Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memories Of The Swift

My first airplane was a Swift—and I survived

THE FIRST ONE. Bill's first Globe Swift was similar to the one pictured above, which is owned by Denis Arbeau.
Okay, right up front, in an attempt to stop short any angry letters from Swift owners, I loved my little Swift. It was, in many respects, the best airplane I’ve owned, cheapest to buy, cheapest to operate, and all in all, a fairly simple machine to fly.

I knew I wanted a Swift early on. I saw my first Swift in Alaska at age 13 and instantly fell in love with the airplane’s simple lines and sporty demeanor. The type was a low-wing, retractable taildragger, reminiscent in configuration of the WWII surplus fighters that seemed to be everywhere in the ’50s and ’60s. I tried to be logical about my airplane search and consider the pros and cons of a number of types, but somehow, the Swift always won out.

Finally, at the age of 26, after renting for far too long, the Swift seemed like a good first airplane in my quest to someday own a P51 Mustang or an F8F Bearcat. I had saved about $5,000 toward my first airplane, and I paid $3,750 for the N3309K, a fortune to me in 1966, but the airplane seemed a pristine example of its type.

I had the typical arrogance of youth. I was convinced I knew everything, and that nothing could hurt me. I was obviously invincible, and when I signed up for the U.S. Army a year later, I volunteered for the Warrant Officers Flight Training Program, hoping to fly Cobra gun ships. I knew that probably would involve a trip to Vietnam, but I was positive nothing could bring me down.

In a similar sense, I was aware of the Globe Swift’s reputation as a squirrelly little taildragger, but I was, after all, a federally licensed private pilot, a rank only slightly below that of Superman. My catch-as-catch-can flight training with a half-dozen instructors had exposed me to a variety of trainers, a Champion Tri-Traveler, a Cherokee 140, a Cessna 150 and a Piper Colt—all nosewheel airplanes, all gentle, forgiving machines without an evil bone in their steel-tube, aluminum and fabric bodies.

I had about 75 hours in my logbook when I bought my Swift from an A&P mechanic who had treated it like his favorite Siberian husky. The airplane had its own house at the airport, and the owner gave it regular baths, petted it and took it for walks on weekends. The GC-1B was pampered in every possible way, never flown IFR, never outside California, serviced meticulously; and every instrument and system in the airplane had been overhauled at least once.

It was still a handful for me. In those days, there weren’t many instructors current in Swifts, and I had to wait two weeks after delivery before getting checked out in the short-coupled little taildragger. I snuck in several hours of taxiing all over Long Beach Airport, much to the chagrin of the KLGB controllers. In one instance, during a too-enthusiastic high-speed taxi test, I lifted off and clumsily put the airplane back on the ground without the benefit of experience or ability. Fortunately, I didn’t break anything.

When the instructor finally showed up for my semi-official checkout, he quizzed me on systems and flew around the pattern with me three times. When I expressed concern that I didn’t really feel comfortable in the airplane, he smiled, signed my logbook and wished me luck.


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