Owner Re­port: BA Swal­low

Just three own­ers in fifty-five years have all cher­ished this Swal­low, which Pi­lot al­ready called a ‘great an­tique’ back in 1973

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words Char­lie Huke Pho­tos Peter R March

An­cient but beau­ti­ful, the Swal­low is a plea­sure to fly, de­spite the lengthy and fid­dly pre-flight task listl

Nine­teen seventy-three was a long time ago. US troops were still leav­ing Viet­nam, Sky­lab was launched, Con­corde was not yet in ser­vice, the three­day week was in­tro­duced, and we joined the Com­mon Mar­ket (EU). I was a primary school kid, obliv­i­ous to much of this, fever­ishly scrap­ing my pocket money to­gether each month to buy Pi­lot, cost­ing 25p. The front cover of the De­cem­ber 1973 is­sue asked if li­cences were cheaper to ob­tain in Amer­ica (yes; they were) and promised flight tests on the new En­strom F-28 he­li­copter, and what it de­scribed as a ‘Great an­tique: the gen­tle old BA Swal­low’ with a pic­ture of G-AFGE over the wa­ters off the Isle of Wight.

Fast-for­ward forty-four years. Tech­nol­ogy has trans­formed the world, Con­corde is grounded, Sky­lab has crashed, and we’re leav­ing the EU. Al­most noth­ing is recog­nis­able but two con­stants re­main: both Pi­lot and the old Swal­low ’GE are still

go­ing strong, and re­u­nited. It must be some­thing of a record.

Pi­lot’s sur­vival is tes­ta­ment to its ap­peal and to be ex­pected but a huge num­ber of air­craft have come and gone mean­time. That the 1937 wood and fab­ric Swal­low is still go­ing is noth­ing short of a mi­nor mir­a­cle (and two re­builds) and ev­i­dence of the de­sign’s great charm and ap­peal. Be­tween Don El­lis, who owned it then, and me (some­thing I def­i­nitely didn’t fore­see back then) there has only been one other cus­to­dian. This is tes­ta­ment to the al­lure of this now an­cient ma­chine, and an­cient it must be if it was a ‘great an­tique’ back then.

Own­ing and op­er­at­ing an an­cient fly­ing ma­chine is not for the faint-hearted. If you want mod­ern com­fort, tech­nol­ogy, re­li­a­bil­ity, vis­i­bil­ity and sim­ple us­abil­ity buy an RV or a Eurostar. The Swal­low has none of it. I used to own an RV-8 and about an hour af­ter ar­riv­ing at the air­field I could be al­most 200 miles away. With the Swal­low if I’m sat let­ting the oil warm up af­ter an hour I con­sider it a slick de­par­ture!

So what’s the ap­peal? To an­swer this is dif­fi­cult. It has an ex­tremely rare en­gine, a Pob­joy Ni­a­gara. A seven-cylin­der geared ra­dial, to­tally bereft of the (rel­a­tively) care­free han­dling of a mod­ern mo­tor. Open it up too quickly and it’ll stop (rich cut), leave it at idle too long and it’ll def­i­nitely oil up (and pos­si­bly ice up too−no carb heater); it only has a few

speeds at which it’s truly smooth. It uses nearly a litre of oil an hour and the gear­box sim­ply will not ac­cept the prop be­ing driven by the air­flow. The air­frame is also far re­moved from a mod­ern craft. It is un­co­or­di­nated to han­dle, dif­fi­cult to trim, slow to re­spond in roll and far from fast. But the com­bi­na­tion of the two is quite sim­ply bril­liant.

I have flown nu­mer­ous air­craft bet­ter in al­most ev­ery re­spect, but none−ab­so­lutely none−has come any­where close in im­part­ing such plea­sure. The air is an un­nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment for a ma­chine, but the Swal­low seems so at home there that the pure joy of fly­ing rubs off on any­one lucky enough to be in­volved. That this ma­chine has been giv­ing this sort of plea­sure for eighty years is quite re­mark­able and just adds to the over­all pack­age. In the 1973 ar­ti­cle ’GE was de­scribed as the last of the breed. Now there are four fly­ing in the UK and one in Spain, with an­other three near­ing the end of restora­tions world­wide. This resur­gence in num­bers is di­rectly be­cause the Swal­low of­fers the best in vin­tage avi­a­tion.

