Gee Bee R-1

In 1932, Cleveland was the center of air racing in the U.S. The National Air Races were equivalent in popularity to today’s NASCAR event at Daytona. They were a bright spot for the country in the otherwise gloomy Depression era.

The races were scheduled for August 27 - September 5, 1932. On September 3, Jimmy Doolittle flew the R-1 achieving a new official world speed record of 296.287 mph. The main event, the Thompson Trophy Race, was flown on Monday, September 5. The starting aircraft were: a Gee Bee R-1 piloted by Jimmy Doolittle, a Gee Bee R-2 piloted by Lee Gehlbach, the Hall Bulldog piloted by Bob Hall, a Weddell-Williams piloted by Jimmy Weddell, a Weddell-Williams piloted by Roscoe Turner, Howard Ike piloted by Bill Ong, a Keith Rider piloted by Ray Moore, a Weddell-Williams piloted by Jimmy Haizlip, and the Israel Redhead piloted by Lee Bowman.

Sixty thousand fans witnessed the most thrilling Thompson of all time. With the drop of the starter’s checkered flag, the two Gee Bees and the Hall Bulldog were off. The rest of the pack followed except the Redhead which never got off the ground. With the R-1’s superior speed, Doolittle moved into the lead on the first lap. As Doolittle flew his big red and white machine over the wide flat course he had plotted, there was never any doubt he would win the 10 lap, 100 mile event. He finished first to claim the $4,500 prize followed by Wedell, Turner, Haizlip, and Gehlbach. His 252.7 mph winning speed was not bettered until 1936.

Jimmy’s victory was the high point of the Granville Brother’s racing saga. Although plans were being made to modify the R-1 and R-2 for even more speed and greater fame, Doolittle had enough. Figuring he had used up all his luck, he never raced again. He got out at the top of his game.

The 25 foot wingspan R-1 was powered by an 800 hp Pratt & Whitney R1340 Wasp radial engine with a Smith controllable pitch propeller. Inside the 61 inch diameter welded tubular steel fuselage, was a 160 gallon fuel tank and an 18 gallon oil tank. The cockpit featured a red leather seat designed to make it easy for the pilot to bail out the quick release side entry door in an emergency. The wings and tail were constructed of spruce spars covered with thin plywood and fabric. The glossy Coca Cola red & white finish was provided by 14 hand-rubbed coats of dope. Empty weight was 1,840 lbs, racing weight with 50 gallons of fuel was 2,415 lbs.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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