Flying Models magazine
Gee Bee Model D Sportster
We all have certain types of models that inspire us to spend many hours in our workshops. My thing is models of aircraft from the Golden Era. I am particularly interested in racing aircraft because of their very colorful and striking color schemes and the ships built by the Granville Brothers (Gee Bee) Aircraft Company in the early thirties have always had a special appeal to me.
These aircraft were built in what had previously been a dance ball on one edge of the Springfield Airport in Springfield, Massachusetts. I was born in Springfield and lived in nearby Chicopee Falls, less than a mile from the site of the Gee Bee Factory. A common evening's entertainment for my family, in those hard times, consisted of my dad loading by mother and me, along with my three younger brothers, into the old Ford and taking a trip (just a few blocks) to the Springfield Airport to watch the activity. Even though I was young, I can remember quite vividly those evening trips to watch the airplanes fly. I undoubtedly watched many of the Gee Bees during those evenings. At the time, I did not realize how involved I would become with these airplanes which were to become among the most famous in the history of aviation. I have wanted to do several of the Gee Bee subjects for several years and have been restricted because of lack of suitable information on the particular models that I wanted to build. The later Super Speedster racing craft built by the Granville Brothers could be well documented as many pictures and drawings can be found. However, it was the earlier Sportsters that I wanted to model and that presented much more of a problem.
I built a Model Y Sportster and, after flying it, tried to find information and photos of it usable for documentation for judging in scale competitions. I also drew up plans for the earlier Model D Sportster but put off building it until more photos could be found. I spent the better part of two years searching for material and for the most part, got nowhere. The Smithsonian did have one picture of each of the two Model Y's which were built and the Connecticut Aeronautical Historical Society sent me two good pictures of the first Model Y.
I am a member of the E.A.A. and when my January issue of the E.A.A.'s Sport Aviation arrived, it contained a great article on the Gee Bee racers, written by Robert H. Granville, one of the five Granville Brothers who had designed and built these craft in the early thirties. I immediately wrote to him telling him of my problems in trying to find suitable pictures to document my model. I enclosed a few pictures of the model and also asked numerous questions about the real Model Y. A week later, I received an answer and this was the start of a continuous series of letters between Mr. Granville and myself in which I learned' many new things about the Gee Bees. With the new material I had, I went to work on the Model D which I had drawn the plans for some time ago. I decided to finish the Model D as the aircraft that was frequently flown by Zantford Granville.
Bob informed me that it was blue and cream, though I had seen it referred to as blue and white, and also green and cream in two different publications. I sent Bob color charts to get him to give me the exact colors and he informed me that Randolph Bahama Blue and Tuscon Cream were the correct colors for NC 11043. The model started to take shape as I learned of the Mid Hudson R/C Club's plans to conduct a big contest at the Rhinebeck Aerodrome for models of the Golden Era.
Now the project took on new meaning and in mentioning this affair to Bob Granville in one of my letters, he replied that he had always wanted to visit Rhinebeck and would like to see my Gee Bee models fly.
My club, the South Jersey R/C Society decided it would be a great thing for model aviation to have one of the greats of that period be in attendance at the contest for models of that time, and voted to authorize me to have Mr. Granville there as our club's guest if he was able to make it. Two weeks before the meet, Bob informed me that he was planning to make the trip to Rhinebeck with one of his sons and both their wives. I had the model finished about this time but was having problems getting to test fly it. First, it was bad weather and then my radio acted up. I sent the radio out for repairs and got it back eight days before the meet. I had wanted to fly it at the Valley Forge Scale Meet the week before Rhinebeck but did not get it tested. I flew my Howard Ike in the AMA event at Valley Forge on Saturday and, as the flying ended early, I drove back to our club field about an hour and a half away and gave the Model D a try. Everything was working this time and the weather was ideal. The first flight showed I had insufficient up elevator movement to do much, so after feeling out turning the model, I throttled back and made a beautiful landing. I made the necessary adjustment on the elevator clevis and topped off the tank and took off again. The second flight was fantastic. I did everything I could think of and the model responded in a way that is hard to believe. Loops, rolls in both directions and spins in both directions, everything worked to perfection.
