Friday, September 13, 2013

Maude's Senior Sportster

The aircaft initially carried the experimental registration seen here,but 
that was changed to a restricted-category registration by the time of 
the 1931 Nationals, so these photos werelikely taken late in 1930 or 
early in 1931.
When most people hear "Gee Bee" or "Granville Brothers", there's are certain iconic aircraft that instantly comes to mind...the model Z and later R-1 and R-2 racers (also known as the barrel racers, because of the shape of the fuselage). The notoriety that these aricraft have, unfortunately, overshadowed the fact that the Granville Brothers (Edward, Mark, Robert, Thomas, Zantford) built a number of other sport and racing aircraft under the Gee Bee brand, starting in 1929 and lasting until they filed for bankruptcy in January, 1934.

The two photos featured today depict the first of two Gee Bee Model Y aircraft, also known as the Senior Sportster, which was Granville's first two seat model. NX11049 (YW-1) was designed by Gee Bee engineer Robert Hall for aviatrix Maude Taite, whose father owned the Springfield MA airport, and thus was the Granvilles' landlord; it first flew in late 1930.

The cartoon bird painted on the side was the mascot of the Granvilles, and
was patterned after the filaloola bird, which was noted by its call,
The plane made its debut at the 1931 National Air Races in Cleveland as Race #54, but while it did well, it was overshadowed by the other Gee Bee that came to the races, the model Z. Taite first flew it in the Shell Trophy 3km speed dash, and then on September 6, 1931, she won the 50-mile Aerol Trophy race with a speed of 187.574 mph, setting a new women's closed-course speed record for that distance, beating Amelia Earhart's old record by a full 10 mph (she fell short of beating the men's record for the 50 mile by only 1 mph). The plane was also flown in the much shorter Thompson Trophy race by Robert Hall, who took fourth place at 201.25 mph...the Z won, flown by Lowell Bayles, at 236.239 mph.

YW-1 didn't appear at the 1932 Nationals, but was entered in the 1933 races, where Marty Bowman took second in the Aerol (161.7 mph) and Zantford Granville flew it to fifth place in the Thompson (173.0 mph; it would have been 6th and last, if Roscoe Turner hadn't been disqualified for cutting a pylon). With the top race speeds increasing each year, it was clear that the Model Y just was not competitive any longer.

The plane continued to be owned by Gee Bee until their 1934 bankruptcy, when it was sold off along with many of the company's other assets. It finally met its fate later in 1934 while flying over the Atlantic off of New York City and shed a propeller blade. The pilot managed to bail out, but the vibration caused the engine to come off its mounts, and the aircraft entered a flat spin and was lost at sea.

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