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The Hall Bulldog Project
Daron J Cristy, Contributing Writer & Photographer

The Man

Robert Leicester Hall was born in Taunton, Massachusetts, 22 August 1905. Son to Bicknell Hall, a mechanical engineer, and Estella Beatrice Lane Hall.

He graduated in 1927, from the University of Michigan, with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering (BSME).

In 1929 he started working for the Fairchild Airplane Manufacturing Company, Farmingdale, New York.

Hall joined Granville Brothers Aircraft in 1931, where he was the chief engineer and helped design the Gee Bee model Z Super Sportster racer (NR77V), the City of Springfield, which won every race in the National Air races of 1931.

City of Springfield, Gee Bee Z (NR77V) (US Air Force)

On 5 September 1931, Hall himself flew the Gee Bee Z to victory in the General Tire and Rubber trophy race. He also entered and won the free-for-all event the following day.

Hall also flew the Gee Bee Y Senior Sportster, number 54, in the Thompson Trophy race, where he placed fourth, with a speed of 201.250 mph.

After a disagreement, Hall left Granville Brothers and formed Hall Aircraft. Here Hall designed the Bulldog along with the Cicada racer, which had been intended to be flown by its owner Lt. Frank Lynch in the 1932 National Air Races. The plane was unable to start the race due to engine issues. Returning to Bowles Airport, the Cicada reportedly clipped the top of a hangar and exploded, killing the pilot, Lt. Lynch.

Cicada at Bowles Airport, Massachusetts

Hall then worked for Stinson Aircraft from 1933 until 1936, where he designed the gull-wing Stinson Reliant.

In 1936, Robert Hall became the chief engineer at Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation in Dayton, Ohio. Here he helped design and test a series of planes used during World War II. Serving as chief engineer and lead flight test pilot, he helped design and made the first flights of the F4F Wildcat, the G-21 Goose in 1937, the XP-50 in 1941, the F6F Hellcat in 1942, the F7F Tigercat in 1943 and the F8F Bearcat in 1944. On 14 May 1941, while flying the XP-50, he experienced an in-flight turbocharger explosion while over Long Island Sound. Hall was forced to parachute to safety.

As Grumman's chief engineer and vice president, he was instrumental in the design of the F9F Panther, F9F Cougar, F10F Jaguar, and F11F Tiger jet fighters and the Gulfstream I executive aircraft.

Robert Hall retired from Grumman in 1970 and died 25 February 1991 at 85 years old in Newport, Rhode Island.

The Airplane

Robert Hall formed Hall Aircraft and came to Bowles Airport in Agawam, Massachusetts, to work on his project that came to be known as the Bulldog.

Aerial view commemorating the opening of Bowles Airport by Robert Selff
(courtesy of Matt Lawlor)

The project was sponsored by Marion Guggenheim and was named after the Yale University mascot. She had also stipulated that Russell Thaw was to pilot it in the 1932 National Air Races. Thaw, however, declined, saying "The ship is not my idea of a racer!"

Robert Hall and Russell Thaw in front of the Bulldog

Hall took to piloting the plane himself.

In the race, the Bulldog's average speed was 215.57 mph with a top speed of 270 mph and finished in a disappointing sixth place.

Rumors quickly spread about the plane, one being that a restriction placed on the air inlet kept the Bulldog from showing its true potential and the other being that the experimental Hamilton Standard propeller prevented the engine from running at full power.

Either way, the performance of the aircraft had been so disappointing that shortly after the race the Bulldog was dismantled and scrapped, the Wasp engine returned to Pratt and Whitney - the Bulldog never to be seen again, until now.

The Project

Jim Bourke has been intrigued with the Hall Bulldog since the early nineties. The plane has a mystery of its own and is steeped in history because it was designed by such a prolific and successful aircraft engineer. Over time, Jim has accumulated everything he possibly could that is associated with the aircraft, including plastic models, R/C model plans, photographs, and magazine articles. (Please note that if you have any information, items, or relics related to the Hall Bulldog, Jim would be very happy to hear from you.)

Jim was also able to integrate a version of the Bulldog in one of the early releases of RealFlight simulator. Here he has been able to explore some of the flight characteristics and aerodynamics of the plane. He concluded that in fact it was feasible to build a replica. This may be the ultimate test of that flight simulator technology - a true transition from the computer imaging and design to the real world. Jim hopes that the completion of this project will help to dispel a lot of the myths that have been created over the years.

The Team

The team is led by Jim Bourke, a world-ranked aerobatic competitor, air show pilot, and president of the International Aerobatic Club (IAC). He is joined by award-winning aircraft designer and fabricator Tony Horvath and aviation historian Matthew Lawlor.

As for Jim, he grew up around aircraft as his father was a plane broker. Though his father tells the story about Jim falling asleep all the way through his first plane ride, at the grand age of 4, and then Jim saying that his dad had been tricking him because he did not remember the flight. Jim got his PPL at the age of 17 and travelled with his father picking up and delivering planes, as well as attending numerous air shows, which went on to ensure that Jim truly caught the flying bug.

The Bulldog Project started to come together in the summer of 2020. Jim purchased a steel truss from Western Antique Aeroplane and Automotive Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River, Oregon. The truss had been a project that had been started by Jim Jenkins and had been at the North Cascades Vintage Aircraft museum in Concrete, Washington, for many years.

Although there are many modelling kits and plans available, the right opportunity never appeared for Jim to build a model; however, he is quite happy skipping that, saying, "The real one will fly great! It is just a very heavy airplane for its size, like flying a Lear jet or something similar. As long as the engine runs, it will be safe."

Jim partnered with Tony as they have already worked on many projects together. Tony is a gifted custom aircraft builder.

Jim met Matthew Lawlor whilst doing online research. It turns out that Matt is an amateur historian who has a great interest in this period of history.

The Project Goals

The project is currently hangared in Corvallis, Oregon.

The team has collected and catalogued more information about the project than ever expected. A lot of this information may have been lost over time if this had not happened.

Jim Jenkins, Jim Rourke, and Mathew Lawlor with the last surviving remnant of the Hall Bulldog

Completion of the project is slated to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the plane's original debut, which is 15 August 2022. It will be a tough challenge, but obviously a lot easier to aim for a date when you have one.

Once the project has been completed, they aim to fly and display it at air shows until its projected retirement on the 100th anniversary!

Period photo compilation of the Bulldog

And the cost? No accurate estimate is available, and Jim has resigned to the fact that the costs will be what they will be. Such is the price for realizing a dream!

What Does 2021 Have in Store?

Jim is firstly hoping to see the competition and air show calendar for the aerobatic community be far more active this year, and secondly, he looks forward to building some ribs for the Bulldog!

Not only is there the Bulldog project but Forrest Fox is also working on the Bulldog movie.

Daron J Cristy, Contributing Writer & Photographer
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