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For a depression-weary nation in the early 1930’s, the Golden Age of Flying came as a welcome distraction. In the decade after the First World War, civilian aircraft designers made America marvel with their broad jump from 200 to 300 mph, and the era of the biplane was coming to an end. The Barnstormers were exchanging their daredevil loop-de-loops for outright speed. Events like the Thompson Trophy pylon race and the Bendix Trophy cross-country derby were the rage, and flamboyant fly boys like Tony LeVier, Jimmy Doolittle, ‘Speed’ Holman and Jimmy Wedell, won cash prizes and cheated death. Well, sometimes. The great Roscoe Turner found the right words to describe the frantic mayhem: “1200 horsepower in your lap, and a feather on your tail.”
The most outrageous of them all were the five Granville brothers from Springfield, MA. The eldest, Zantford “Granny” Granville, basically said: “I’ve got a barn and some scrap metal! Let’s get the boys together and build the fastest plane in the world!” And about 16 weeks later they had. Their Gee Bee (for Granville Brothers) Supersportster won the 1931 and 1932 Thompson Trophy, the latter piloted by Jimmy Doolittle, who also flew it to 296.287 mph, a landplane speed record. But then five pilots were killed flying Gee Bee’s and “Granny” himself crashed and the company went bankrupt. The Gee Bees had built a reputation of being fast planes, but also of being killers.
60 years later, acrobatic pilot and builder extraordinare Delmar Benjamin built an identical replica Gee Bee R-2, right down to the Pratt & Whitney Wasp engine and “Flying Silo” fuselage. During his first test flight, everyone was worried about the “aerodynamic uncertainties” of it’s design and urged him to “take it easy.” Delmar did take it easy. For one pass. Then made the second pass inverted. He went on to 'wow' the world and air show circuit with his amazing skill and this incredible, improbable aircraft, proving that though it was demanding to fly and land, it was not worthy of it’s evil reputation.
At the Air Races in Reno one year, I saw Delmar take the Gee Bee through incredible stunts. At one point the audience was sure he was going to crash and rose to their collective feet with a cry. Delmar pulled some amazing maneuver out of his hat in that stubby little plane and flew by us, totally in control. Later I told him he'd scared the Hell out of us. In a reply worthy of Roscoe Turner, he said in that laconic drawl:
"Well, that's what they pay me for."
This design shows the R-1 shooting for the sky like a homesick angel. It was a pleasure to draw! Thanks, Delmar , for bringing the Gee Bee back to life from the dusty history books for another generation to marvel at.
Printed full color on a white Hanes Beefy Tee with a technical side view on the front crest.