Sometimes you look at an airplane and you think, “Well now, that is just the most classic design I have seen lately.” That’s the way it is with me. There is just something about the classic lines of those old “little” airplanes with the rounded tails and the fabric skins that turns my head. I have long been infatuated with the look of the classics; Cubs, Pacers, T-crafts etc.
Recently I made some time to get an up close look at one of my other favorites from aviation history. The Globe Swift has been a sort of “Oooooh, Ahhhhh, airplane since they started putting them together in Texas in 1946.
Swift like so many other manufacturers believed that, owing to the popularity of airplanes flown during World War II, the returning veterans of the second world war would be scrambling to purchase a personal airplane; that there would somehow be a rush by vets to learn to fly, and to a point, there was.
“Pop” Johnson (allegedly) borrowed most of his prototype design of a rag and tube, low wing, two seat aircraft from the Culver Cadet design. Mr. John Kennedy was in the formation stages of the Globe Aircraft Company when the two came together. Mr. Kennedy made a deal with “Pop” to put him to work and produce an airplane based on his prototype. In the end, “Pop” left the partnership and Kennedy had the design re-engineered by “Bud” Knox. They departed from the rag and tube design and tooled the aircraft in all aluminum. This was a radical departure from competing aircraft of the time. With its tail-dragger stance, riveted stressed skin, and retractable main gear the Swift became a pilots dream come true, and in May of 1946 the first Globe Swift, GC-1A, was type certificated.
The gamble appeared to be paying off as initially orders for the mini fighter look alike were brisk. Globe soon found itself unable to keep pace with demand and a deal was struck with Texas Engineering and Manufacturing (TEMCO) to help produce the little aluminum bird in an effort to keep up with incoming orders. Soon Swifts were piling up unsold as the combined manufacture of the aircraft reached a peak of 833 units in just six months!
Faced with a back log of unsold aircraft and a mounting debt with TEMCO, ownership was transferred from Globe to TEMCO along with design, parts, tooling, and type certificate for just $328,000. TEMCO went on to build an additional 260 units and even competed in a USAF contract design program that spawned a limited number of tandem seat, 165 HP fighter/trainer aircraft (Buckaroo) based on the Swift design prior to ceasing operation in 1951. All told about 1500 Swifts were manufactured in just five years.
In 1989 Roy Lopresti, backed by Piper Aircraft, built a prototype “Fury” based on a heavily modified Swift design. Unveiled at Oshkosh for the first time, the design was a hit and Lopresti went home with a hat full of orders hoping to move forward with production. Piper subsequently pulled backing, production plans faded and in the end the 569 anxious pilots who had made deposits on a Fury received a refund. (Probably a first in aviation history.)
The original Swift type certificate was acquired from interim certificate holder Univair in 1979 by the newly organized “Swift Museum Foundation” and it’s director Charlie Nelson. Today the foundation retains the drawings, tooling, parts, support and certificate.
Please come along with us on a recent visit to the Swift Museum Foundation. It was a fascinating look into the history of an iconic aircraft design. This video tells more of the Swift story and shows much of the innovation that went into its pedigree.
Author: Tom Speerstra
Tom Speerstra has had an enduring love affair with aviation for over 40 years. Countless adventures have been enjoyed flying students, people, paper, and parcels in everything from Champs to Citations. He has held positions as both Chief Pilot and Director of Operations for Part 135 carriers and holds an ATP, MEII, SES ratings and a Citation type rating. Tom makes his home in Michigan with his wife Elizabeth and the two dogs Hess and Pappy.