Un­like the oth­ers ’GE has been con­tin­u­ally ac­tive since 1937, im­part­ing pure plea­sure for its en­tire life. It must be one of the most his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant in­ter-war light air­craft still in pri­vate hands. In the late 1930s it flew at Wit­ney near Ox­ford as part of the Civil Air Guard, an or­gan­i­sa­tion formed to train a cadre of qual­i­fied pilots ahead of the loom­ing war. Such was the need that ’GE flew 400 hours in just six months in 1939, train­ing many who then formed the back­bone of the RAF pilots in the war’s early days. Dur­ing the war ’GE was im­pressed into the RAF like most pri­vate aero­planes, and al­lo­cated the mil­i­tary se­rial BK894. Her pedi­gree (and a few of her sis­ters) meant that it was not sim­ply worn out as a squadron hack, or left out­side to rot as a de­coy, as be­fell most im­pressed ma­chines. Rather the Swal­low played a vi­tal part in the war ef­fort.

At the out­break of the war noth­ing was re­ally un­der­stood in the UK about tow­ing glid­ers. Thus, with prop re­moved to con­vert it to a glider, a va­ri­ety of tow­ing ar­range­ments were tried on ’GE. The Royal Air­craft Es­tab­lish­ment ex­per­i­mented with many dif­fer­ent tow­ing ar­range­ments and tech­niques, cul­mi­nat­ing in as many as four Swal­lows be­ing towed si­mul­ta­ne­ously be­hind Hey­fords and Whit­leys. Radar ex­per­i­ments were also con­ducted us­ing the Swal­low, both for of­fen­sive and de­fen­sive pur­poses, the idea be­ing to es­tab­lish the pos­si­ble radar re­turn from a glider. I still have the orig­i­nal log­books de­tail­ing this wartime ac­tiv­ity. With­out this con­tri­bu­tion, none of the As­sault Glider op­er­a­tions so piv­otal to the outcome of the war would have been pos­si­ble, and ’GE cer­tainly earned its place in his­tory.

Post-war it took decades for the air­craft to do an­other 400 hours and nowa­days it only re­ally comes out on high days and hol­i­days, but ’GE is still far from a mu­seum piece, prob­a­bly fly­ing as much as the rest of the world’s Pob­joy-powered ma­chines com­bined.

With that more mod­ern ma­chine, a quick check for water in the fuel, a wan­der around look­ing for dam­age and you’re off. Not so the Swal­low. With a span of 43 feet it has to live in the hangar with the wings folded, and has more than a few ar­eas vul­ner­a­ble to push­ing and pulling. Con­se­quently I keep it at the back of the hangar if pos­si­ble so oth­ers do not have to move it. Once ex­tracted from the hangar, the first job is to spread the wings. This can be done solo but is much eas­ier with two−one un­hook­ing the wing from the tailplane and then op­er­at­ing the lever that en­gages the lock­ing pins, whilst the other ac­tu­ally spreads the wing. Once the wing is spread the in­board por­tions of the trail­ing edge, which hinge up can be low­ered and locked into po­si­tion. Lastly the gap seal−a ply­wood band−is clipped over the gap be­tween wing and root. This gap seal is more than just dec­o­ra­tive: I heard of some­one who years ago flew with­out one, only to find the el­e­va­tors use­less at ap­proach speeds! Un­like many more mod­ern air­craft with sup­posed fold­ing wings, ailerons and pitot tubes re­main con­nected when folded so there are no con­trols or other items to link up. Con­se­quently spread­ing the wings re­ally is only a five-minute job−but our RV is al­ready taxy­ing.

