Comper Swift – DOCUMENTATION – Racing in America

For Flying Aces Club competition in the Thompson Trophy Race (radial engines) or the Greve Race (non-radial engines), a plane must have participated in “an American race” between 1929 and 1939, inclusive.  This means that foreign-built race planes are excluded, with the notable exception of the Caudron C.460.  This was built by Caudron in France and was powered by a Renault engine.  It was brought to the USA in 1936 and won both the Greve Race (under 500 cubic inches) and the Thompson (unlimited cubic inches) at the 1936 National Air Races in Los Angeles, California.

To date, that was the only non-US plane to qualify for the FAC Greve or Thompson (it only qualifies for the FAC Greve race, as it had a non-radial engine).  However, two modelers – independently – have discovered information regarding another foreign-built airplane that now qualifies for the FAC Races – the Comper Swift, built in England.  In this article, I will provide more than enough evidence to qualify the model for the FAC Greve Race.

Back in the late 1990’s, I started building a 24″ Comper Swift.  I had intended to color it in the G-ABWW King’s Cup Prince of Wales colors.  But, I set the partially completed model aside and took a break from modeling.  Twenty years later, I still had the fuselage and wing and decided to complete the model.  I could fly it in Golden Age, but really, a high-wing monoplane would not be competitive at the national level in Scale, so I wasn’t really enthused to build it, but I started to do research on the Swift.

Only a few Swifts were built and only a couple were built with the Gipsy engine (which I had modeled), so Google image searches were sparse.  But I found out that one exists in Australia that has been restored to flying condition (VH-AGC, was G-ABWH).  In fact, it had been transported to the EAA in 2009 – a fine example.  As I researched this, I came across some intriguing notes:

In a PDF document on the Air Britain Researchers page, Malcolm Filmore reports “…Bought 12.9.33 by Roger Wolfe Kahn (a bandleader) for £250; shipped to USA on SS American Merchant. Regd NC27K [CofR A-39855] 13.2.34 to Roger Wolfe Kahn, New York City; for Roosevelt Field Air Races…”  (ref: http://www.ab-ix.co.uk/firstfiles.html).  PLEASE NOTE:  I believe there to be some date conflicts in the above and below.  I will address them after the photos.

On an Australian website, Geoff Goodall reports about G-ABWH:

.33 Shipped to USA on SS American Merchant to participate in the 1934 Cleveland air races
12.33 Registered NC27K Roger Wolfe Kahne, New York NY
Kahne was a big band leader who was an official of the Cleveland Air Races
.34 competed in Roosevelt Field Air Races, New York
.34 competed at National Air Races at Cleveland Municiple Airport, did not win a place
8.4.35 Cancelled from US Civil Register
7.35 shipped back to Britain

(ref:  http://www.goodall.com.au/australian-aviation/comperswift/comperswift.html)

This was pretty conclusive proof that the Comper Swift, G-ABWH, had participated in racing in the US – enough to qualify for FAC Racing.  This breathed new life into my Swift – to show up at the races with a new plane that no one has ever had at the Greve race!  But what did the plane look like – what color, what markings?  The search was on.

Here are images that I found for G-ABWH, with annotations:

G-ABWH (left) and G-ABWW racing in England – This is NOT the proper color scheme for the US racing.

G-ABWH in England – This is NOT the proper color scheme for the US racing.

G-ABWH (left) in England – This is NOT the proper color scheme for the US racing.

G-ABWH with a new paint scheme and race number 21 – in England

 

Aeroplane Monthly, Sept 1978. The caption states the second photo is AT ROOSEVELT FIELD. This IS the correct color for US racing – but what color? NOTE: the third photo shows NC27K and wheel pants – but AFTER its return to England.

G-ABHW being fueled with STANAVO fuel. Note wheel pants.  Possibly in the US?

While this STANAVO (STANdard AViation Oil) booklet indicates origins in the USA, it appears the STANAVO was distributed around the world, it was not exclusive to the US, so the above photo was not necessarily taken in the US – unless it can be proven the tanker in the photo was never in England. (Although, “Airport” would probably be some other term in England)

A photo of the DH83 Fox Moth canopy that was installed prior to the sale and transport to the US.

Another photo of Captain Walter Lawrence Hope and the canopy – in England.

 
 
 

G-ABWH at the Roosevelt Air Pageant. The following photo solidifies the location.  IMPORTANT NOTE:  This airplane is still marked as G-ABWH and is NOT yet registered as NC27K – AND – there are no wheel pants on the plane yet.

There is no footage of the Swift in this video, but the introductory footage at seconds 5 through 8 are critical.  Original video found here:  http://www.efootage.com/stock-footage/56946/Spectacular_Air_Show_At_Roosevelt_Field/

 

Screenshot for seconds 5-8 in the above video. Notice that the band members’ uniforms, the grandstands, loudspeaker, and the flags are identical to the photo of G-ABWH at Roosevelt Field. This is proof of time and place.

So, this is proof that G-ABWH participated at the 1933 National Air Pageant at Roosevelt Field on Long Island, New York.  Above, it is mentioned that the plane was also at the 1934 National Air Races in Cleveland – but I can find no information on that.  Maybe that is something for the Society of Air Racing Historians.

COLORING – by looking at the STANAVO photo and the Roosevelt Field photo, you can notice that the paint seems to be pretty dark.  Typically, in these old photos, blue appears lighter than red – red usually appears pretty dark.  So, I made my model red with white wings and tail.  The wings could be silver (see the photo with canopy detail), but in the other photos, these surfaces are much brighter than silver usually shows up.  I also made the registration letters red, but these may be black.  Also note that they are on the underside of the wing – a detail I missed until after my model was completed.  UPDATE:  It is likely that the flying surfaces are silver.

DATE CONFLICT – in the second PDF referenced above, it says the plane was sold in December 1933 and raced in the US in 1934.  I believe this to be incorrect and here is why:

  1.  I can find NO EVIDENCE there was a 1934 Air Pageant.  Everything I can find references Oct 7 & 8, 1933.  In fact, I saw a report in January 1934 Popular Aviation that the pageant went bankrupt after the 1933 event, losing over $40,000.
  2. In the first PDF referenced above, more specific dates are provided:  bought on 12.9.1933.  This seems to agree with the second PDF – until you see the second date (registered as NC27K on 13.2.1934) and realize that the dates are shown in the format that is conventional in England.  That is, Month/Day/Year.  So if 12.9.1933 is in that format, it is not the 9th of December, but rather the 12th of September – just in time to be shipped and prepped for flying one month later in New York.  It also means that the registration was not converted to US until February 13, 1934 – AFTER the Roosevelt Field Pageant – explaining why it is not showing NC27K in that event.

SO… the Comper Swift G-ABWH participated in the 1933 National Air Pageant in New York – and possibly at the 1934 National Air Races in Cleveland (does ANYONE have info on this plane at this event?), thus becoming the second foreign-built aircraft to qualify for the Flying Aces Club Greve Race.  In fact, I flew my model at the 2017 FAC Outdoor Champs in the Greve (5th place) and the 2017 Ted Dock (2nd place).

 

 

 

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