A Brief Origin Story
What were the events that lead to the Bulldog’s construction?
Inspired by an encounter with the Polish built PZL. P-6 prototype during the 1931 Cleveland National Air Races, Hall embraced the gull-wing as both a fast and stable platform for pylon racing. He begins sketching designs that include the gull-wing almost immediately.
Despite their success in air racing the Granville Brothers Co. has a difficult time paying Halls salary. With his first child expected any day, Hall resigns and takes an offer to join a nearby ground school as an instructor on aircraft design and construction. His first project at the school is the building of a full-scale mockup of a gull-winged racing plane.
Within a month of joining the school Hall buys a controlling interest in it. By the end of 1931 he changes the name to The Springfield Aircraft Co. and shortly after moves the operation from Springfield Airport to a new home across the Connecticut river at Bowles-Agawam Airport.
That winter Hall’s students and instructors begin building a small low horsepower racing plane based on the mockup they have previously completed. Designated design V-1. In March a wealthy flyer from New Jersey named Frank Lynch commissions Hall’s new company to build a custom plane for he and his wife to fly around the world. Hall incorporates the gull-wing into the original design but later changes to a shoulder wing due to deadline constraints. In this plane Bob Hall also includes a new design for the landing gear, which encloses many of the components within the fuselage to reduce drag. He borrows another design element from the PZL. P-6 and positions the engine exhaust stacks at a 90-degree angle to the direction of flight. It is his hope this will improve the function of the engine’s supercharger.
Wanting to get back into air racing but struggling to obtain funds from the Springfield Air Racing Association who are backing the more established Granville Brothers. Hall is approached in the late Spring by New York playboy and pilot Russell W. Thaw and his financer Marron Price Guggenheim. Thaw is looking to break into the air racing world and wants the reining Thompson Trophy winning designer to build him a plane. The resulting design incorporates all the new elements Bob has put into the Lynch plane along with a specialized racing Pratt & Whitney R-1340 T3D1 engine that produces 800 horsepower. Capping off the plane is a brand-new controllable pitch propeller from Hamilton Standard.
Nearly for Naught
How Bob Hall rescued the Bulldog from an even earlier grave
The plane is completed August 15, 1932. Its owner Mrs. Guggenheim names it “Bulldog” for her husband’s alma mater Yale University despite it being painted in Harvard crimson. It makes its first flight the following day on August 16th. Over the next week Thaw requests numerous modifications to the design, mostly centered around the tail and rudder. Added complications arise when leaks and oil pressure issues are discovered in the new Pratt & Whitney motor. After repairs, testing, and completion of the requested modifications, Hall turns the plane over to Russell Thaw on August 26th, 1932.
That same day, Thaw flies the plane to his home airport, Roosevelt Field Long Island, NY. He is slated to make a brief stop there before heading to California for the start of the Bendix cross-country race. Upon his arrival in NY Thaw announces to the press that he is not happy with the Bulldog and refuses to fly the plane in competition.
Thaw’s contract with Hall states that only he or a pilot of his choosing may fly the Bulldog. It appears that the new racer will not fly in the 1932 races. Hall spends the next 48 hours attempting to convince Thaw and Guggenheim to allow him to fly the plane. There are rumors that Bob tries to buy back the Bulldog from them, but these are later shown to be untrue. Eventually Guggenheim grants Bob approval to fly the Bulldog to Cleveland. It is only after he arrives that he is given permission to fly in the races.
Having spent their very limited time making modifications to the tail and repairs to the engine the previous week. At Cleveland Hall and his team get to work attempting to refine the design and ready it for the races. He flies the Bulldog in the Shell Speed Dashes, a qualifying event for the premier race, the Thompson Trophy. The Bulldog is fast enough to qualify but is much slower than the rival Gee Bee R-1 built by his former employers the Granville Brothers.
At the suggestion of Granville Brother’s pilot Jimmy Doolittle, Hall removes the Bulldog’s original exhaust system and replaces it with a more traditional one the day before the Thompson. Weather prevents any testing that evening. In the morning Hall tests the plane in another attempt at the speed dashes. He finds that the Bulldog has become slower with the alterations to the exhaust. There is no time to return to the original design before the big race.
Rise & Fall
A tragic end makes way for new beginnings
The Thompson race begins with Hall and the Bulldog in the lead, but he is soon passed by Doolittle and the Gee Bee R-1. As the race progresses Hall reports that the plane is slowing, even as he increases engine RPMs. Gradually he is passed by four other competitors, finishing 6th overall and outside the prize money. Hall speculates that the Hamilton Standard propeller malfunctioned and prevented him from getting optimal performance out of the Wasp engine. He later notes that the loss of speed caused by changing the exhaust at the 11th hour was the difference between finishing 5th and winning some prize money, or going home empty handed.
Frustrated, Hall leaves Cleveland and returns to Springfield. Since he does not own the Bulldog, he leaves it behind in Cleveland. Sometime later the Bulldog’s engine and prop are returned to their manufacturers, as both were on loan for the races. The remains of the plane are eventually broken up and sold for scrap. Several components such as the engine cowl, cockpit cover, and wheel pants are purchased by the Cleveland Model Company and used to produce scale models. These parts are donated to the scrap drives of World War II.
Hall continues to work with Frank Lynch refining the L-1 Cicada and preparing for his round-the-world flight. On December 4th, 1932 Frank Lynch is testing the Cicada at Bowles Field. He is killed and the plane completely destroyed in a fiery wreck when Lynch clips the roof of the Bowles hangar on takeoff. Following this crash Hall closes the Springfield Aircraft Co. and leaves Springfield for a job with Stinson Aircraft in Michigan.