Then comes the en­gine. It will need oil−a lot if you’ve done more than a quick hop on the last flight, as it is a to­tal loss sys­tem. (The RV is now leav­ing the cir­cuit.) You will also need to re­move the rocker cov­ers on the up­per cylin­ders to oil the rock­ers, as the lu­bri­ca­tion sys­tem here is barely ad­e­quate. Find­ing a lad­der−the up­per pot is too high to reach eas­ily−and re­mov­ing/re­plac­ing the cov­ers all for a few strokes of an oil­can takes ages. Per­versely you then have to re­move the in­let rocker cov­ers from those pots just be­low the hor­i­zon­tal axis to drain out oil, as for these the au­to­matic sys­tem is al­most too vig­or­ous and if not drained they will even­tu­ally spew the ex­cess down the side. Thank­fully the Pob­joy is un­cowled, which also makes re-fit­ting the plugs in the lower cylin­ders eas­ier−be­ing a ra­dial, these will have been re­moved at the end of the pre­vi­ous day’s fly­ing to pre­vent hy­draulic lock.

Now for fuel. True it’s much eas­ier than a Moth (or in­deed a Cessna) as the filler is

Once ex­tracted from the hangar, the first job is to spread the wings

at waist height in the left wing root. But the ad­van­tage of the high tank in the oth­ers is that you do not have to pump fuel up man­u­ally from the main tank to the lit­tle header tank that ac­tu­ally feeds the en­gine. You do this us­ing a man­ual wob­ble pump low down on the left side of the rear cock­pit.

With this lit­tle lot done you can think about start­ing (the RV guys are now join­ing a cir­cuit 200 miles away!) You can­not over-prime a Pob­joy. There is a Ki-gas prim­ing pump that pro­trudes through the port en­gine cowl. I give this a few good strokes, and then, with the throt­tle shut and switches off, pull through a good dozen blades. This means about dou­ble the num­ber of crank­shaft ro­ta­tions, due to the gear­box. While suck­ing in I leave the Ki-gas pump out al­low­ing a free flow of fuel, and look to see it al­most pour­ing out of the carb in­take−a drib­ble is not enough! Then with the pump locked again (and a final squirt of fuel), throt­tle set and switches on, it will go first swing−guar­an­teed.

It is an odd en­gine to swing and I will not let the unini­ti­ated have a go, as the prop is higher than a Tiger’s, al­most as high as the Fox Moth’s, and as you get sev­eral com­pres­sions per revolution it is the only en­gine I know where you ac­tu­ally feel the prop ac­cel­er­ate out of your hand. Once fired up and when the last wisps of blue smoke are clear­ing, you can pull the chocks and hop into the cock­pit (just as our RV is shut­ting down). But this start­ing rit­ual is all part of the ex­pe­ri­ence and en­joy­ment, and gives a taster of the plea­sure and in­volve­ment that comes with Swal­low own­er­ship−some­thing mod­ern fly­ers are bliss­fully un­aware of!

Once in, de­spite not be­ing able to see di­rectly ahead−only fuse­lage, en­gine and pas­sen­ger−taxy­ing it­self is a dod­dle, so long as the wind is less than fif­teen knots. The brakes work dif­fer­en­tially with a few clicks on a lever and full rud­der de­flec­tion like Fox Moth, Rapide and many other old Bri­tish craft. To stop you sim­ply ap­ply a few more clicks on the lever to op­er­ate both brakes, which are sur­pris­ingly ef­fec­tive, although they take a bit of set­ting up to achieve this (also part of the fun). The Swal­low is one of the ear­li­est light air­craft I can think of with brakes as stan­dard, and makes mod­ern air­fields and their small op­er­at­ing ar­eas much eas­ier to cope with.

