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  • Writer's pictureJ.K. Caldwell

GC-1B Super Swift

First Impressions: The name sums up the plane! They say that airplanes fly like they look and, despite its age, this Swift looks good! Its sleek lines make it resemble a Spitfire when airborne and a Mustang when the gear is down. The Globe/TEMCO Swift is one of the most popular aircraft to modify and the Super Swift is the apogee of those mods!

Design Features: This 2-seat low-wing all-aluminum mono-wing taildragger features retractable main landing gear and comfortable side-by-side seating. The flaps are electrically controlled and hydraulically actuated down to 30 degrees. The outboard leading-edge of the wings have fixed slots to keep the ailerons effective at slow speeds and they also make a convenient handhold when pulling the airplane out of the hangar! The rudder is rather small and the horizontal stabilizers have an aggressive dihedral. Through a Swift aficionado who asked the designer why the horizontal stabilizers were canted so far up, I learned it was simply because he liked the way it looks! Can’t argue with that logic! Plus, I’m pretty sure that the upward cant keeps more elevator in the slipstream. Almost everything else about the Swift can and has been modified. My opportunity to inspect nine different Swifts at the Pecan Plantation Airport (0TX1) showed me that no two are even remotely the same. Only a small percentage of Swift owners are “purists” and there is a wide variety of STCs available. Besides the engine and prop choices, mods include fiberglass cowlings, sliding fighter-style canopy, belly tanks, auxiliary wing tanks, squared wingtip caps, blank-off covers for the leading-edge slots, adjustable seats, cargo compartment modifications, P-51-style landing gear doors and even a side-opening door.

Background: The Swift design originated with R.S. “Pop” Johnson. The design itself is from the early 1940s, but WWII precluded any civil-use only aircraft from being built. Once the war ended, the Globe Aircraft Company immediately began mass production of the Swift, after significant re-engineering by “Bud” Knox. Like many post-war civil designs, the Swift was marketed with the expectation that the thousands of returning pilots would want an airplane for personal use or just commuting to and from work. Unfortunately, the Globe Aircraft Company built more Swifts than there was demand; forcing them to sell both their design and all unsold and unfinished inventory to TEMCO (Texas Engineering and Manufacturing Company) in 1947. TEMCO built its last Swift in 1951. More than 1,500 Swifts were built between 1946 and 1951. TEMCO even built a tandem trainer, the T-35 Buckaroo to compete for a new USAF primary trainer but ultimately was not selected. A handful of Buckaroos were used as trainers in Saudi Arabia and approximately 5 are currently registered in the U.S.

Powerplant: The original GC-1A came with an 85 horsepower engine, which was later was bumped up to 125 hp for production models. Swifts have been fitted with an incredible variety of engines, including the following horsepowers; 85hp/90hp/125hp/145hp/150hp/180hp/200hp/210hp/220hp/(290hp experimental). I am told the 85 horsepower Swift could get the job done and was even used by Mark Holliday in his airshow aerobatic routine. After his graceful demonstration of the Swift’s agility, he would drop the landing gear and repeat the entire routine! The unofficial “Super Swift” designation applies to those aircraft with powerplants upgraded to 180 horsepower or more, usually coupled to a constant-speed prop. With the gross weight STC, the gross weight increases from 1710 to 1970 pounds. Of course, with higher horsepower comes greater thirst, so most Super Swifts have an added auxiliary fuel tank, increasing total fuel to 52 gallons. Many have additional speed mods to squeeze out every mile per hour and make it even “swifter”!

Takeoff: With a perfect 90-degree crosswind, consider using the runway that will give you a right crosswind to help reduce the amount of right rudder required. In any case, be prepared to feed in a healthy amount of right rudder to keep the Swift tracking straight! While in the three-point attitude, the tiny rudder is partially masked by the fuselage, so keep the tail planted to take advantage of tailwheel steering until around 40 mph. Attempting to prematurely push the tail up without adequate airflow over the rudder can cause you to veer left significantly. When adequate airspeed is attained, slowly lift the tail off the ground and feed-in right rudder. With a moderate left crosswind, tapping the right brake might be required to track straight. 210 horsepower on this low-drag airframe means the acceleration is quick! After liftoff, hold the nose attitude to capture about 80 mph until the gear is retracted. If you are much faster than this, the hydraulic landing gear pump will not be able to overcome the airflow forces, preventing the gear from fully retracting into the wheelwells. Since a clean Swift will stall around 68 mph indicated airspeed, there is a relatively small window for gear retraction. The gear is retracted by depressing a safety button while turning a lever approximately a quarter turn clockwise. Swift pilots should recognize that retracting the gear after takeoff is a critical period! Complete attention should be paid to maintaining the proper attitude while keeping the aircraft coordinated in order to avoid a departure stall.

Cruise: The avian swift is one of the fastest birds in level flight and the GC-1B Super Swift follows suit, especially considering its diminutive size. Depending on which mods are incorporated, cruise performance will be between 165-185 mph at about 24” of manifold pressure and 2400 rpm, while burning around 8.5 to 10 gallons per hour. Rudder is required in turns and it will take some practice to intuitively add just the right amount. If you have rotator cuff issues, the trim knob location may be of concern if you’re flying a Swift with a standard canopy. It is overhead and about six inches behind the pilot’s and passenger’s heads. The good news is that not much elevator trim is required. GC-1Bs with a sliding canopy modification require the trim knob be replaced by a wheel and relocated to the floor.

Landing: After confirming a green landing gear light (or lights), completely lower the flaps to 30 degrees and set a stabilized approach for 85-90 mph. Most Swift pilots prefer a wheel landing. Due to the wide-stance landing gear, short wheelbase and small rudder, the Swift requires attention after touchdown. In significant crosswinds, some differential braking influence may also be required. Of course, a go-around is always appropriate if things are not looking right. Just be ready to feed-in a lot of right rudder when throttle is applied.

Wrap-up: Swift aficionados are deeply loyal to their bird and it’s easy to see why. The large number of available mods appeal to those who love to squeeze every mile per hour out of their machine and also like to customize their bird as they see fit! This sleek and classy aircraft looks good both in the air and on the ground. In addition to being efficient and affordable, Swifts are just fun to fly!

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