Jimmy and Mae Haizlip


After World War I, Jimmy Haizlip enrolled in college and started a flying service to help with expenses. There he met Mae, a flying student, and fourteen days later they were married. Soon the two were flying on the air race circuit. In 1932 they both piloted the Wedell Williams 92, Jimmy won the Bendix race and Mae placed second in the Cleveland Pneumatic Tool Company Race for Woman. Later Mae set a new worlds speed record for women in the Wedell Williams 92.

April 27, 2020

Mr. Henry Haffke
Vineland, New Jersey 08360

Thank you for your letter of April 17 and the fine photo of your flying model of the Gee Bee Racer. It is a beautiful replica and looking at it takes me back to those days many years ago at Cleveland and Springfield when a few of us were in and around the original full-scale articles. Reading of your childhood I am tempted to reminisce at length about the first time I met the Granville Brothers and their sponsors, the Tait Family; one cold damp Sunday afternoon at the original Springfield Airport in May of 1930 when I had been requested by our Eastern Division of the Shell Oil Company to represent the Company by flying our Shell Travel Air Mystery S in the coming week's New England Air tour. During the next eight days I became well acquainted with the Granvilles, especially Zantford who was nearer my age, and Lowell Bayles who, at the time, was emerging into a pretty sharp pilot. Since from your account you were in the three-year old age bracket at the time much of the detail of that event must have escaped your notice. Some good write ups of the day-to-day activity appeared in the Boston Transcript of that week, written by one of their better reporters who accompanied the Tour. For my part, I returned the little Travel Air to our home base at St. Louis, but continued to meet Zantford and his brothers at the Cleveland and Chicago air races during the next three years.

About my brief but memorable experience flying the Gee Bee No. 7; were I to repeat my introductory flights in the light of what I learned later I'm sure the outcome would be different. Unmistakably, it was a good airplane. I can see now that had I been less sure of myself in believing that I could jump into a strange single seater with slightly less than what we regarded conventional configuration, and start right away demonstrating sideslip landings over obstacles, the airplane and I would have had a longer and less embarrassing association.

Actually, by the time I was making my third landing that warm windless July morning at Bowles Agawam Airport after ferrying No. 7 up from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, where Russell Thaw had left it. I had adapted, so I thought, to the slight handling differences the other experimental racers that I had flown, and was prepared to shoot a few more landings of the kind I might have to make should it be necessary to get into a short field.

I had been on the ground at Burbank Airport the summer before and watched Lee Gehlbach make four passes at the north/south runway before almost overshooting on his final landing. That scene had lingered in my mind and I think that a bit of cockiness on my part prompted me to try to prove that all that space wasn't necessary just to land. My considerable flight time in the Travel Air S in the summer of '30 and my Wedell-William, experience two years later spliced on to many dozens of sideslip landings with Nieuports and Moranes during the war years in France, made me a devotee of that form of getting a small airplane into a short field. My short stature made a sideslip a good way to have a clear look at the ground right down to the last few feet below the wheels. The essential move at the last before touch down was to rudder into any drift resulting from the sideslip so that both wheels (and the tail skid, in the case of a three-point landing) would be moving straight with the ground racing below. That was a carry over from the days of no brakes with which to correct a possible ground loop.

This time at Springfield, I decided to use the least possible length of field for this particular landing. The no-wind condition would be a good test. My big mistake, as I relive the moment was that I hadn't practiced stalls and a few kicks back and forth without the trailing edge flaps. Those had been recently installed when the Wasp Junior had been replaced with the big Wasp.  As I've told on more than one occasion, everything went smoothly over the boundary trees, with the airspeed comfortably above stall and the airplane and I were speeding just above the sod at an indicated 110mph when I gave a final and maybe too vigorous kick to the right rudder to correct the last leftward drift.

Had the airplane and I been a few thousand feet up I would have just had a momentary surprise and would have set about to learning some more of its unique characteristics in a nose high stall. But. like poor Russ Boardman in No.11 at Indianapolis, we were too near the ground for such a sudden surprise.

The rest is history: an all too short one at that. The sequence as I recall it was that with the wheels no more than two feet off the ground the left wing tip slapped the turf with enough force to jerk the whole airplane sideways. The forward ground speed, still at least 100mph, snatched off both landing gear struts then the right wing. By this time the propeller and engine dug in and tumbled the rest of the wreckage into a forward somersault This disposed the entire empennage, the fuselage, gallons of fuel and a cringing pilot came to rest on the right side blocking the little access door. During the sequence I hadn't been able to reach the ignition switch, so my immediate preoccupation was getting clear before the fuel might flash. The space directly behind the pilot's seat was an open array of fairing strips like the top of a large unfinished willow basket. When I popped the transparent canopy overhead to go out that way, I couldn't squeeze through until I unstrapped the three parachute straps and went out clean.

After a short dash to be in the clear in case of fire, I took stock of the results. I had one scratched elbow where I'd braced my bare arm against the side of the cockpit, and a small nick in my forehead where the flap control crank below the instrument panel had met it as I ducked for cover. The instrument panel, by design placed far enough forward to miss the pilot's head, hadn't touched me. A three inch welt across my thighs like a heavy sunburn gave proof to what had held me in the saddle. But as the fellows dashed down from the hangar almost a half mile away, it was a terribly crestfallen pilot that had to tell Zantford Granville that he didn't really mean to bend his nice airplane. 

My wife's experience with one of the smaller Gee Bees was confined to one race at Cleveland in 1931. Zantford came to us hurriedly one afternoon and asked if Mary would fly one of their airplanes in a Woman's Race. We were across the field from the starting line and the race was due to start in less than ten minutes. One of the boys taxied the Gee Bee across while we went by car. I showed Mary the ignition switch and the throttle and reminded her that after the race there was plenty of fuel to fly a little familiarization before landing which it turned out she didn't need. She placed in the race ahead of the other identical Gee Bee and turned the airplane back to the Granvilles in perfect condition. That year she had competed in seven different race events for women and had flown six different airplanes in them including one of her own that she flew in the Coast-to-Coast Derby. In all the contests she entered she placed either first or second to the delight and admiration of the other airplane owners.

Summing up the little bit I learned about the senior Gee Bees, I'd say that they were remarkable examples of forward looking design, but because of the unusually large diameter fuselage in proportion to its length, it had stall characteristics that merited more study than the urgency of the times and the availability of funds permitted. In those days of un-subsidized experimental aircraft development, the builders working most of the time without precedent or example to follow had to have more than the genius that some like the Granvilles and Bob Hall displayed. They needed pilots who could keep up with the advanced designs, since a pilot, no matter how willing had no simulator to practice on before he tried the finished article. Whether he would admit it or not he was constantly having his experience and skill challenged.

Altogether, it was stimulating and fun when you could win, and for those of us who have survived, a pleasant experience now that it has been mellowed by time.

Mary and I wish you the best for your Gee Bee book and if I can be of further assistance (within the limits of the time at my disposal) let me hear from you again.

James G. Haizlip