7 September 1931: Lowell Richard Bayles won the 1931 Thompson Trophy Race, flying the Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Model Z Supersportster, NR77V, named City of Springfield. The racer was painted black and yellow, and carried the race number “4” on its wings and fuselage. The air racer had qualified for the race with a two-way average speed of 267.342 miles per hour (430.245 kilometers per hour). Bayle’s average speed for the ten-lap pylon race was 236.239 miles per hour (380.190 kilometers per hour).
In addition to the Thompson Trophy, Lowell Bayles won $7,500 in prize money (equivalent to $120,653.29 in 2017). The second place pilot, James (“Jimmie”) Wedell, won $4,500, and third place went to Dale Jackson, for $2,000.
The Gee Bee Model Z was designed by aeronautical engineer Robert Leicester Hall. Bob Hall would later become the Chief Engineer and Chief Test Pilot for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. He was responsible for the design of Grumman’s F4F Wildcat, F6F Hellcat, F7F Tigercat, F8F Bearcat and F9F Panther and Cougar fighters, and the TBF Avenger torpedo bomber.
Bob Hall also competed in the 1931 Thompson race, flying a Gee Bee Y, number 54. He finished in fourth place, with a speed of 201.250 miles per hour (323.880 kilometers per hour).
Jimmy Doolittle had won the Bendix Trophy Race with the Laird Super Solution number 400, and been favored to win the Thompson Trophy Race as well. A failed piston forced him out during the seventh lap, however.
The Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Model Z Supersportster, serial number Z-1, was a one-of a kind racing airplane. It had first flown 22 August 1931 with its designer, Bob Hall, in the cockpit. The Gee Bee Z was a single-place, single-engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed landing gear and wire-braced wings. The Model Z was 15 feet, 1 inch (4.597 meters) long,with a wingspan of 23 feet, 6 inches (7.163 meters). Its empty weight was 1,400 pounds (635 kilograms) and maximum gross weight, 2,280 pounds (1,034 kilograms). The wings had a 3° angle of incidence and 4.5° dihedral. The total wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).
The Gee Bee Z was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 986.749-cubic-inch-displacement (16.170 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp Junior nine-cylinder direct-drive radial engine (the same engine which powered the winning Laird Super Solution in the 1930 Thompson Trophy Race). The engine was enclosed by a N.A.C.A. cowling, which both reduced aerodynamic drag and improved engine cooling. The Wasp Junior was modified by Pratt & Whitney to produce 535 horsepower at 2,400 r.p.m. It turned a fixed-pitch Curtiss propeller.
The Gee Bee Z had a cruise speed of 230 miles per hour (370 kilometers per hour), and maximum speed of 270 miles per hour (435 kilometers per hour).
3 September 1932: At the Cleveland National Air Races, James H. (“Jimmy”) Doolittle won the Thompson Trophy Race with his Granville Brothers Aircraft Company Gee Bee Supersportster R-1, NR2100.
He also set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Speed for Record Over a 3 Kilometer Course, averaging 473.82 kilometers per hour (294.42 miles per hour). ¹
The highest speed attained by Doolittle during his four passes over the 3-kilometer course was 497.352 kilometers per hour (309.040 miles per hour).
The New York Daily News reported:
DOOLITTLE FLASHES TO 296-PER RECORD
CLEVELAND, SEPT. 3. (AP).—Major James H. Doolittle today shattered the world land plane speed record by averaging 296.287 miles an hour over a three-kilometer course at the National Air races.
Denied in two previous attempts, he bested the eight-year mark held by Warrant Officer Bonnet of France by 17.807 miles an hour.
He made six dashes, of 293.047, 287.154. 309.040, 281.966, 306.990, and 283.156 miles an hour. By the rules, any four consecutive laps may be taken for the record and the second to fifth laps, inclusive, gave the highest average.
A Light Cross-Wind.
A five to six miles an hour cross-wind was blowing over the course as Major Doolittle, who also holds the American seaplane record, roared along in the snub-nosed Flying Silo which Russell Boardman, transatlantic flier, had planned to fly at the races.
Doolittle grinned broadly as he was informed of his new record when he landed.
“I’m contented with this,” he said happily. He will not attempt to set a faster record, at least for the time being.
His plane pumped oil part of the time, he said, and this may have cost him another five miles an hour. The splattering oil impaired his vision somewhat, but not seriously.
Ship Will Go Faster.
“The ship behaved wonderfully,” Doolittle said on landing, “but I still think there are five miles or more in it. But it’s Russ Boardman’s ship and I think it no more than right that he should be able to take it and get out of it all that he can.”
Today’s average bested the unofficial mark of 293.193 miles an hour Doolittle set Wednesday during the eclipse and was well above the 282.672 miles an hour in an official test with a barograph the following day.
