On Labor Day weekend 1932, pilot Jimmy Doolittle, who would go on to lead "Doolittle's Raiders" in World War II, competed in the national air races in Cleveland. Doolittle set a land plane speed record of 296 mph and won the prestigious Thompson Trophy, all in that same weekend. The aircraft he flew that weekend was the Gee Bee R-1.
The Gee Bee was built by the Granville Brothers of Springfield, Massachusetts. Built specifically for racing, the aircraft was made to accommodate the largest engine with the smallest fuselage, resulting in its distinctive teardrop shape. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney R-1340-51-01 Wasp, the Gee Bee’s short wings and lack of a traditional empennage (tail section) made it quite powerful in the hands of experienced pilots like Doolittle. However, the Gee Bee soon acquired a reputation as a dangerous racer, after a few crashes and two deaths. After the last crash, the plane was never rebuilt by the Granville’s.
In 1961, the original drawings of the Gee Bee R-1 were donated to the New England Air Museum by the Granville family with the stipulation that if a replica were to be constructed, it must never be made to flying condition. In 1984, a nine-year project to reproduce the Gee Bee began at the museum. The crew used the original plans, original material, as well as help from people who originally worked on the project. Howell "Pete" Miller, the original designer, was instrumental in the process, providing details he remembered that were not necessarily written in the plans. S. Harold Smith, the designer of the Smith propeller that was used, provided insight, as well as Gordan Agnoli, who did the original lettering in 1932. Extensive research was conducted by the crew to create the plane as close to the original as possible. This included details such as traveling to Maine to figure out the type of fabric used on the plane by looking at Eva Granville's doilies, which she had made from the original material and kept all these years.
The R-1 reproduction was completed in 1993, and was celebrated on June 17th. Over 150 invited guests attended the event, including members of the Granville family, Pete Miller, Harold Smith, and Gordon Agnoli. The crew of the project was recognized for their detailed and hard work over the nine year project. The Gee Bee still sits in the New England Air Museum, reminding visitors of the small but mighty plane that won the Thompson Trophy all those years ago.