Will Someone Please Buy This Biggest And Baddest Of Gee Bee Air Racers?!

When I hear the words ‘Gee Bee’ it warps me back to the roots of my fascination with flight. I was obsessed with the Granville Brothers’ air racing creations as a little kid. The whole period of aviation is as romantic as it gets, but the air racing circuit was a huge deal back then and men with nerves of steel climbed into aircraft that pushed the very edge of aerospace technology for the name of speed and glory. Now, nearly a century later, a recreation of the beast of all Gee Bees is for sale. It’s gorgeous. It’s flyable. It’s remarkably cheap. And most importantly, it needs a home. 

When you mention Gee Bee to anyone with a love of aviation, they probably think of the Z or R models. The Gee Bee Z was made famous all over again in 1991 via the film adaptation of the Rocketeer comic books. I absolutely loved this movie and still think it is sorely undervalued. It had so many things that stuck with me, from the fascination with the period and its Art Deco motif, to the legend of Howard Hughes, to some really great shooting locales, including Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Like a few other television shows and films of the era, the Rocketeer had a huge impact on what would become my interests as an adult and my eventual career path, but in a way that reinforced my passions more than anything else. I saw that movie on its premiere night in the incredible, but long-gone Fox Theater in Portland, Oregon with my dad. You couldn’t ask for a better setting for that film. 

Not too long after the Rocketeer made the Gee Bee famous again, Delmar Benjamin began flying his Gee Bee R2 recreation on the air show circuit. The R model Gee Bees were arguably the most famous, with Jimmy Doolittle winning the Thompson Trophy in Cleveland in 1932 while setting a new speed record in the Gee Bee R1. This was just one of the model’s many feats.

National Archives

Keep in mind that Gee Bees were awesomely powerful and aesthetically pleasing machines, but they were known as very tricky to fly at best and straight-up widow makers at worst. The fact that Benjamin and his R2 dispelled so much of that dark history by pulling off a remarkably intense air show routine and some outright thrilling air racing was also a game changer of sorts. Growing up being fascinated with the Gee Bee family and its lore was one thing, seeing it fly through the air first-hand was another. The fact that it really could do so much aerobatic work safely sort of opened up my curiosity when it came to investigating aerospace legend versus reality. 

The R2 has an approach speed of 145mph and a touchdown speed of 120mph! Delmar Benjamin’s R2 is seen here at Fantasy of Flight. , Greg Goebel/wikicommons

For well over a decade, the R2 flew all over the United States and abroad with Benjamin at its controls and was an absolute star of the air show circuit. Eventually, it was retired and put on display at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida. Also housed there are a number of Gee Bees, including a flyable Z model. It was put back into the air after investigating the wing flutter issue that caused the original to crash, with Delmar Benjamin at the controls of course. 

So, suffice it to say, the Gee Bee family of planes is near and dear to my heart. That’s why it’s so exciting that there is another rare Gee Bee recreation that has had many of the design’s original issues solved and is fully flyable. Oh, and it can also carry a passenger! This aircraft is a modification of the biggest and last Gee Bee of them all, the R-6H model, also known as the Gee Bee Q.E.D., that traces its roots back to the Gee Bee R model. 

Only one Q.E.D. was ever built and it had a less than a spectacular racing career. The Granville Brothers built it for captain of industry Floyd Odlum who intended for his future wife, famed aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, to fly it in the London-to-Sydney McRobertson Air Race. She didn’t get any farther than Romania when mechanical issues kept her on the ground. Beyond that, the R-6H never even completed any of the four Bendix and Thompson air races it was entered into. 

The R6H/Q.E.D. getting gassed prior to a race in the mid 1930s. , San Diego Air And Space Museum

By the late 1930s, famed Mexican aviator Francisco Sarabia owned the aircraft, which he named “Conquistador del Cielo” (Conqueror of Heaven). He set out to set a number of speed-over-distance records with it. The big Q.E.D. was as much a touring machine as it was a pylon racer. 

On June 7th, 1939, while leaving to set a Washington, D.C. to Mexico City record from Bolling Field, the Q.E.D.’s engine quit when a rag left in the aircraft’s engine bay was sucked into its carburetor. The aircraft crashed into the Potomac River shortly after takeoff, killing Francisco Sarabia, but leaving the aircraft largely intact. It was later restored for display in Lerdo, Mexico as a memorial attraction to the famed flyer.

Restored Q.E.D.,  Delosrjs/wikicommons

Famed vintage aircraft recreator and restorer Jim Moss decided that the largest and last of the Granville Brothers racers could and should be brought back to life and improved upon. The result was Moss’s gorgeous Q.E.D. II that featured well over double the horsepower (675hp Pratt & Whitney R-1690 Hornet vs 1,425hp Wright R-1820 Cyclone), 10 percent larger wing area, and a bigger vertical stabilizer and rudder, among other changes that made the aircraft far more stable and enjoyable to fly. So, calling it a ‘Super Q.E.D.’ also makes a lot of sense. 

After 50,000 man-hours of work, Moss’s creation took to the skies for the first time in 2013. Sadly, he was never able to see it fly. He died just weeks before it took to the air. Still, as the aircraft made its rounds, including to Oshkosh in 2014, where people were stunned with the quality of work that went into the aircraft. It was truly a work of flying art. 

Like the Q.E.D. of the past, two people can fly in this big-ass Gee Bee, meaning the joy of ripping through the heavens one of these historic flying hotrods can be shared with others. And the big race plane can travel over long distances, like its predecessor, so touring in the Q.E.D. II is very much a real possibility. This would make it uniquely well suited for hitting the air show circuit and letting as many people as possible enjoy it. 

Currently, the king of the Gee Bees is for sale for $899,000. This has to be a small

fraction of what it cost to develop and build it and the aircraft is essentially brand new. 

Platinum Fighters

So, if you are a pilot that needs an air show business plan or a plane collector with a $900k burning a hole in your pocket, please buy this and fly the hell out of it. Inspire a whole new generation of aviation enthusiasts and keep the legend of the golden age of air racing alive for years to come, just like Delmar Benjamin did for me in his R-2. 

Check out the full listing at Platinum Fighters by clicking here.

Platinum Fighters

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com

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Tyler Rogoway


Tyler’s passion is the study of military technology, strategy, and foreign policy and he has fostered a dominant voice on those topics in the defense media space. He was the creator of the hugely popular defense site Foxtrot Alpha before developing The War Zone.