Pilots often have two dreams: One is to find a derelict airplane in a barn and restore it to an airworthy showpiece; the other is to find someone who shares their passion for aviation.
Paul and Sandy Mercandetti from Knoxville, Tenn., are lucky enough to have had both dreams come true. The couple flies around the country in a 1946 GC1-B Globe Swift model 1-A that Paul found in a shed years ago.
“It was an empty shell,” he recalled at this year’s SUN ’n FUN. “There were two in the shed; I chose the one that had the best gear legs on it.”
Sandy Mercandetti is a two-time Swift owner. She bought her first Swift relatively early in her aviation career when she traded in her Aeronca Champ in favor of a more technically advanced aircraft.
“It wasn’t that that I didn’t like the Champ,” she said. “But I got tired of not having radios or a transponder. I got tired of spinning the prop for engine starts.”
Several friends suggested the Swift as her next airplane. Sandy made the trip to the Swift Museum Foundation in Athens, Tennessee, to do research.
“At the time I was living about a half hour by air from Athens,” she said.
She bought a 1946 GC-1 with a 125-hp engine. She enjoyed flying so much she decided to make aviation a career.
Sadly, she had to sell her Swift to meet expenses during her quest to become a professional pilot. Today she is a 9,000-hour airline pilot flying 737s and the restored Swift in her spare time.
Flying a general aviation airplane makes her unusal among her peers, she said.
“Actually it very rare to find an airline pilot who flies general aviation,” she said. “When I talk about general aviation at work, people say, ‘the last thing I want to do when I go home is fly an airplane.’ I was a general aviation pilot long before I decided to fly for an airline. General aviation is my first love.”
“After Vietnam, helicopter pilots were a dime a dozen, so I went back to flying airplanes again,” he explained. “I wound up at Air New England, then Piedmont Airlines, then US Airways. I retired from US Airways in 2007 and went to work part-time flying a Beech Baron for a company called Flight Choice out of Knoxville. It keeps me in gas money and keeps the Swift going.”
Although most people relate the Swift to the post-World War II aviation boom, the Swift was designed in 1940 by R.S. “Pop” Johnson as a wood and fabric airplane. After the war the airplane was redeveloped as a metal aircraft by K.H. “Bud” Knox, and manufactured by Globe Aircraft Co.
The Globe Swift proved so popular that Globe Aircraft Co. contracted with Texas Engineering and Manufacturing Company (TEMCO) in Grand Prairie, Texas, to build Swifts. Alas, the market eventually dried up and the last Swift rolled out of the TEMCO factory in 1951.
In all, 1,500 Swifts were built — and a great majority of them are still flying today.
Part of the reason they are so popular, say the Mercandettis, is that there is such a strong support network for the Swift.
“Everyone who owns a Swift needs to join the Swift Museum Foundation,” says Paul, who is on the museum board. “It’s only $50. You have to be a member to buy parts as we own the type certificate.”
Before buying a Swift, he suggests you contact the office, come by the museum in Athens or come to a Swift fly-in.
“Any of our members would be glad to speak to anyone about this great little airplane that was way ahead of its time,” he said. “Also, we have some great mechanics who are Swift owners and specialize in the Swift.”
“Anyone thinking about buying a classic or antique airplane needs to get in touch with the type club for that aircraft,” he added. “They know more than anyone the nuances of their particular aircraft, more than any run-of-the-mill mechanic.”
He notes that the Swift is one of the most modified airplanes on the market, so if you acquire a Swift, expect to spend a good deal of time going through its logbooks and noting all the documentation for STCs.
One of the more popular modifications is an upgrade in horsepower. The first Swifts rolled out of the factory with 85-hp engines under the cowl. The Mercandettis, for example, decided they wanted more power, and installed a 210-hp Continental engine, but decided to keep it under the standard cowling.
“When you look at the airplane from a distance, it pretty much looks like it did when it originally rolled out of the factory,” said Paul Mercandetti. “There are a number of other modifications we did, such as new instruments and radios. We rewired the entire airplane and rebuilt all the hydraulics.”
It took the Mercandettis approximately five years to get their airplane into the condition it was seen at SUN ’n FUN.
“We basically rebuilt it,” Paul recalled “It took some time to get the parts to complete it.”
The work was done under the supervision of Jeff Thomason, an A&P based in South Carolina.
The Mercandettis have been flying their Swift for about nine years. Paul estimates they have put about 600 hours on the airframe since its restoration. Much of that time comes from activities with the Swift Museum Foundation.
“Sandy and I teach formation clinics for the Swift Museum Foundation and we have a large number of owners who fly formation across the country,” he said.
When asked how they determine who gets to be Pilot in Command when they fly together, Paul replies he usually demurs to Sandy, who, because of her work schedule, doesn’t have as much opportunity to fly the Swift as he does.