The Gee Bee Biplane

  • At the age of 19 Zantford (Granny) Granville left the small town of Madison, New Hamshire for the big city and got a job as a mechanic working for a Chevy Dealership in Boston.
    This is what he wanted to do and it wasn't long before he had his own garage and Chevy Dealership in Arlington a city just outside Boston, Whenever Zantford had spare time, he would spend it at the Boston Airport, taking flying lessons.
    Zantford wanted to get into the aircraft repair business.
    His brother Tom joined him in 1924 and taught him to run his automobile business in Arlington so he could spend more time at the airport.
    Zantford soon got a job with Boston Aircraft Corp as a mechanic, but it didn't take very long before he started his own business.
    He rented the first floor of a factory building near the airport and started his own airplane repair business.
    It soon became apparent that a facility at the airport was needed, but he soon found out that it was not possible.
    So he built a mobile shop so he could drive to the location of the aircraft.
    As his business prospered his brother Ed joined him in 1927 and his brother Rob joined him in 1928.
    Zantford was dissatisfied with the aircraft being designed and built at the time, so he designed and built a new sport Biplane, it was a two place with side by side seating with a 60 h.p. Veil M-5 engine, the landing gear was designed so that in the event of a hard landing the landing gear would not do serious damage to the airframe.
    Zantford The aircraft was now ready for a test flight, Zantford had ordered a parachute in anticipation of the test flight, but it had not arrived yet. It was May second and regardless of the hazards he decided to test fly his new Biplane, the test flight was made at night so that if it was not a success, there would not be any of the people there who thought that his design was foolish to witness the event.
    Zantford test flew the aircraft with great success.
    With the success of the test flights Zantford decided that he and his brothers should start their own aircraft manufacturing business with the production of the new biplane. And was trying to get financial backing to produce the Gee bee biplane.
    Zantford wrote many letters to various cities in quest of financial backing and a suitable facility to manufacture the new aircraft.
    Many financiers were contacted, but none were interested. Zantford heard of an air meet to be held at Springfield, Mass airport and flew the new Gee Bee there where it could be seen hopefully by interested people, at Springfield the B-1 as the aircraft was designated attracted a lot of attention.
    Among others Lowell Bayles flew it and liked it, but all agreed that more power was needed.
    In Zantford's demonstration of the B-1 he had attracted the attention of many aviation minded people at the Springfield, Mass airport and in particular Harry, Frank, George and James Tait, all self made men and owners of a large Ice Cream business and owners of the Springfield airport.
    George Tait advanced Zantford enough money to purchase a new English Genet 85 hp engine, which proved to be a big improvement.
    After long negotiations with Granny Granville, the wealthy Tait brothers agreed to back the new company started by Zantford to produce the Gee Bee biplane. Lowell Bayles of Colonial Airways, and Captain L. Pontron DeArk, as well as Roscoe Brinton, and Lee Tracy of the Curtiss Flying service, all made flights in the gee bee and gave it high praise for its maneuverability and performance.
    Harry Tait announced a decision to back the Granville Brothers at the Springfield per a contract signed between the Tait brothers and Zantford Granville during the first week of July in 1929.
    Although the aircraft had not received an Approved Type Certificate (ATC) from the Department of Commerce, an application had been made and no difficulties were foreseen in getting the ATC, the aircraft could not be sold commercially until it received the ATC.
    Harry Tait also announced plans for incorporation of the company with a capitol of $25,000 and in addition to aircraft manufacturing, the Granville Brothers(Zantford, Tom, Rob, Mark and Ed) would also operate an airplane machine shop to take care of repair work needed by Western Massachusetts fliers.
    The new company would establish their shop at the Liberty street hangar in Springfield, Mass. After the shop was set up and operating, three engineers were hired and strangely they all had the same first name...Robert Hall, Robert Dexter and Robert Ayer.
    The engineers worked on improvements to the new Gee bee, they deleted the flaps, widened the cockpit slightly and ran a stress analysis on the entire aircraft in order to obtain the required NC license for the aircraft.
    Various engines were tried and it was decided that the Kinner K-5 would be the standard power plant, the ship could be powered with other engines if the customer desired.
    Three planes were built by late fall of 1929 after brother Tom Granville joined his other brothers. Now all five brothers were together.
    The three aircraft were shown at various air expeditions around the country to help sell the aircraft.
    At the New York show the Gee Bee atracted much attention and created more excitement than any other aircraft at the show.Zantford demonstrated his own ship for prospective buyers about 35 times a day!It was reported after the show that the Gee bee airplane was the only aircraft exhibited that realized any actual sales during the show.Two were sold and prospects for four more were gained.
    Aeronautical engineers and other aviation promoters at the show credited the Gee Bee with being the most outstanding aircraft exhibited, especially from a safety standpoint.
    After completion of the first three aircraft another five were started, about this time the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression had started, which made it nearly impossible to sell aircraft, however the five gee bees were completed since all of them had already been sold.
    A special one was equipped with a Haywood Starter for the well-known Aviatrix Maude Tait, the daughter of one of the Tait brothers.
    The stock Market crash forced the Granville Brothers to stop producing the Gee Bee biplane after finishing the first five.
    The Taits let them use the hangar for whatever jobs that they could find. They painted cars, welded sleds, overhauled and repaired airplanes. Ed and Mark rented a room in an attic and lived on beans, which they purchased by the case.
    The Gee Bee biplane was designated the Model A after it received it's ATC certificate and was the first in a line of sport planes and racers produced by the Granville Brothers.
    The prototype as described previously was designed and built by Zantford Granville at the East Boston Airport and had many innovative features such as side-by-side seating to promote conversation, horizontal control sticks making for a roomy cockpit that allowed for the use of heavy robes in the winter.
    The right hand stick could easily be ejected by a twisting movement of the left-hand stick, The rudder pedals were fitted to the feet and the right hand pedals would go all they way to the floor for a non flying passenger with the push of a foot button, the brake handle was between the two sticks and could be operated by pulling either stick to the full back position For steering on the ground the rudder pedals were connected to the brakes to give positive taxiing control without removing the feet from the rudder pedals.
    The Gee Bee A had large control surfaces, giving great lateral control and longitudinal control at full stall etc.
    It had a high staggered wing for better visibility. The Kinner engine had a Buhl collector ring which cut down on noise. The interior had thick comfortable seat cushions, and the aircraft had a large baggage compartment that had room for a suitcase and a separate tool compartment.