The next morning, I returned for the second day of the Valley Forge Meet and entered the Model D in the Sport Scale event. The weather was very windy and my first flight earned a score of 75 which put me close to the leader.
On my second flight, I goofed a couple of maneuvers slightly and my score dropped to a 73, but my final flight with this new aircraft went very smoothly and earned a score of 80.5 which put me in first place in the model's first contest. I was too busy the week before Rhinebeck to do any practice flying except on Thursday evening, when I did get out long enough to try two flights for the Barnstorming event.
I arrived at Rhinebeck early Saturday morning and got in one flight before Bob Granville arrived with his family. He was very impressed with the Model D Sportster and remarked how real it looked. I also had five other Sportsters on display and he thought they were all great. In addition to my Model D, I had my Model Y that Maude Tait flew; Phil Barbaro of Clayton, New Jersey had his Model X flown by Lowell Bayles, and built from my plans; Dink Shahan of Deepwater, New Jersey had a model of George Rand's Model C Sportster, also built from my drawings; and another friend, Burton Williams of Westfiejd, Massachusetts had his model of Florence Klingensmith's Model Y Sportster and also a Gee Bee Model A Biplane which he had designed and built several years ago; in my Gee Bee display. I had a big panel with framed pictures of all of the GeeBee Sportsters and three views of each model headed by a picture of the five Granville Brothers and the Gee Bee Factory taken in 1930. It made a very impressive display and many cameramen took pictures of Bob Granville with the Gee Bee models.
Bob had never seen an R/C model fly before and was very impressed with them. He called all of the rest of my scale flights during the two day meet and enjoyed it very much. Everyone was impressed with the way the Model D flew and after two days of competition in three different events, the Model D proved to be the most consistent performer, as it fared no poorer than 5th in any of the three events.
When the prizes were awarded at the end of the contest, the Model D had won at least its share of the awards. Bob beamed with each presentation and I guess he relived for a few moments the times when the real aircraft was a winner in its flying activities.
The Gee Bee Company started out building a biplane trainer which was an excellent flying machine. Then they built a special aircraft designed around the American Cirrus engine to compete in the All American Derby of 1930. This was a 5,541 mile race sponsored by the Cirrus Company to demonstrate the durability of their engine. Eighteen aircraft competed in this race that started in Detroit, the motor capital of the world, penetrated the deep South, went as far west as Los Angeles, and then returned to Detroit. The Gee Bee Model X, as this first low wing sportplane was called, flown by Lowell Bayles, finished second in the race and thus began a situation which was to make this company, formed by the five Granville Brothers (Gee Bee was the spelled out abbreviation for Granville Brothers) one of the most well known concerns in aviation history.
Following the success of the Model X Sportster in the Cirrus Derby, the company received several requests from sportsman pilots for one of the little single seat sportsters. As the sportsters were built, there were slight differences in them as some were built with the Cirrus engine and some with the Menasco power plant. These in-line engine versions were designated Model X, C, and D Sportsters. Some were also built with the Warner radial engine and were known as the Model B Sportsters. The other noticeable difference in the Sportsters was in the landing gear. The original Model X had a non-shock-absorbing landing gear and depended on the balloon tires to absorb landing jolts. A few of the later sportsters had a different gear modification and the later models had the fully faired gear as used on the later Ryan ST aircraft. Any one of these subjects can be built from my plans and included in this article is a chart of all of the sportsters which encompass many color combinations, so there is a wide variety of choices. Also, I show the three types of gear configurations so that any of the Model X, C, D, or B Sportsters can be built from the plans. The front end modification for the radial engined Model E is also detailed. All of the Sportsters were excellent aerobatic craft and were used extensively for air show work. Russell Boardman won the National Aerobatic Championship in one of the Model Y Sportsters. Few realize that the Gee Bee aircraft flew this well.
