Captain Hook and his Fantastic Flying Machine
There are Swifts and then there is the Super Swift

Text and photos by Budd Davisson, Air Progress, June 1972

When something like this happens," Steve Halpern gestured with the articulated silver hook that replaced his left hand, "you have two choices: you can run hide and feel sorry for yourself, or you can make do with what you have left."

Halpern, who good-naturedly calls himself Captain Hook, was saying this as we were charging along at 5,000 feet in his mightiest of Swifts. He punctuated his sentence by twisting into a flawless slow roll.

Steve Halpern (35 years ago) didn't start learning to fly until he lost his arm. Gutsy guy!!

"...I was helping install a new elevator, when a piece of metal shot across the shaft and hit me. I woke up in the hospital with my left arm totally useless from the shoulder down. Eventually, I’d have it amputated. I was damned lucky to be alive and I knew it. I had a lot of time to think about those things I'd been meaning to do, but never got around to. Learning to fly was one of them. So, as soon as I got out of the hospital, I started taking lessons. I think the ink on my license was still wet when I bought the Swift. Then it was still a standard 145 hp."
He was referring to the yellow streak we were riding across the sky.
Halpern, of Woodmere, New York, owns and flies what is probably one of the hottest little airplanes flying today. Outwardly, there is practically nothing to differentiate it from the standard Globe Swift. Most people notice the Bonanza wingtips that make it look like a Bearcat from the bottom, and a few spot the added dorsal fin and wing root fillets. But practically nobody notices the small round inlet on the right side of the cowl for the turbocharger or the massive constant-speed propeller that is necessary to provide traction for the horsepower factory under the cowling, a 250-hp, turbocharged Franklin.
This brutish little backyard fighter is usually referred to as a D'Arcy Swift because the engine conversion and basic airframe beefing was done by John D'Arcy of Miami, Florida. D'Arcy is one of a whole legion of Swift nuts who border on being fanatics about modifying and changing the little airplane. D'Arcy is the most advanced and sophisticated of the bunch, as he has been competing in aerobatic contests for quite a few years with hotrodded Swifts.

Hook Cowl
Only the turbo inlet hints things are really cookin' under the cowl .

His modification program was not without its glitches, the most outstanding being the time he pulled a wing off a stock Swift. He was getting ready to show the 9G capabilities of the airframe to the FAA and was checking out a new camera mount when he pulled a bit too hard. He didn't realize how much extra speed he was getting from the 250 hp Franklin. He caught a glimpse of the G meter going past 11 and suddenly found himself outside, dangling in his parachute with pieces of Swift disappearing in the distance. Because of that little setback, he has completely re-engineered the Swift and beefed-up all its weak points, making it an airplane capable of any inside or outside maneuver the pilot cares to try.
Halpern walked me around his airplane and pointed out some of the structural changes D'Arcy made. Both the top and bottom centersection spar caps have been strengthened by massive aluminum bars. The outer wing panel attach points, which failed in the earlier folding-wing-Swift incident, have been replaced by gigantic steel fittings running well out into the panels and each panel has an extra rib besides. All the tail spars are doubled up to take the beating of multiple snap rolls, and the rear fuselage bulkhead has been replaced by a heavier one with fewer cutouts.
Halpern was satisfied with the safety of the beefing program, so he decided to take off on another program, aimed at speed. The Swift, for all its sleek lines, is basically a pretty dirty airplane. It needs fillets here and bends there, and Steve decided to supply them. He replaced all protruding screws and bolts with flush ones, especially in the windshield area, adding a quick release canopy while he was at it. He canted the wing leading edges forward, a la P-51, so the wheels would be flush when retracted. He plans to add gear doors in the near future. Because of the speed and weight changes, the airplane flew with the elevators trimmed constantly down, adding drag, so he's now in the process of changing the angle of incidence of the stabilizer, and will remove the vertical tail offset at the same time. It's already incredibly fast, but how fast is fast enough?
The Franklin 0-350 engine is actually a fugitive from a helicopter production line, so it's really a bear for punishment. It gets a lot of power out of a very few cubic inches, so it doesn't like to run slowly. It's happiest when screaming and the pressure carburetor in the inverted system doesn't help when on the ground. To keep it from fouling up, you have to operate it with the mixture halfway out until almost ready to take off. It coughs and wheezes and sounds as if it's going to conk out any second.

Swift High-roll
Did we say something about Hook having fun?

Taxiing out, fiddling with the mixture to keep it running, I had the occasion to look around. The interior hasn't been completed yet, but even so I could see it was still basic Swift, 1946. The gear and flaps are still those archaic-looking barroom spigots that make you switch hands on the wheel to operate, and the circuit breakers, which double as electrical switches, are still mounted in that innocuous whitish, ribbed plastic that reminds me of early RockOla jukeboxes. Worst of all, the trim is still mounted behind my head on the turnover structure and made me risk a charliehorse every time I twisted around to reach it. About the only things that hint at what's up front are the new vernier throttle, prop control and a manifold pressure gauge that goes up to 60 inches. That certainly looks out of place in a Swift!
I guess the thing uppermost in my mind when I started the takeoff was torque. This was an awfully little airplane and a mighty big engine. I screwed the throttle vernier slowly in, or at least I thought it was slowly.
Every turn of the throttle rewarded me with a tremendous increase in noise and a smack in the small of my back. It accelerated like a full-grown fighter and when I pushed the nose down, the runway looked as if it were going by at a fantastic rate. With that big prop blowing so hard on the rudder, it was effective as soon as the throttle started moving. Even so, I didn't need all that control because it tracked straight ahead. I pulled it off the ground and tried to hold 100 mph while the heavy-duty pump sucked the gear up. My climb-out angle should have left no doubt that this was not the usual ground-hugging Swift.
I'd watched Steve take off a number of times and I knew that the combination of prop and exhaust noise was making the gophers dig deeper holes, so I reduced power until I cleared the pattern and headed out into the practice area. Even at reduced power, the cockpit noise was something to be shouted over. Climbing at 80 mph indicated, I started timing the rate of climb. The altimeter was going around at least twice as fast as my second hand and we covered a good 2,200 feet while the hand made one lap of the dial.