One rea­son you rarely see a Swal­low at an air­port with hard run­ways and taxi­ways is that the geared prop pro­duces so much thrust at slow rpm that you have to keep the throt­tle at, or close to idle to avoid tak­ing off when taxy­ing on smooth

The Swal­low’s 1920s han­dling will come as a shock

sur­faces. OK for short dis­tances but any­thing longer means some of the plugs usu­ally oil up. I keep the tail­wheel fit­ted (as op­posed to the skid) as there’s gen­er­ally some con­crete at any air­field, but the extra drag of op­er­at­ing on grass means I can keep rpm up dur­ing taxi, to­tally avoid­ing the oil­ing prob­lem. An­other rea­son is there’s no ra­dio−there’s no power sup­ply and hand­helds won’t work with so many un­screened plugs. Thus the best place is a small strip with a short taxi on grass re­quir­ing only a quick glance around the cir­cuit be­fore lin­ing up. When lined up, open the throt­tle smoothly. There is a dan­ger of rich cut with very rapid open­ing but far more se­ri­ous is avoid­ing any ‘snatches’ in the gear­box that will oc­cur with rapid ac­cel­er­a­tion. For­ward stick usu­ally gets the tail up be­fore I’ve got full throt­tle on, and once you ap­proach full power it’s the first time you could de­scribe the old Pob­joy as any­where near smooth. With the sig­nif­i­cant prop-wash, rud­der con­trol is ex­cel­lent dur­ing the roll and I have never needed any brake. Once the tail is up you can also see ahead and very shortly af­ter, at about thirty knots, the Swal­low just lev­i­tates into the air. It takes off very much like an early bi­plane, with very lit­tle at­ti­tude change. When I have tried to pull it off early−as you can in a Tur­bu­lent for ex­am­ple−all I’ve done is put the tail back on, to­tally de­feat­ing the idea of re­duc­ing the ground roll. If done prop­erly you will be off in only 120 yards or so in still air.

Once clear the ground starts to drop away at an en­cour­ag­ing rate, and the climb gra­di­ent is al­ways so good that you can bring the power off some­what to pro­long en­gine life. Nor­mal max rpm is 3,250, but not with my prop. I rarely op­er­ate be­low 2,700rpm in the air though, as the Pob­joy op­er­ates very smoothly above that speed and I fear that long-term ex­po­sure to the vi­bra­tion at lower speeds can’t be good (although it seems to have hap­pily sur­vived over eighty years with no ill ef­fect).

In the climb it’s in­stantly ap­par­ent that the Swal­low is from a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion. Although far from dif­fi­cult to fly, for some­one only used to mod­ern air­craft the Swal­low’s 1920s han­dling will come as a shock. Vis­i­bil­ity ahead is now OK, but

with the pi­lot po­si­tioned in the aft cock­pit the view di­rectly ahead is not as good as most peo­ple are used to. Con­se­quently those new to the Swal­low of­ten side-slip a lit­tle with­out re­al­is­ing and only peer over one side. This comes from the very light ini­tial break­out force on the rud­der; peo­ple sim­ply don’t ap­pre­ci­ate they have some rud­der on. It’s only when de­flec­tion in­creases markedly that the in­put be­comes ap­par­ent as a load on your foot. Al­lied to this, the in­verted U tube with a bub­ble is anachro­nis­tic and un­in­tel­li­gi­ble to many, thus they have no slip cues. The ex­cel­lent wind­screens also shield you from the final clue: both cock­pits are en­tirely draugh­t­free and you get no cross-cock­pit flow un­til in a full-blown side-slip.

When start­ing to turn, you have to bal­ance the turn us­ing this low break­out rud­der com­bined with re­ally rather heavy ailerons. Again not dif­fi­cult but cer­tainly dif­fer­ent. The rate of roll is best de­scribed as se­date; think glider and you won’t be dis­ap­pointed. Once the turn is go­ing you can take off the rud­der, look down that huge wing and you will be turn­ing on the prover­bial six­pence. With its speed back a lit­tle, noth­ing that I’ve ever flown can out-turn a Swal­low (in­clud­ing glid­ers and he­li­copters!). The el­e­va­tor forces are also heavy, but as smaller de­flec­tions are usu­ally re­quired it’s not as no­tice­able to most pilots as the ailerons. There is an el­e­va­tor trimmer, a sim­ple bungee op­er­ated by a small lever to off­load stick force. When solo and with noth­ing in the boot (there is quite a size­able lug­gage locker be­hind the rear seat, usu­ally full of tools and oil if land­ing away any­where), it’s just about ad­e­quate to hold the nose down in the cruise. I could in­crease its ef­fec­tive­ness with a thicker bungee but set up as it is it also stops peo­ple thrash­ing the mo­tor. Higher speeds re­quire an (even­tu­ally) tir­ing push on the stick and it’s a very ef­fec­tive way of keep­ing the en­gine rpm down.

