee Bee was built for speed. It was a scant 15 feet long, and its single low wing spanned only 22 feet, 6 inches. Any doubts about the Gee Bee's ability to get off, and stay off, the ground were well founded, for it carried its 2,280 pounds on only 75 square feet of wing area. Furthermore, the Gee Bee's tailfin and rudder were extremely small. Only the most expert pilots were capable of flying the unstable little racer, but it was fastest plane of its day.
The Gee Bee made its racing debut in 1931 Thompson Trophy Race (see Wings-The Golden Age). At the controls was daredevil pilot Lowell Bayles who won the event with an average speed of 236.24 miles per hour. Later Bayles set a new world speed record of 281.7 miles per hour in the racer but died when it crashed during his fourth speed run. Thus, the stub-winged speedster demonstrated both its speed and its lethal characteristics. Bayles was the first to lose life flying a Gee Bee, but he wasn't the last. In 1933 Russell Boardman lost his life at the controls of a Gee Bee during the Bendix cross-country race, and the following year one of the Granville brothers died when his Gee Bee crashed during takeoff.
One of those who learned to fly the Gee Bee lived to tell about it was Jimmy Doolittle. This great air racing pioneer later went on to lead a flight of B-25 bombers off the deck of an American aircraft carrier for the first aerial assault on Japan during World War II.
Doolittle won the coveted Thompson Trophy at the 1932 national average
speed of 252.68 miles per hour. This achievement demonstrated the the Gee Bee's
outstanding performance, but flying the tricky aircraft in competition was too much for
Doolittle, who then retired from air racing.
Some people believe that the information above is incorrect and have
sent us their
thoughts on the Gee Bees. To read different accounts of the history of the Gee Bee,
please go to the following: http://www.allstar.fiu.edu/aerojava/GEEBEER-1-2.htm.
The preceding information was extracted from the pamphlet,
"The Great Airplanes Sterling Silver Miniature Collection", published by The Franklin Mint, 1979.
Permission was granted to ALLSTAR by The Franklin Mint to use the preceding materials.
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Updated: March 12, 2004