Reno Air Races…to Church! | The Weekly Source
YesI never know how the mind of a 94-year-old naturalist/writer will work at 11 a.m. Sunday morning in church.
There I was sitting on the bench, listening to a beautiful newly married young woman talk about her conversion, when suddenly I saw a 1936 GB R-1 racing plane bobbing in the air in front of me, tight in the hand of a little boy.
What a magical moment it was! In a split second, I could hear the roar of the big 800 hp radial engine again as this beautiful plane passed overhead, and I was back at the Reno Championship Air races, lying flat belly in mugwort.
I had met GB pilot Delmar Benjamin about 10 minutes earlier and asked him for a low pass in the runway so I could get an eye-catching photo of his race plane to use in a story I was writing for the newspaper at home. I had no idea he would be so useful, or get himself into so much hot water doing it.
It just so happened that Old Man Murphy of “Murphy’s Law” was standing between me and two guys from the Federal Aviation Administration when we heard the GB coming. I got the shot I was looking for, but when we all got up and got out of the mugwort and back on our feet, Murphy’s Law kicked in, which states, “If anything can go wrong, it will go”.
These two FAA guys didn’t feel good about having a face full of Nevada desert sand and gave poor Delmar a big penalty for doing what he did…even though I thought his low pass was quite normal and wonderful; after all, we were standing on the race course.
Anyway, I got into aviation and started flying in 1940 when air racing was all the rage. Charles Lindbergh’s great adventure was still relevant, and in the world of air racing were the Granville brothers who designed and built the GB R-1 Racer, then flown by Jimmy Doolittle and Eddie Rickenbacker of First World fame. World War.
A champion racing driver named Col. Roscoe Turner came into my life when he hooked up with a growing oil company. Turner was a real showman and placed a baby lion in the cockpit of his Turner Racer, made sure the press knew about it, and rode from airport to airport with his cub, Gilmore, in his lap. Which put him in my personal hero status, where he still is today.
Due to my great interest in air racing, it was no surprise to anyone that I could be found at the Reno Air Races on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in early September, shortly after arriving in Bend on my beautiful Harley-Davidson in 1952. When this GB replica came by, I was over the moon!
The original GB Racer was built by the Granville brothers – Zantford, Thomas, Robert, Mark and Edward – in 1932 in Springfield, Massachusetts. They continued to play with the original design until it turned into the R-1, which won numerous races and awards.
Before the Runner, they had designed and built three biplanes which they named the Sportsters. The GB R-1, however, was designed by Zantford, who had the nickname Granny and was no stranger to aircraft as he ran an aircraft repair business at the old Springfield airport.
The GB R-1 racer won the 1932 Thompson Trophy race, piloted by famed WWI ace Jimmy Doolittle (who was also the leader of the Doolittle Raiders who bombed Tokyo, Japan during WWII World War.)
Doolittle also set a new landplane speed record of 296 mph in the Shell Speed Dash of 1932. (The distinction of a landplane speed record was notable because at that time the racing seaplanes often outpaced landplanes, such as the then current speed record holder, a British-built Supermarine S.6B which averaged 407.5 mph in September 1931).
The Springfield Union newspaper for September 6, 1932, quoted Dolittle as saying, “This is the loveliest ship I have ever sailed. It’s perfect in every way, and the engine is as good as it was a week ago. a beat and still contains a lot of stuff. I think this proves that the Granville Brothers in Springfield (MA) build the best speed ships in America today.
And that was one of the main reasons the last man to fly the GB R-1 replica, Delmar Benjamin, could use it to put on one of the most brilliant performances at the Reno Air Show and the races of championship, before retiring this beautiful aircraft in 2002 to where it now rests safely at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Florida.
Maybe young Cal Walker will one day pilot his airship to the Moon or beyond.