Unusual, that’s what comes to mind when looking at the Gee Bee Model R. Built by the Granville Brothers Aircraft of Springfield, Massachussets, this airplane was a purpose air racer design and was the successor of the Thompson Trophy winning Model Z. Featuring a big fuselage for very tiny wings and a huge cowling, this was the result of three days of wind tunnel testing at the NYU in 1931 with aeronautical professor Alexander Klemin.
The basic concept was the teardrop shaped fuselage for lower drag resulting in the fuselage being wider at the wing attachment point than at the engine. Another unusual bit was the cockpit being located at the very far back just before the vertical stabilizer/fin in order to give the best vision possible to the pilot. Once put together, it was found that the body/fuselage also generated lift which allowed the airplane to make very tight “knife-edge” turns. A very good point for a pylon racing plane. All that was powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340 engine.
The design proved effective and the Gee Bee R-1 as it was then called went on to win the 1932 Thompson Trophy with pilot Jimmy Doolittle at the controls. The plane would also set a new world landplane record of 296 mph / 476 km/h in the Shell Speed Dash. Even if loved by Doolittle, the plane was referenced as dangerous for many pilots with many crashes and rebuild as well as Russell Boardman death during the 1933 Bendix Trophy Race. After the 5th major accident, it was decided not to rebuild it as it would be too dangerous to race.
The R-1 was later repaired and now incorporated a fuselage extension of approximately 18 inches, creating the “Long Tail Racer.” It was decided not to rebuild the wings but to use the original wings from the R-2, which had been removed in February 1933 when a new wing with flaps was built and installed. This aircraft crashed in a landing overrun incident soon after it was built but Roy Minor, the pilot, was not severely injured. After another rebuild, the Long Tail Racer was sold to Cecil Allen. Allen, against the advice of the Granvilles, modified it by installing larger gas tanks aft of its normal center of gravity, which apparently made the aircraft unstable in pitch from tail-heaviness. Allen took off with a full fuel tank, crashed, and was killed. After this final crash, the aircraft was never rebuilt.
But anyway, a brilliant design and a fantastic machine. We will stick to Jimmy Doolittle and his own words about the plane : “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 stuff in it yet. I think this proves that the Granville brothers up in Springfield build the very best speed ships in America today.”