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A model citizen

Henry Haffke surrounded by Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, daughter Karen Hart, and sons Ray Haffke and Gary Haffke

Henry Haffke surrounded by Malta Supervisor Paul Sausville, daughter Karen Hart, and sons Ray Haffke and Gary Haffke Photo by Marci Revette.

— Once out of the service, Haffke continued to build more and more detailed flying model airplanes. But perhaps his greatest achievements happened after he became involved with the Granville Brothers, who invented the famous Gee Bee aircrafts.

Although it was considered dangerous by many because of the radical design, which included a tear-drop shape, stubby wings and side-by-side seating, the diminutive Gee Bee planes were responsible for several air speed records, including the world speed record of more than 500 mph set by Jimmy Doolittle in 1936.

That model, the R-1, “flew faster than anyone had ever flown before,” said Haffke.

“They were way ahead of their time,” he said of the Granville Brothers.

Because the design was so radical for the time, experts said the plane was dangerous, but Haffke set out to prove them wrong. He spent five years researching the plane and even met pilots that had supposedly been killed flying the Gee Bees. The result of the research was a book, “Gee Bee — The Real Story of the Granville Brothers and their Marvelous Airplanes.”

The other result was a determination to build a scale model of the Gee Bee that could actually fly. In spite of all his accolades, Haffke said the most exciting time of his life was the first time he actually flew a Gee Bee model in competition at the Old Rhinebeck Aerodome in the early 1970s.

Haffke said no one had ever seen a model Gee Bee fly before and the event was even sweeter because of the presence of one of the Granville brothers, Bob, with whom he had become good friends.

“No one had seen a Gee Bee model fly and they were amazed that it flew,” said Haffke. “It was so much fun because everyone was amazed that it actually flew.”

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