An exciting new addition to the Museum recently is the only airworthy example of a Granville Gee Bee Model “E” Sportster , an authentic recreation built and completed in 1991 by Museum Director Jim Jenkins. Jim has long wanted the Sportster to be part of the flying collection and with his donation a few years back of his Bob Hall Bulldog recreation which work continues on and with the possibility of one more Golden Age Racer project waiting in the wings the Museum will have a very unique “Golden Age of Air Racing” display.
A little history on the original NC856Y Model “E” Sportster and our recreation,
The original NC856y was built as the factory prototype S/N 4 in the Sportster series and was flown by the C.A.A. ( F.A.A. in 1930-31) for certification test flights for a group 2 approval for limited production. During test flights is was determined that during a hands off six turn spin the Sportster would not recover on it`s own in fact the spin became faster . Along with a few other minor discrepancies redesign work produced a taller fin and rudder, a change to the engine mount which raised the thrust line two inches and the overall length two inches. All of this rework allowed the Sportster to pass the required spin test and also help with some longitudinal instability issues.
The Model “E” Sportster was issued a group 2 type A.T.C. approval in early 1931, though approved it was recommended by C.A.A. flight test inspector Boardman that the Sportster was by no means an airplane for a “novice beginner”.
During the winter of 1931 The Gee Bee was flown down to Miami Florida for the “1931 Miami Air Tour and Maneuvers” here the NC856Y was raced in her horsepower class and came in first in the “Cuban Governors race” , at a speed of 143 mph , with this win NC856Y was labeled the “Cuban Racer”. With it`s return to Springfield MA the Sportster was sold to Air National Guard ace pilot Al Knott, the Knott family owned the ” Knott Airport and Land Development Company” of Meriden CT. Knott flew and raced the Sportster on many occasions, in a few of the photos located during construction of the recreation Sportster the Knott Company logo can be clearly seen on each side of the aft fuselage.
In 1932 due to the deepening economic depression the Knott Company could not keep up on payments to the struggling Granville Company which in tern reposed the Gee Bee Sportster. With the Sportster back in the Granville`s hands, to the five Brothers it became obvious they needed to sell more airplanes to survive so they turned NC856Y into the Warner powered Factory demonstrator and flew her all over showing her high performance and flashy styling. It did pay off for a while as three more Warner powered Model “E`s” were manufactured.
The death nail came on February 17, 1934 when the Senior Brother Zantford and President of the Granville company was ferrying Sportster NC856Y to it`s new owner in the Midwest, with a rough winter hitting the mid west Zantford chose to fly down the eastern seaboard and then along the gulf coast before heading north west, while attempting to land at Spartanburg N.C. in limited icy visibility a vehicle drove out onto the runway which was under construction, Zantford pulled up to avoid the vehicle and gave the Warner the gun , the engine quit probably due to carb ice and the Sportster spun in killing Zantford Granville and destroying the Model “E” .
With the untimely death of Zantford the company could not carry on , a few more new designs were on the drafting tables and one an eight place Gee Bee “Transport” was under construction all went up on the auction block that summer . The Single seat Sportster models had made their mark and spear headed other Gee Bee designs such as the Models “Y, Z, R-1, R-2, ” and few others, but by late 1934-35 all of the Gee Bee`s were gone, except for one . The Q.E.D. was the last real Gee Bee to come out of the Granville shop, it survives down in Mexico to this day.
If we return to the Model “E” for a moment, it`s basic design evolved from the Model “X” specifically built to race in the Cirrus engine Derby race completely around the US in 1930, the model “X” came in second. This instilled some confidence in the Granville Brothers that they had a good design and if they offered the Sportster with optional engines that wealthy Sportsman’s pilots of the time might buy one. In the end eight single seat Sportsters were manufactured from 1930-1934 offering engines such as the Cirrus, Menasco, Warner and the Fairchild “Ranger” 6. Today only the right wing of NC72V survives in the Experimental Aircraft Assn. Museum at Oshkosh , WI.
Enter Jim Jenkins who in 1983 who has several Warner 125 engines and a strong tug in his heart to fly a Gee Bee of some type and a chance meeting with Ken Flaglor of Illinois, Ken who had just finished a beautiful recreation of the Model “Y” Senior Sportster mentioned that about 60 % of the original engineering drawings of the “E” &”D” models were available from the American Air Racing Society of Cleveland , Ohio. With this information and a set of the drawings now in hand Jim was able to secure from the F.A.A. the original NC856Y N number for Serial #4 Sportster, he was on his way~ .
Starting in 1985 by building wing ribs and cutting many of the required 4130 steel fittings for the airframe the following six years would consume about five thousand , five hundred hours of construction, when in the summer of 1991 found the Sportster completed and on a trailer heading to Oshkosh`s first Golden Age Of Air Racing program , Jims was able to taxi the Gee Bee for the first time and later in September of 1991 make the first test flight in North West Ct.
On a personnel note as I write this short story about the history of Sportster series, I have to say that during the research, construction period and then to have the opportunity and ability to climb aboard and fly this remarkable little machine, it was one of most rewarding and exciting periods in my life.
Presently the Sportster is undergoing some paintwork on the sheet metal, new tires, flying and landing wire terminal stainless clevises, engine mount bushings and inspections of a few systems that were put together almost twenty five years ago. NC856Y appears as good as she did when first finished and being a permanent part of the Flying North Cascades Vintage Aircraft Museum will go on looking great for a long time. Planned debut for her will be summer of 2014 and will let the younger generations enjoy a remarkable piece of what keeps me going, the most romantic period in aviation, ” The Golden Age Of Aviation” Please come by for a visit and see our next thundering out of the past recreation , Bob Hall`s beautiful Bulldog.
Specs on Granville Sportster Model “E” NC856Y
Warner Scarab 125 Wing Area 95 sq. ft. R.O.C. 1400 FPM
EW 932 LBS. Airfoil M-6 Fuel Cap 38 Gals.
GW 1400 LBS Max Speed 155 MPH Price at Factory $ 5600.00 1931
Span 25 ` Cruise Speed 135 MPH
Length 16` 6″ Stall Speed 72 MPH