Pick out your subject and let's get started with the construction. . . .
|Colors||Owner - Pilot||Comments|
|1||X||Cirrus Hi Drive
[supercharged - 110 HP]
|NR 49V||Black - White
H-6117 - Q-1916
Pinstripe - None
|1930 Cirrus Derby - Lowell Bayles|
Rigid Gear w/Air Wheels
[Racing# 8 painted black in an orange ball]
[Converted to a Model F by installing 135hp Fairchild 6-390]
[Crashed September 1931,
during a Vermont airshow performance, the controls got jammed by a loose hand crank used for starting the Fairchild. Roscoe Brinton bailed out.]
|2||B||Cirrus Hi Drive [C-4]
|NR 654Y||Tan - Brown
X-5260 - B-3535
Pinstripe - Red
[last known in Spain]
|New type gear with shocks & fairings|
Cowling different than on Bayles
[Rumored to have been used in the Spanish Civil War, Still flying in late 1940's in Spain]
|855Y||Red - White
P-6599 - 0-1916
Pinstripe - Black
|George Rand||Returned to factory for modification|
Changed to Model D in 1931. new fin,
rudder and landing gear as on NC 11043
[but NOT the Model D's 125 HP engine!]
[Pirate logo behind cockpit]
[Wrecked during aerobatic demonstration by another pilot]
|856Y||Army Yellow - Blue||Al Nott
Z. D. Granville
|Old type gear and fairing like 664Y|
New type rudder and fin like 11043
[Nott won Cuban trophy at 1932 Miami races]
[received ATC #389 Feb. 6, 1931]
[Crashed February 1934,
the engine quit while trying to avoid workers out on the runway at Spatanburg, SC. during a landing. Z.D. Granville killed]
|5||D||Menasco C-4 [Pirate]
[supercharged] 125 HP
|NC 11043||Blue - Cream
H-9170 - X-5260
Pinstripe - Black
(according to painter
George Agnoli it was
Bahama blue & cream
with a deep red
NC 11043 was repainted
sometime prior to its fatal crash in
green and white)
Mae [Mary] Haizlip
|Being rebuilt - first used by Z. D. Granville|
for demonstrations and sky writing.
[Serial# D1, received ATC #404 Mar 7, 1931]
[Racing #53, Panther head logo]
[1st in 1931 ATC 400 cu. in. race - Bob Hall]
[2nd in two 1931 Women's races - Mary Haizlip]
[raced in 1932 Nationals by Bill Rausch]
[Crashed July 1936,
pilot Channing Seabury lost control while practicing aerobatics. He was hit by the tail while bailing out and failed to open his chute.]
|Red - White
P8599 - Q-1916
Pinstripe - Black
|Skip Tibert||[This plane never existed!]|
[It was a bad photograph of NC 11043. Only eight Sportsters were built.]
|NC 46V||Green - Cream
F-5830 - X-5260
Pinstripe - Black
Z. D. Granville
|1931 Ford Tour - Lowell Bayles|
[Sloan agreed to return it to factory for Ford tour in return for a new one]
[1st in class - won Great Lakes trophy]
[Racing #14, Twin Geese logo]
 Handicap Race - LA to Cleveland - Z. D. Granville [DNF]
[3rd in two 1931 Women's races - Maude Tait]
[Crashed August 1932,
when it stalled during attempted loop on takeoff. R. Boardman sufferd bad concussion]
|NC 11044||Red - White
P8599 - Q-1916
Pinstripe - Black
|[Used as demonstrator during delivery flight to California.]|
[Crashed February 1931,
in a power dive into ground in Atlanta, GA. Pilot appeared to get disoriented during aerobatics. Airmail pilot Johnny Kytle killed]
|NC 72V||Green - Cream
F-5830 - X-5260
Pinstripe - Black
|Bill Sloane's new Sportster replacing his NC 46V.|
Wing in E.A.A. Museum is red and white
May have been repainted. [May have been salvaged from 856Y wreck]
[Because of the Depression, Sloan sold it in 1935 after logging 990 hrs.]
[Don Walters flew it in Bill Sweet's Air Shows]
[He hit a truck on the runway while landing
NC 72V was rebuilt by the Granvilles]
[Later crashed again,
engine quit on landing and the plane hit a fence. Walters okay but plane wrecked.]