The Journal of the Friends of Sywell Aerodrome
No. 10 Winter 2003
Sywell Aircraft - Comper Swift
by Chris Parker
It is perhaps a little strange that I should choose to include in this series an aircraft type that was built only in very small numbers and (as far as I know) only two examples of which have been based at the Aerodrome. My justification is that the first of the two, and the example being locally based for much the longest period, was owned by the co-founder of Sywell Mr Jack Linnell.
This particular aircraft, the all-black G-ABUS, was returned to Sywell by Jack Linnell at a time (the mid 1950s) when sporting and recreational flying, and interest in vintage aircraft, had begun to get the increasing following which has continued its steady growth up to the present day.
The late Charles Boddington seated in Jack Linnell's
G ABUS at Sywell in the late 1950s.
In the late 1920s, despite the economic difficulties of the times, a sense of optimism pervaded the aviation world and many were the new designs of light aircraft that were conceived. An accomplished sporting pilot of the time was Fit. Lt. Nicholas Comper who had been involved with several experimental aircraft designs produced by the keen members of RAF Cranwell's light aircraft club - Comper being a lecturer at Cranwell. With the experience to hand Comper began to scheme out what in his mind would be some ideal aircraft for the sporting pilot - compact, agile, inexpensive to run but possessing a much higher than average performance.
The most successful of Comper's designs, just over 40 being eventually built, was the CLA7 Swift. The first Swift flew in 1930, originally equipped with a small two cylinder ABC Scorpion engine of 40hp. The Swift was a small (24' span) high wing design with a single open cockpit. Although managing a top speed of lOOmph on the ABC engine the Swift really needed more power and was transformed when Comper fitted one of the new Pobjoy air-cooled radial engines (of 75hp) in 1931 which increased the top speed to 140mph.
In the 1930s Swifts had many long distance and racing successes. The long distance flights included such destinations as Cape Town, India, and Australia, and to prove the Swift's other capabilities a standard model made a double crossing of the Andes (over 18,000 ft) in 1932.
To enhance the little aeroplane's performance even further (all up weight well under 10001b - equivalent to today's microlight categorization) two aircraft, including one for Edward Prince of Wales, were fitted with 120hp de Havilland Gipsy III engines. The Gipsy-Swifts as they were known having a top speed of 165mph.
Sadly the Comper concern ceased operations in 1934 and the remaining Swifts gradually faded away - some being withdrawn from use in the UK, and several disappearing from view in the various parts of the world to which they had been sold.
Engine close-up of a Comper Swift shows the Pobjoy radial engine
and the large diameter slow revving geared propeller.
Some four aircraft survived World War II in the UK and the first to be made airworthy again was Jack Linnell's G-ABUS, built originally in 1932. Through Jack's generosity 'BUS was enjoyed by several pilots in the early post war air races and always gave a good account of itself - although being so well known to the handicappers that places or wins were elusive. It was during this racing career that 'BUS acquired its all black with gold trim colour scheme and the name 'Black Magic'. As well as the name the engine cowlings also carried the well-known motif of the inner circle of racing pilots - the 'Throttle Benders Union'.
'BUS returned to permanent residence at Sywell in the mid 1950s, and with Jack Linnell's continuing generosity, was enjoyed by a new generation of local pilots. The aircraft's Pobjoy engine, with the rumble of its reduction gears and lazy swishing of the large diameter coarse pitch propeller together with a hot-oil aroma from the exposed cylinders, provided an almost unique replay of the sounds and smells of early 1930s aviation. The Swift was eventually and sadly sold on when the Linnells retired from flying in the mid 1960s.
Happily 'BUS, together with the other Swift which had a short Sywell occupancy G-ABTC and two others, still exists although it has not been in airworthy condition for many years. The only Swift which is currently likely to be seen flying is the Shuttleworth Collection's G-ACTF.