Captain Hook and his Fantastic Flying Machine
There are Swifts and then there is the Super Swift

Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, June 1972


Hook Swift low gnd color
The airplane now has a Nagle canopy and a 540 Lycoming in it, but the certification is still hung up.

It took some time to get used to the power settings the Franklin demanded. Full power is a whopping 39 inches of manifold pressure and 2800 rpm, with 43 inches permissible for five minutes at a time. Numbers like that belong in a fighter, homemade or not. We leveled out at 4,000 feet and cranked in 75 percent power. The airspeed settled down to a solid 190 mph indicated or an amazing 204 mph true! Sixty-five percent gave 175 mph IAS and economy cruise was 165 IAS (177 TAS) at less than 10 gph. Steve has had it as high as 16,000 feet and says the indicated speeds don't change a bit because of the turbocharger. That means it's capable of whistling along in cruise at 235 mph TAS or better.
The AiResearch turbocharger that's puffing into this Franklin has to be one of the slickest around. It's hooked to the throttle and comes in via mechanical linkage when the throttle gets more than three-quarters open, so you just fly as you would normally and let the turbo take care of itself. In the 150 hours Steve has logged on the airplane, ironing out bugs as he went, the turbo hasn't so much as hiccupped. It's been completely trouble free.
A stock Swift feels like a fighter anyway, but when you have this many ponies working for you, and you know both the engine and airframe are specially built for hanging upside down, there's no way this thing can stay right side up for long. The Bonanza tips reduced the wingspan almost five feet, so the already high roll rate is jacked up to the point that full-deflection aileron rolls bounce your head off the side windows. All the controls are silky smooth and respond to every touch, no matter how subtle.

Swift KNiff Edge
The airplane does amazingly good high-speed aerobatics

I looped and rolled and twisted and turned for a while and found the airplane to be nearly as capable as my Pitts, but requiring more airspace and a little lighter touch when slow. But, somehow, I didn't feel I was really getting to know the airplane. Sure, I was tossing it around a lot, but even though it did precision aerobatics with the very best of them, it felt as if it would have been happier doing something else. Then the opportunity presented itself to really find out how the airplane flies.

During one of our rare lapses into level flight, I glanced over my right shoulder just in time to see a friend of mine, Harry Sheppard, glue himself into our four o'clock position in his gleaming white Waco Meteor, known in Europe as the Siai-Marchetti S F. 260. Sheppard is an ex-Navy fighter jockey and the S F. 260 is probably the fastest single-engine production airplane in the world, besides being aerobatic. This was just too good to miss.
From the grin on his face I knew what was in his mind, so I pulled up hard into a big right-hand barrel roll, watching the Meteor through the Swift's top canopy as Harry started to turn away—the fight was on. The G meter scrambled toward plus-4 as I pulled out of the roll, trying to keep behind the Meteor, which was going to be tough because Sheppard is so good at this game, I knew he’d be humoring me to even let me stay in the same piece of sky with him during a dogfight.

The fight raged on for 15 minutes, going from 2,000 to 6,000 feet and back in seconds. It made no difference who won (I say that because I lost) because we were both having a ball, and I got to stuff the Swift into every little nook and cranny of its flight envelope. I learned a lot about it while hassling Harry. While following the Meteor up out of 250-mph dives, I found the Swift loses speed in the vertical much faster than I expected, although it goes uphill for a long, long way. I was vertical at the top of one of those 2,500 foot zooms and in the process of rotating 90 degrees to pull over on my back when I glanced at the airspeed. It was hovering around 55 mph and I was still under perfect control.

Swift Ground BW
Tough looking little toad, isn't it?

The Swift surprised me almost immediately during my first 4G turn onto the Meteor's tail when it started buffetting like crazy, telling me I was nibbling at a high speed stall, even though I was indicating over 150 mph. That's where the extra wing area of the original tips would have helped. A couple times I accidentally got it quite deep into the buffet but it kept right on flying and give no indication that it was going to do anything stupid. Soon, I formed the habit of pulling until I felt the buffet and then backing off just a bit. Normal stalls were preceded by the same shaking and shimmying.
There is no more satisfying, exhilarating sport than dogfighting with two well-built aerobatic machines, especially when the pilots have flown enough together to trust each other and both know to keep out of the other's way. In a good free-for-all you do practically no aerobatics in the formal sense of the word. The horizon ceases to exist and you are judging all your movements by the airplane that's hopefully in front of you (although in my case I was looking over my shoulder most of the time). It's complete three-dimensional flight. In airplanes such as the Halpern/ D'Arcy Swift or the S F. 260, the airplane offers no limitations, so all you have to remember is not to hit the ground or each other. This is the game the big Swift is best at—it let me play fighter pilot in the truest sense of the word, at less than 18 gph. It's really a blast!
The landings were probably the biggest surprise of all. I found it easier to land than a stock Swift. The wing fillets allowed me to creep over the fence at 75 to 80 mph, and even a couple mph too much gives a tremendous float. It must have something to do with the way the fillets streamline the airflow over the gear well or something, because it sure is a floater. Once it's down, though, the clipped wings make sure it's going to stay there. The shorter wings also make it easier to three-point, although I wheel-landed it because I'm basically a chicken. Wheelies are dead simple. I made quite a few takeoffs and landings and found both to be no sweat. It has the normal Swift problems such as being difficult to handle in hard left crosswinds on takeoff, but nothing that's any more than a minor irritation. A crosswind doesn't seem to make much difference on landing because the little wings are so close to the ground and the gear is so wide that it's easy to control with rudder and/or brakes.
To put it simply, the 250-hp Turbo Swift has the performance of a fighter, the agility of an acrobat and the docile handling characteristics of a Cub. You can run right past most twins inverted, while only sipping fuel instead of guzzling it, and then push up into an outside loop. It's such a pretty little thing, and has so many obvious advantages, that anybody who wants something more than just another flying machine would be satisfied with it.
The airport vibrated to the sound of the Franklin pulling Halpern up at a 45-degree angle. I watched him disappearing in the distance, the wing tips occasionally swapping places as he rolled, and I started thinking, "Let's see. I know where I can get a good Swift airframe, then I need a Franklin, and ..."      BD                                 
Editor's Note from 2009: Steve still has the airplane and has continually modified it through the years. It now has a central control stick with the throttle, prop and flaps on the stick run by electric motors. He's mounted a Nagle canopy and put a Lycoming 0-540 in it. However, he's trying to keep it in standard category and the individual doing the certification has been slow getting it done. But, he won't give up: Steve is nothing if not persistent.

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