    Nine (9)of these neat little biplanes were built, there are two Model A's surviving today. One is in the New England Air Museum.

    Type: Two place side by side, dual control
    Length: 20' 6"
    wings: 197 sq. ft. Clark Y airfoil, 40" overhang, 28" stagger. 52" gap, 45" cord. 29" 2" span
    Empty Weight: 1,050 lb
    Usefull Load: 600 lb
    Gross Weight: 1,650 lb
    Powerplant: Kinner
    Horsepower : 113 at 1880 RPM
    Range: 400 miles
    Cruise Speed: 92 mph
    Rate of Climb: 1,050 FPM
    Top Speed: 109 mph
    Service Ceiling: 14,000 FT
    Landing Speed: 39 mph
    Construction and equipment
    Brakes: Standard bendix 26" X5"
    Fuselage: Welded S. A. E. N0. 4130 Chrome-Molly, steel tubing
    Floats: Edo at $800 extra
    Starter: Optional equipment
    Landing gear: 7" vertical wheel travel in oil, last 2" on rubber, tires 26"x5" non-skid, Bendix brakes, full swivel tail wheel. Adapted for quick change to Skiis or floats.
    Instruments: Compass,oil pressure and temp, air speed,tachometer,switch,choke,batery booster, and level flight indicator.
    Controls: All duals releasable in flight;horizontal stick, rudder pedals, brake on stick and rudder pedals.
    Tail Group: Vernier adjustment on stabilizer allowing for trim. Exceptionally stiff cantilever-ribbed surfaces of thick section.
    Finish: Standard Berryloid(faberic)none coats of dope

    Gee Bee Model "A" On display at the New England Air Museum(click picture for a larger view).
    Zantford "Granny" Granville with his new Gee Bee Biplane.(Bobby Granvile)(click picture for a larger view).


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