First flight but not a Quickie


Hi guys,

I know this isn't directly Quickie related but I had a first flight today that I thought I should share with you all. Although not a Quickie the the aircraft is just as interesting none the less.

Today I flew a Fairey Swordfish MkII biplane for the first time. It was an absolutely amazing experience. For those of you that have never heard of it, it is a Second World War Torpedo Bomber that saw action with the Royal Navy at the Battle of Taranto and helped sink the Bismarck during the Battle of the Atlantic. It was also involved in many other actions during the Second World War. The example I flew today actually took part in the Battle of the Atlantic in 1943. It is unique in that it is currently the only airworthy Swordfish in the world and it is still owned and operated by the Royal Navy and flown on the military register to military regulations, more details can be found at there is also some info on wiki about the Swordfish.

The Swordfish is a rather large aircraft when you get up close to it and is only marginally smaller than an Antonov AN-2 biplane. It has a single set of controls in the pilot's cockpit as the rear cockpits were for an Observer and a Telgraphist Air Gunner. The three cockpits are open to the elements and it gets rather windy and noisy particularly the rear cockpits. The conversion to type is fairly unique in that your first sortie involves standing in the rear cockpit looking over the shoulder of a pilot experienced on type. He demonstrates a take off, a few general handling manoeuvres and a landing. He then taxis in and keeping the engine running we swap cockpits, then I fly the same profile he has just shown me with him looking over my shoulder although I should do a few more circuits when we return to the field.

The Swordfish has a 750hp Bristol Pegasus radial engine on the front and weighs around 7600lb. It is a fairly draggy beast and burns about 40 imperial gallons of AVGAS per hour at 90kt. (I'll never complain about fuel burn again in anything else I fly!)

She is pretty docile for such a big tail dragger and leaps off the runway at about 60kt. Climb is a rather sedate 70kt doing around 500fpm. Despite being so big the controls are pretty light but does require fairly large bootfuls of rudder to maintain balance in turns. She is very manoeuvrable and will turn on a sixpence, the roll rate is surprisingly spritely for such a large aircraft. As you fly along you can see the valve gear and springs tapping away on the cylinder heads in front of you, a sight to behold especially if you love mechanical things.

Unfortunately I had to cut the sortie short due to the oil pressure being abnormally low as we levelled off and I elected to return to the field, discretion being the better part of valour and all that! It turned out to be an air bubble in the capillary to the oil gauge thankfully.

I rejoined the field and set up for my first landing. A fairly daunting prospect when you are flying the only currently airworthy example of type in the world (it's not your common as muck Mustang or Spitfire you know)!

The landing was fairly straight forward and I had a 12kt crosswind 50 degrees off the runway. I set it up for a tail down wheeler and managed grease her onto the runway first time. The landing was a none event, although you do have to get used being sat with your eyeline about 10ft off the runway.

Taxying is the most difficult aspect about operating a Swordfish especially when there is a bit of wind to contend with. She has a large side area and likes to weather cock when taxying crosswind. The tailwheel is free castoring and the brakes are pneumatic. The pneumatic brakes inflate a bladder that the brake pads are attached to, this then expands against the brake drum giving you braking action. The brake lever is on the spade grip of the control column and is differential when you move the rudder bar in the appropriate direction. The problem with pneumatic brakes are that they expend air faster than it is replenished by the engine driven compressor, especially when taxying at low RPM so you run out of brake pressure very quickly in windy conditions. You also have to anticipate the brakes as there is lag in the system as the pressure builds and dissipates after you operate the brake lever.

Overall it has been a privilege as a serving Naval Aviator to fly such an historic and iconic aircraft, particularly one with genuine WW2 combat provenance. It was an awe inspiring experience and I look forward to displaying the Swordfish to the British public at airshows around the UK this summer. As I write this and reflect on my first sortie I can't believe how lucky I am to fly this wonderful machine.

On the Quickie front I hope to have my Q2 flying in August again and that is another unique taildragger I can't wait to fly!

All the best.

Simon Wilson
Quickie Q2
United Kingdom

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