1/32 Williams Bros Gee Bee Z

by Pete Hudson (Dr Fester)



I have always had a fondness for the radical and startling shape of the GeeBee, in some ways it defys all laws of aerodynamics and just looks like it couldn't fly.  But these planes were built for one thing only, to fly faster than any plane of its day and win races.  They hark back to the golden age of flight when barnstorming and air races thrilled crowds, and created heros of the racers themselves.  The 'thrill' was certainly the speed but overshadowed by the danger to the pilots, pushing the envelope to the limit came at a cost.


Orginally Granville Aircraft Corp was established by the eldest of four brothers Zantford (Granny) Granville and by 1929 having been joined by his brothers Robert, Tom, and Edward, located to Springfield, Massachusetts.  'Granny' was a remarkable pioneer in the field of aeronautical development and many patents are attributed to him, from the introduction of flaps, to coloured smoke dispensers.

With the depression loaming the Granville Brothers looked to the lucrative arena of air racing and so the legend was born.  In 1930 the GeeBee Model X Sportster flown by Lowell Bayles came second in the All American Derby, a 5,541 mile race from Detroit to Texas.  Nine of the Model X Sportster's were manufactured, and following on came the Model Y or Super Sportster of which only two were made.  Money was tight for the Granville Brothers so with donations and sponsorship deals in August 1931 the Model Z Super Sportster was born.  This was the classic GeeBee airframe, short at only 15 feet long and a round 'barrel' shaped fuselage.  But aerodynamically the perfect shape for pylon racing with the plane on its side most of the time the fuselage body gives lift, in fact the original lifting body.  It was powered by a mighty Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial giving 535hp, and painted a dazzling yellow and black. 

The Model Z was christened 'City of Springfield' and in the hands of Lowell Bayles broke the unofficial world speed record of 286mph.  It went on to win the Goodyear Trophy race, the General Tyre & Rubber Trophy and the Thompson Trophy race, and many others.  Now fitted with a larger Pratt & Whitney Wasp 750hp engine the stage was set for the magic 300mph speed record attempt.

After some frustrating attempts dogged by mechanical problems, it was Lowell Bayles who on December 5th 1931 took off from Detroit for the speed record attempt.  Diving down to under 200ft and building up speed Bayles levelled out but shortly after, the plane pitched up and the GeeBee was sent into a violent snap roll and ploughed into the ground.  The plane exploded on impact and the 31 year old Bayles was killed instantly.  There are many theories as to why this happened and originally it was thought the filler cap had come loose and penetrated the canopy hitting Bayles in the face causing the violent manoeuvre.  But after investigating movie footage it seems the right wing collapsed, this theory is compounded knowing the Model Z was involved the previous day in a low speed ground accident possibly damaging the right wing.

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So the Granvilles went on to build the famous GeeBee R1 and R2 but within 5 years the racing scene was over and with the threat of war loaming the brothers went there seperate ways.  Others would use the GeeBee's in racing but modifying these flying machines caused erratic flying charactaristics and many crashed. 

The Kit

When opening the Williams Bros kit you are greeted with 2 sprues and a bag of bits.  On the whole the detail is crisp if a little flashy and the engine sprue seemed mis-aligned, but other than that a nice 5 minute build, I thought....

Assembly started with the cockpit, and as the cockpit would be closed the detail was kept to a minimum.  You have the option of 2 engines and you need to decide before progressing which one you want.  I decided on the larger Pratt & Whitney Sr which was used in the final record attempt, so the intake duct under the fuselage needs cutting and replacing, and the larger cowl option to be used.  With the fuselage assembled I concentrated on detailing the engine, I cut away the mis-aligned push rods and replaced them with stretched sprue, and added some oil lines.  Just a note that its worth dry fitting the assembled engine into the cowl at this point, as mine was oversize and I needed to trim the rocker covers to allow the engine to fit.  Only other item added was the cowl catches either side of the cowl made from offcuts.

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The rest of the build was no problem and I decided to keep the wheel assembly seperate until after final painting.  I opted not to use the monofiliment line supplied for the rigging and instead used tin/copper wire which sag's less and looks better, if a little over scale.  So all the rigging locations were drilled out and re-positioned some mis-aligned ones.


The painting was to give the biggest headache of the entire build, using tamiya paint throughout a base colour of white was sprayed first then the yellow was sprayed on.  A layer of future to seal it then came the black scalloping.  Unfortunately there are no decals for this detail, but the instructions come with a 1 to 1 drawing so photocopies were taken and masks made with tamiya tape.  With the black sprayed and left overnight it was with anticipation I slowly removed the mask, and fortunately it worked fine.  Now if you look closely at the pictures you will see a red line between the black and yellow, the instructions hint at using red indian ink but I found this too transparent.  I could have gone through the masking routine again but with such a fine line I thought not.  So in the end I took a deep breath and painted free hand with the smallest brush I have and although not ideal, to my eyes its 'good enough'.  With the decals added and a layer of future I was ready for final assembly.

The wheels were added and rigging then a pitot tube fashioned from a donated glue syringe needle.


I loved making this kit and its certainly one of the most colourful additions to my model shelf, and with patience (which I lack) it can be made into a fantastic little model.  A few errors made including omitting the Wasp jr decal on the cowl, as mine is sporting the Wasp sr, ah well live and learn.  In fact I enjoyed it so much the Williams Bros GeeBee R1 has been ordered so stay tuned...........

Happy Modelling


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Photos and text by Pete Hudson