Every once in a while, I’m privileged to fly an airplane that stands out from the pack. While most general-aviation designs are safe, comfortable machines, few are exciting airplanes intended to do more than transport their pilots from Miami to New Orleans, or Chicago to Dallas.
Certainly, one airplane in the latter category is the LoPresti Fury. Roy LoPresti licensed the right to modify and produce the airplane from the Swift Association in 1985. A year later, Roy began working his magic on the post-war Swift.
Two years later, the LoPresti family introduced the flying prototype as the Swift-Fury at the 1988 Sun ’n Fun Air Show in Lakeland, Fla. The airplane caused quite a stir among the crowd at Sun ’n Fun. Roy took an amazing 131 deposits at that one-week show and went on to accumulate 569 production orders over the next few years.
I was one of the few folks who was allowed to fly the prototype. In contrast to the original Swift, the LoPresti version was nothing short of sheer joy, exactly what I might have expected from Roy, father of the Mooney 201, Grumman Tiger and Cheetah. The Swift-Fury was a delight to fling around the sky, with light ailerons and a super-quick elevator that encouraged aerobatics, although I confined my happiness to loops, rolls and hammerheads. In traveling mode, straight line speed with 75% at 8,500 feet was pushing 175 knots on only 11 gph, so the airplane’s standard 60 gallons of fuel allowed 4.5 hours plus reserve, worth 800 nm at a sitting.
The Swift-Fury was planned as the first product from the LoPresti-Piper Engineering Company. Roy had started with the basic Globe Swift GC-1B design, and updated and redesigned the entire airplane. Although the aesthetic resemblance is obvious, there is essentially no commonality between Swift and Fury parts. Roy reworked the control system, improved the fuel system, installed a 200-hp Lycoming IO-360 engine and came up with an airplane that exemplified his personal credo, “Life is short. Fly fast.”
Unfortunately, the rest of the industry was falling on its collective sword at the time, and things were rapidly going downhill at Piper. Within a short time, Piper owner and CEO Stuart Millar withdrew funding for the Swift-Fury project and dissolved his association with the LoPrestis. Piper filed bankruptcy shortly after that, and Roy started a mod business called Speed Merchants. Since then, the family has been cleaning up loose ends in the hopes of certifying the airplane and putting it into production.
Sadly, Roy didn’t live to see his project come to fruition. The man who taught me more about the real world of aviation than anyone else died of a fall in July 2002 at his home in Vero Beach, Fla.
Today, Roy’s wife, Peggy, and her oldest son, Curt, run Speed Merchants with able assistance from sons David and Jim. The company has earned a reputation for producing a series of fiberglass speed mods that improve performance on a variety of Pipers, Grumman Americans, Beech Bonanzas and Mooneys. Speed Merchants also owns the STC for the Boom Beam Xenon landing light, already certified on the aftermarket for some 200 models and rapidly becoming the light of choice on a variety of new-production Lancair, Cirrus, Piper, Cessna and Beech models. Speed Merchants recently delivered its 2,000th Boom Beam.
The LoPrestis are determined to bring the Fury project to completion, not only as a tribute to Roy’s vision of an ideal sport and traveling airplane, but also because the Fury is, quite simply, one of the best-handling machines in the sky.
There’s no such thing as a slam dunk on the road to certification, but the LoPrestis have a number of advantages by attempting to fulfill Roy’s dream. The airplane is nothing if not conventional in construction, all metal with flush riveting, little different from many of the Pipers built on the opposite side of the airport. That means a skilled labor pool is readily available should the LoPrestis elect to produce the airplane from the current facility. The state of Florida may even be willing to help by assisting in financing, deferring taxes and offering other incentives.
All-production tooling for the first 200 ship sets is complete, so production could begin as soon as the type certificate is in hand. Perhaps equally important, the family already has a flying prototype that Curt flew for 250 hours during the LoPresti-Piper years. The bright yellow, low-wing design was a common sight at air shows around the country in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
If funding can be secured, and certification goes without a hitch, Curt feels the Fury could see its first production unit by 2007 or 2008. “We had a wealth of engineering and production talents here in Vero Beach,” comments Curt, “and Dad had already completed much of the paperwork on certification. It’s still a long, laborious process, but we have an excellent relationship with the local FAA, and it’s not unreasonable that we might have the type certificate and the first production airplane on the ramp by 2007.”
In some respects, the Fury represents a reversion of the past. It is, after all, a conventional, stick-controlled, tailwheel airplane built of aluminum. It’s important to remember, however, that this all-metal taildragger was designed by Roy, and for pilots who believe a faster, quicker-handling and more fun airplane is better, that very well may say it all.
Bill Cox is entering his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot® and provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide.
E-mail him at [email protected].