I tend to op­er­ate at about 2,900rpm, well be­low the man­u­fac­turer’s sug­gested fig­ures, hope­fully pro­long­ing en­gine life. At this rpm I’ll get about 73 knots solo, and 70 or so heavy. Not fast, but speed is not ev­ery­thing. In­deed it is at the other end of the spec­trum that the Swal­low ex­cels. The stall oc­curs at 25kt heavy, lower if solo. One would ex­pect sig­nif­i­cant po­si­tion er­ror at these speeds, but in the Swal­low they do ap­pear to be rea­son­ably gen­uine. Us­ing the term ‘stall’ for what the Swal­low does is some­what strong. True there is a nose drop, but it takes ages, and as soon as the nose is be­low the hori­zon it will un­stall−even with the stick still hard back. This gen­tle nod­ding will con­tinue un­til the stick is moved for­ward, and with never a hint of a wing drop if you’re in bal­ance. In­deed the 1930s sales bumph for the Swal­low pro­claimed it as the safest aero­plane in the world. And with slow speed han­dling like this and rarely enough speed to hurt at any phase (although Vne was orig­i­nally 125kt−now re­duced in def­er­ence to its age), it’s very easy to un­der­stand that claim.

The one neg­a­tive point of the slow speed regime is that you can­not trim. As you can­not push a piece of string the bungee is re­dun­dant at lower speeds, and on the ap­proach you are re­quired to keep a rea­son­able back pres­sure on the stick. There is pro­vi­sion to al­ter the tailplane in­ci­dence to one of about five set­tings, so the de­signer was ob­vi­ously well aware of this. For the av­er­age bloke this stick force on the ap­proach is fine, but my wife, at sev­eral stones lighter (mean­ing the C of G moves for­ward), has to work harder−but the cur­rent set­ting is fine as a com­pro­mise.

By far the hard­est as­pect of fly­ing a Swal­low is get­ting slow enough on ap­proach. With a stall at 25kt it is easy to be too fast. You need to be com­ing in at 40kt or less, and target 35 over the hedge. In any sort of head­wind this re­ally does feel ex­cep­tion­ally slow and dan­ger­ously un­nat­u­ral, and this has caught out more than a few peo­ple. If you come in any­where near 45kt you can still wheel it on, but a three-pointer is ob­vi­ously im­pos­si­ble with­out a huge float. Along with a very flat glide, I have seen peo­ple un­able to get into a 700 yard strip! Done prop­erly, and into a small head­wind, the

ground roll can be just a cou­ple of fuse­lage lengths, some­thing that never fails to im­press. The ac­tual land­ing is like col­laps­ing onto a feather bed. The huge wing pro­duces some sig­nif­i­cant ground ef­fect and this, al­lied to one of the best-damped un­der­car­riages of its era, means the gen­tlest of touch­downs and rapid de­cel­er­a­tion.

The in­for­ma­tion I (or any­one else) have on han­dling is scant−in­deed prob­a­bly never pub­lished, so I al­ways avoided cross­winds, and any­thing above about 15kt. How­ever, a few years ago the weath­er­man got it wrong again and we ar­rived back in the over­head with 20kt straight across. I was won­der­ing where to di­vert to with an into-wind run­way but it seemed daft not to give it a go: the faff of di­vert­ing and as­so­ci­ated lack of a car/ hangar is huge. If it looked at all dodgy, we would in­stantly di­vert rather than risk a valu­able piece of avi­a­tion his­tory. So no­body was more sur­prised than me when we pulled off a per­fect three pointer! True a large chunk of the cross­wind was re­moved by angling across the run­way, but even so there must have been 12kt from the side. It greatly in­creased my re­spect for the Swal­low as there are not many other 1930s air­craft that could have coped so well.

