Friday, September 20, 2013

Mary's Junior Sportster

The same photographer who shot both of last week's Gee Bee Model Y Senior Sportster took this photo of the Gee Bee Model D. The Granville Brothers had started building a series of aircraft which they called the "Junior Sportsters", powered with in-line engines to compete in race classes defined by smaller engine displacements. They started with their Model X, designed around a 110-hp supercharged Cirrus engine, and it competed respectfully and took second place in the 1930 All-American Derby, a grueling 5,541-mile endurance race from Detroit to Los Angeles and back.

The success of the Model X opened up the commercial potential for small racing planes, which then led the Brothers Granville to develop a series of production aircraft, the Model B and Model C, both of which flew in the restricted category. Building on the design, the Granvilles then built their Model D under a CAA type certificate (ATC404), which meant that it could be licensed as a standard-category aircraft, which promised a big boost to sales. Unlike the other Junior Sportsters, the Model D had fully-faired landing gear, and to help improve directional stability, the vertical stabilizer was enlarged. The plane, nicknamed "the Cat" and powered by a 125-hp Menasco C-4 Pirate engine, was flown to various airshows and events throughout 1931 by Zantford "Granny" Granville. The tour was punctuated by an appearance at the 1931 Cleveland Nationals flown by Bob Hall, who took first place in the 25-mile Williams Trophy race, which was limited to aircraft with an engine displacement of 400 cu. in. or less.

At the same event, it was also flown by the well-known aviatrix Mary Haizlip in two races, one a free-for-all for aircraft of 510 cu. in. or less, and the other limited to ATC certified aircraft under 625 cu. in. In both races, Mary finished second to Phoebe Omlie, with Maude Taite coming in third in her Scarab-powered Gee Bee Model E. Depsite these successes, NC11043 was the only Model D built.

Besides racing the plane, the Granvilles tried to use it for another commercial mission that was all the rage at the time: skywriting. A smoke generating system was installed, controlled by a trigger mounted on the stick. Granny even demonstrated the system by skywriting "Gee Bee" over New York City, but this failed to generate any sales.

In July 1936 (some sources say 1935), Channing Seabury was practicing aerobatics in NC11043 when he lost control of the aircraft. He tried to bail out, but was struck by the plane's tail and killed.

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