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Historians donate research materials for new history museum

Date: 4/21/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The men who chronicled the story of Springfield aviation and the Gee Bee planes in the 1992 documentary "Those Incredible GeeBees" donated their original research materials on Tuesday to the Springfield Museums for use in the new Springfield History Museum.

Aviation historians Donald Foster, Thomas Nallen and Morrill Ring were able to interview two of the Granville Brothers -- "GeeBee" stood for Granville Brothers -- as well as airplane designers Howell Miller and Bob Hall as well as pioneering woman pilot Maude Tait.

Stating the three men "kept the torch of GeeBee alive," Joseph Carvalho, president of the Springfield Museums, added, "They had the foresight to interview people who were still at the top of their game."

The 1920s and '30s were marked by innovations in aviation, often made by independent companies and designers. Beginning with a new biplane design in 1929, the Granville Brothers, working out of facilities at the former Springfield Airport on Liberty Street, now a shopping plaza built distinctive airplanes that dominated the era's air races.

"They grew up with no electricity in their house and they built the world's fast airplane," Foster said.

The presentation was made in the Museum of Science's exhibit of GeeBee artifacts and Foster pointed to a photo of a GeeBee plane parked on the taxiway. He as a child was among spectators in the background of the picture.

Foster became a pilot himself and helped the museum assembled their GeeBee artifacts.

The GeeBee planes were known for their speed and unfortunately for their crashes. Foster said the reputation of the plan being unstable is incorrect and that pilots during that time were not used to the plane's power. Replicas of GeeBee planes made today from the original plans have proven to be reliable aircraft.

"It's easy to fly today," Foster said.

Foster said the late aviation pioneer and World War II hero General James "Jimmy" Doolittle had set a speed record in a GeeBee and "thought the documentary was fantastic."

Nallen said their film took a year to produce and included archival footage as well as original interviews.

Guy McLain, director of the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum and who is charge of the new history museum, said the material would be assembled so it can be among the films featured in the new museum's theater.

The documentary is on sale in the museums' Welcome Center gift shop.