Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Memories Of The Swift

My first airplane was a Swift—and I survived

I needed it. Within a month, I had a dog run in front of me while taxiing, stomped the brakes and put the Swift on its nose, digging the fixed-pitch McCauley’s prop tips into the dirt. Fortunately, no one seemed to notice or care. I climbed down, tailed the airplane back to its tiedown spot, had the prop straightened and tried again.

I made every other mistake possible in the Swift. I flew it into a high-density-altitude situation at Big Bear and had to stay overnight for the cool temperatures of morning, lost control in a nasty crosswind at Apple Valley and left the runway. (Fortunately, I recovered and lifted off before I hit anything but sagebrush.)

Gradually, I overcame. In the next five years, the Swift and I became good friends, though the airplane certainly taught me the meaning of humility. The Swift’s systems were a combination of the good, the bad and the ugly. Control harmony was wonderful, and the GC-1B was the quickest handling of the half-dozen airplanes I’ve owned. A 60-degree bank was only a flick of the wrist away, and a full roll was a simple matter of holding full aileron for three or four seconds. Loops and Immelmans were equally unchallenging, especially if you didn’t know what you were doing. Aerobatics were questionably legal under the old CAR regulations, and the surplus parachute I bought was never repacked for the five years I owned it, so I’m happy I never had to pull the D-ring.

Flaps were either full up or full down in about one second either way. The landing gear used the world’s smallest lightweight power pack, and the result on a hot day was retraction times as long as a minute—or never. Sometimes, the wheels would simply stop halfway up and refuse to retract any farther. Fortunately, the gear always came down with either the electro-hydraulic system or the cable emergency crank.

Fuel went aboard through a single filler on the left wing, and you waited for the petrol to cross-feed to the opposite side. Total capacity was 14 gallons per wing tank, if you waited long enough. (Some Swifts feature a nine-gallon aux tank in the cabin—mine wasn’t so blessed.)

The C125 Continental engine proved durable and reliable, but it wasn’t quite up to the job of lifting two folks and fuel to anything above about 10,000 feet. No matter. With careful route selection, the Swift transported my lady and me pretty much anywhere we wanted to go.

I flew that little airplane all over the country for five years and 600 hours, mostly by dead-reckoning and pilotage. My only radio was a crystal-controlled Narco VHT-3 com with eight frequencies that worked. There also was a tired Bendix T12D ADF that worked on alternate Saturdays in April and September. The Bendix was the limit of my radio navaids. Still, the Swift and I visited Canada, Mexico and the Bahamas, and I don’t recall being lost more than two- or three-dozen times.

As I look back on the succession of airplanes since then, a couple of Bellancas, a pair of Mooneys and a Seneca II, I can’t help reflecting that the Swift was easily the most fun machine of them all. It definitely wasn’t as fast as it looked—maybe 110 knots on a good day—but all my friends wanted to fly in it, and it contributed to my continuing education, helping to make me, today, one of the world’s oldest student pilots.

Bill Cox is in his third decade as a senior contributor to Plane & Pilot. He provides consulting for media, entertainment and aviation concerns worldwide. E-mail him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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