Before the new record can become official, the barograph must be calibrated and the mark accepted by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, world governing body of sporting aviation, at Paris.
Description of Plane.
The plane used by Doolittle is a Gee Bee super-sportster. It has an 800-horsepower Wasp engine manufactured by the Pratt & Whitney Company, Hartford, Conn. The fuselage is streamlined from the engine, tapering to the knife-like rudder, just in front of which the pilot sits.
The three-kilometer course is distance of 9,844.5 feet, over which rules of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale require that the maximum altitude be seventy-five meters, or 244 feet.
There are approaches, 500 meters, or 1,620 feet, in distance, at each end of the course, in which level flight must be made.
The maximum height allowed before entering the approaches is 400 meters, or 1,320 feet, so that a dive of slightly more than 1,000 feet is permitted before entering upon the approaches to the course. The barograph is carried to check these altitudes. . . .
—SUNDAY NEWS, Vol. 12, No. 21, Sunday, 4 September 1932, Page 2, Columns 3 and 4, and Page 4, Column 1
The Gee Bee was a purpose-built racing airplane, designed by Robert Leicester Hall, who would later become the Chief Engineer for the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation. It was a very small airplane, with short wings and small control surfaces. It had gained a reputation as being very dangerous. A number of famous racers of the time were killed when they lost control of the Gee Bee. However, Doolittle had a different opinion: “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.”
The Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 was a single-seat, single engine, low-wing monoplane with fixed conventional landing gear. The airplane had been designed for a load factor of 12. It was 17 feet, 8 inches (5.385 meters) long with a wingspan of 25 feet, 0 inches (7.620 meters), and height of 8 feet, 2 inches (2.489 meters). The fuselage had a maximum diameter 5 feet, 1 inch (1.549 meters). The wings were wire-braced. The angle of incidence was 2.5° and there was 4.5° dihedral. The aspect ratio was 6:1, and the wing area was 75 square feet (7.968 square meters).
The R-1 had an empty weight of 1,840 pounds (834.6 kilograms), gross weight of 2,415 pounds (1,095.4 kilograms), and maximum takeoff weight of 3,075 pounds (1,394.8 kilograms).
The Gee Bee R-1 was powered by an air-cooled, supercharged, 1,343.80-cubic-inch-displacement (22.021 liter) Pratt & Whitney Wasp T3D1 nine-cylinder direct -drive radial engine. It was rated at 730 horsepower at 2,300 r.p.m. at Sea Level. The engine turned a two-bladed U.S. Smith Engineering Co. adjustable-pitch propeller with a diameter of 8 feet, 0 inches (2.438 meters). The engine was enclosed in a NACA cowling. The T3D1 was 3 feet, 6.63 inches (1.083 meters) long, 4 feet, 3.44 inches (1.307 meters) in diameter, and weighed 763 pounds (346 kilograms).
The Gee Bee R-1 had a cruise speed was 260 miles per hour (418.4 kilometers per hour), and its maximum speed was more than 309 miles per hour (497 kilometers per hour). The stall speed was rather high at 90 miles per hour (144.8 kilometers per hour), as a result of optimizing the airplane for high speed. The air racer could climb at 6,100 feet per minute (31 meters per second). It had a range of 630 miles (1,014 kilometers) at full throttle. ²
Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 NR2100, #11, was later re-engined with a Pratt & Whitney Hornet. It was destroyed when it crashed on takeoff after refueling at Indianapolis, Indiana, 1 July 1933. The pilot, Russell Boardman, was killed.
Jimmy Doolittle was one of America’s foremost pioneering aviators. He set many records, won air races, tested and developed new flying equipment and techniques. He was a highly-educated military officer, having earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California Berkeley School of Mines, and M.S and D.Sc. degrees in Aeronautical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
During World War II Colonel Doolittle planned and led the famous Halsey-Doolittle Raid against Japan, 18 April 1942, for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor.
As a brigadier general, Doolittle commanded the Twelfth Air Force in North Africa. Promoted to major general, he was given command of the Fifteenth Air Force in the Mediterranean Theater. From 1943 until 1945, Lieutenant General Doolittle commanded Eighth Air Force. He was preparing his command to move against Japan, equipped with Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers, when World War II came to an end.
After the war, Lieutenant General Doolittle was placed on the inactive list. On 4 April 1985, by Act of Congress, James H. Doolittle was promoted to General, United States Air Force.
General James Harold Doolittle is the only person to be awarded both the Medal of Honor and the Medal of Freedom. He died 27 September 1993 at the age of 96 years. He was buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.
¹ FAI Record File Number 8751
² All Gee Bee Supersportster R-1 specifications from Zantford D. Granville, writing in Aero Digest Magazine, July 1933. See http://goldenageofaviation.org/geebeer2.html