Tuesday, November 29, 2005
But ambition seized the Granvilles and Pratt & Whitney, and the engine was changed out for an even bigger 750 h.p. Wasp Senior - in this form, Bayles could hardly see around the cowl! But an attempt was set up to try for the world speed record, 278 m.p.h., held by the French. The first set of straight-line runs averaged 281 m.p.h., good enough for the U.S. record, but not enough to better the world mark by a wide enough margin. The next time out, Bayles entered the timing run at over 300 m.p.h... but then cameras captured a gruesome sight as a wing panel snapped off, and the tiny Gee Bee rolled into the ground. Bayles and the plane were destroyed in an instant.
The Granvilles built other racers; their 1932 Model R won both the Thompson Trophy (with Jimmy Doolittle flying) and the transcontinental Bendix Trophy. But the whole family of planes were just like the Z, fast and capricious - and some less-experienced pilots were killed trying to pilot the "flying barrels" in other events. I've always been fascinated by them; the colorful scalloped paint schemes were a Granville Brothers trademark, and have come to be iconic of the whole pylon racing era. Many of these little planes were built in small hangars and garages during the Depression, with limited resources and engineering; but they contributed a lot to the advancement of aviation technology.