The Model Z was built to win the 1931 Thompson Trophy Race at the National Air Races in Cleveland, Ohio. With a big engine incorporated into the smallest possible airframe the plane was fast, but tricky to fly. During the Shell Speed Dash, the Z set the world record for the fastest speed ever recorded by a land plane -- an average of 267.342 miles per hour. Refitted with a bigger engine, the Z began flying at speeds over 280 miles per hour by December. But during one high-speed run at 150 feet, the Z's right wing failed and the racer crashed in a massive fireball -- killing pilot Lowell Bayles.
The Museum's Gee Bee is a reproduction of the original but is not exact in every way. In 1978, Bill Turner built the plane to fly -- and fly much safer than the hot-rod original. This plane has slightly longer wings and fuselage and less-powerful engine to make it easier to control. The plane was purchased by the Disney Corporation and appeared in the 1991 movie The Rocketeer. The Gee Bee was on display at the Santa Monica Museum of Flying before it was purchased by The Museum of Flight.