As I said ear­lier, there are much bet­ter aero­planes than the Swal­low, as there should be with over eighty years to de­velop the breed! But with those grace­ful long wings, and the evoca­tive sound of the Pob­joy, Swal­low­ing is vin­tage avi­a­tion, maybe even avi­a­tion at its very best. Rarely has a ma­chine given me more en­joy­ment or sat­is­fac­tion than the Swal­low. I’m al­ways be­ing thanked for bring­ing it to fly-ins and sur­rounded by ea­ger cam­eras. Sel­dom does an aero­plane cre­ate such en­thu­si­asm.

It takes ded­i­ca­tion to op­er­ate such a ma­chine, and per­haps more than a dash of stu­pid­ity, but wip­ing down the hot oil af­ter ev­ery flight I can’t stop feel­ing smug, as I’m sure peo­ple did in 1973, and in­deed 1937. It’s a priv­i­lege con­ferred on very few to­day, and one worth ev­ery ounce of ef­fort and money taken to get aloft in a Swal­low.

Re­build was a labour of love

Even with reg­u­lar rou­tine main­te­nance air­craft won’t last for­ever. Fol­low­ing the 1973 ar­ti­cle ’GE was over­hauled in the late 1970s and was show­ing some patina when I bought it in Jan­uary 2006. We flew a lot, criss-crossing south­ern Eng­land go­ing to all sorts of in­ter­est­ing places, but even­tu­ally ac­cepted that no mat­ter how con­sci­en­tious the rou­tine main­te­nance, we were los­ing the bat­tle. Patina was turn­ing scruffy, es­pe­cially in the cock­pit where much of the con­trol assem­bly, although on view, was in­ac­ces­si­ble with­out dis­man­tling the whole ma­chine. Thus Christ­mas 2014 saw me mov­ing the fly­ing sur­faces from the hangar into the work­shop. It felt odd dis­man­tling a per­fectly ser­vice­able ma­chine, but be­ing the scruffi­est ma­chine at a fly-in was un­ac­cept­able!

’GE flew again in June 2016, eigh­teen months and some 2,000 hours of labour later. It was a con­sid­er­able ef­fort, over 25 hours a week, and be­came al­most to­tally con­sum­ing. No hol­i­days or other dis­trac­tions, my other air­craft be­came ig­nored, bikes and cars unloved. I wore out three sets of over­alls and two pairs of boots. Such a ven­ture is not to be un­der­taken lightly, as restora­tion of an an­tique air­craft re­ally is prop­erly labour in­ten­sive. I didn’t ac­tu­ally spend vast sums on ma­te­ri­als, largely as the start point was an air­wor­thy ma­chine with a good mo­tor, and I al­ready had many items from pre­vi­ous projects. Nev­er­the­less it clearly goes to show that, de­spite seem­ing eye-wa­ter­ing, the bills charged by pro­fes­sional re­stor­ers are a bar­gain.

Sim­plis­ti­cally, with a new build, all one does is make and assem­ble com­po­nents. With a restora­tion you first have to dis­man­tle a com­po­nent, then clean it up and make an as­sess­ment as to its con­tin­ued air­wor­thi­ness. If scrap you then use this as a pat­tern for a new one, but if deemed us­able it then needs over­haul­ing, re­paint­ing etc and even­tu­ally re­fit­ting. This means each in­di­vid­ual ac­tiv­ity takes twice as long as a new build. For ex­am­ple the wings are to­tally ply cov­ered, Swal­lows were sim­ply taped along the joints in the ply and then painted di­rectly to the wood. Re­mov­ing this old paint with MEK took months. If speedy, you could do a cou­ple of square feet an hour, soft­en­ing the paint with the MEK and then care­fully scrap­ing it off with a blunt Stanley knife blade; repet­i­tive, un­pleas­ant and, with over 440 square feet on the wings alone, a mam­moth ef­fort just to get to a point where we could as­sess the con­di­tion prop­erly. Thank­fully they were in very good

me­chan­i­cal or­der and didn’t re­quire mas­sive amounts of wood­work, re­ally only need­ing new fab­ric and paint.

