WK275 – “THAT” Supermarine Swift
Over the years Jet Art Aviation has taken on some high profile projects but this one is perhaps the most ‘infamous’. Other than the legendary A1 Lightning, I can think of no airframe out there in the elements that has generated so much speculation and controversy on the web. The story goes like this: many years ago military surplus supplier buys several airframes from the RAF including a Supermarine Spitfire, a Westland Whirlwind (helicopter) and a Supermarine Swift. He sells the Spitfire to a ‘middle man’ who then sells the aircraft on for a substantial profit. Military surplus buyer now ultra wary of selling remaining airframes for fear of being ripped off , and potential buyers are turned away.
Fast forward to 2012 and after making numerous unsuccessful appearances on Ebay and in the press the Swift is finally sold. The new owner steps forward to save the aircraft and commission Jet Art Aviation to dismantle and extract it to carry out the restoration which although clearly a significant undertaking isn’t quite the hopeless 13th Labour of Hercules that some would expect. Her outward appearance ‘informed’ the general consensus that WK275 was living on borrowed time and that corrosion and exposure to the elements had pushed her beyond restoration ‘bingo’ point, but the world’s only surviving Swift F Mk4 is in fact made of stronger stuff!
Just as this particular airframe has had a troubled life, so did the Swift per se. The Swift can trace its lineage back to the Supermarine Attacker (a very early straight winged jet fighter with a tailwheel, used by the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm) but the first actual ‘prototype’, the type 541, first flew in 1951. The production version, the Swift Mk.1 was rushed into service due to elevated Cold War tension and a squadron was up and running with the type by 1954 but problems with engine performance and handling (among others) ensued. As a fighter the Swift never really lived up to expectations but did find a place as the RAF’s low-level photo recce aircraft albeit only for 5 years as the FR5 variant. Perhaps its most famous achievement was breaking the world speed record in 1953 when WK198 was pushed to 717 mph although predictably the Americans wrenched the record back from us 8 days later!
The Swift may not have been a success in its intended role but she has built up something of a cult following and those 50s curves have to play a part in this. I myself fell for the Swift when I saw one polished to within an inch of its life to portray a fictional prototype aircraft (Prometheus) in that Monday Matinee classic The Sound Barrier [DVD]
It has to be said that getting her from where she was (mounted on brick pillars at Sheppard’s in Hereford ) to where she is now (stripped apart in a top secret North Yorkshire location) has not been an easy process. The biggest logistical task was to cut the aircraft free from its mountings and disassemble it ready for transportation.
There’s no denying that 40 years outside without any care & attention has left its mark on the aircraft and the amount of time and effort that will be required just to get her cleaned up is terrifying!
We have begun making inroads into the restoration with a bare metal paint strip to the fuselage with an exploratory clean up of the nose cone which now looks stunning but the time taken clearly indicates this is not going to be a ‘swift’ job. Ugh, sorry.
Airbrakes open, throttling back…
Inside, the airframe has faired surprisingly well. The canopy was sealed to prevent water ingress so when we actually managed to get inside we discovered a time capsule of 1950s technology. All the instruments and controls are there and even the Martin Baker Mk 2 ejection seat is intact – make no mistake not only is this aeroplane going to look stunning when we are finished but it will also be as authentic as possible.
Even better, the Swift came complete with its Rolls Royce 114 Avon engine. Hopefully you can gain an insight into the level of care and attention going into this restoration when you realise we spent days taking the engine and jetpipe out just so we could access, treat and preserve the engine bay and internal rear fuselage.
The engine is in remarkably good condition all things considered and comes complete with the distinctive afterburner in place. We’re not aware of any other Swift Avon jet pipes in the world, I think we have the only survivor!
I’m putting the stick forward!
As well as the highly experienced Jet Art Aviation team we also have some invaluable advice and research contributing to our restoration of WK275 from ex-Swift pilot Group Captain Nigel Walpole, author of Swift Justice: The Supermarine Swift – Low-level Reconnaissance Fighter (Aviation)
Due to the unprecedented amount of interest in this aircraft I will try to keep the site updated with restoration developments as often as time constraints allow, so keep checking the blog.