Digital Commonwealth

Granville Airplane Company Oral History Collection, 1978-1980

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

Granville Airplane Company Oral History Collection, 1978-1980
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Between 1929 and 1934, the Granville Airplane Company manufactured their distinctive Gee Bee aircraft at the airport in Springfield, Mass., using a hangar converted from a former dance hall as their plant. Originally from New Hampshire, the five brothers drew upon their self-taught mechanical ingenuity in the years after the First World War to transform an automobile and aircraft repair business into aircraft design and production. The brothers flew their first craft in Boston in May 1929, a biplane they advertised as "the fastest and most maneuverable licensed airplane for its horsepower in the United States," moving operations to Springfield later that year. Although only about two dozen Bee Gees were ever manufactured, the planes gained a wide reputation for their innovative aerodynamic designs, raw power, and extraordinary success on the air racing circuit. Gee Bees claimed speed records and numerous prizes, including the coveted Thompson Trophy in 1932 won by pilot Jimmy Doolitte, but their reputation for instability in the air (partly a function of their power) and the impact of the Great Depression caused the company to cease operations in 1934. Aviation historian Tom Nallen conducted a series of interviews with former employees of the Granville Airplane Co. beginning in the late 1970s, recording memories of the company and its workers, the Bee Gee planes, and their performance during the golden age of air racing.

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