Some of the ply in the for­ward fuse­lage and on the lead­ing edges of the cen­tre sec­tion was re­placed due to oil soak­ing but over­all the air­frame was in as­ton­ish­ing con­di­tion for its age, bet­ter than many newer ma­chines, with no sign of glue fail­ure. Thus work con­tin­ued with the ma­chine stripped al­most to com­po­nent form. I had four old kitchen units in the work­shop full of bagged and la­belled com­po­nents. Once apart I de­cided to cover the whole air­frame, to bet­ter pro­tect it for the next eighty years but I was wor­ried I’d greatly in­crease the weight as, although I cal­cu­lated the weight of the fab­ric I was go­ing to use, fab­ric will carry much more dope and paint than just bare wood. Thank­fully at the final weigh­ing I’d saved 56 lb dur­ing the re­build. But I had been fas­tid­i­ous on weight re­duc­tion through­out.

Madap­o­lam and red dope were used, again labour in­ten­sive, but the ‘real’ way an old ma­chine should be done. To be hon­est I had wished to use a mod­ern cov­er­ing sys­tem but had the de­ci­sion made for me as the ply was im­preg­nated with old red dope, in­com­pat­i­ble with my pre­ferred sys­tem. More­over the tra­di­tional meth­ods have pro­duced fan­tas­tic re­sults. I did ev­ery­thing my­self, both air­frame and en­gine and even man­aged to spray the whole thing with not a sin­gle run. The only items farmed out were a small weld­ing job on the en­gine mount, as I couldn’t legally do it, and hon­ing the cylin­ders.

In many re­spects the old Swal­low is prob­a­bly bet­ter now than when it was new. It was a huge un­der­tak­ing, and not for the faint­hearted, but in my opin­ion it’s all part of the pack­age of pre­serv­ing such im­por­tant ma­chines for the next gen­er­a­tion. It was hugely fas­ci­nat­ing un­cov­er­ing pre­vi­ous paint schemes, in­clud­ing the wartime cam­ou­flage. As a pleas­ing aside it’s also added hugely to the value of the ma­chine, but money’s not what it’s about. It’s be­ing able to con­tinue to op­er­ate and en­joy a unique bit of aero­nau­ti­cal his­tory. Some­thing I in­tend to do for as long as phys­i­cally able.

In many re­spects the old Swal­low is prob­a­bly bet­ter now than when it was new

‘Golf Echo’ seen at Sandown in Au­gust 1965

March 2009: three years into Char­lie’s own­er­ship, the aero­plane still wore its late 1970s colour scheme

Long span and heavy ailerons re­sult in a ‘se­date’ rate of roll — but the Swal­low will turn on the prover­bial six­pence

Min­i­mal rear com­mand cock­pit in­stru­ment fit in­cludes a Wwi-era in­cli­nome­ter (top) rather than a slip ball

Front-seated pas­sen­ger has just an ASI — but is treated to dual flight con­trols and throt­tle

The Pob­joy isn’t the eas­i­est en­gine to start, not least be­cause the pro­pel­ler is mounted so high

As the pho­tos show, the whole ‘pack­age’ be­comes far more com­pact, if still rather long, once the wings are folded and hooked on to the tailplane

The geared Pob­joy ra­dial is de­signed to be high revving, although Char­lie keeps the revs down to 2,900

To fold the wings, first you must un­latch the trail­ing edge panel. The whole job can be done solo, but hav­ing a sec­ond pair of hands helps, as Mr & Mrs Huke demon­strate

To our eyes, Char­lie’s self-ap­plied paint job has just the right ‘pe­riod’ look

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