Contemporary Comper Swifts


John Greenland’s Comper Swift

John Greenland

John Greenland as a child had his imagination captured by a children’s book that told the fictional adventures of a tiny aeroplane named Midge.  Midge was undoubtedly based on the single-seat Comper Swift sporting aeroplane.  Later at the King’s Cup air races at Hatfield in the 1930s, young John vowed that one day he would own and fly one.

In the intervening years John had a successful career as an airline pilot.  This included 27 years with Swissair.

By the 1980s several Swifts still existed but their owners did not want to part with them, so John decided to build his own.  He found that the structure of the Swift was very complicated and embarked on fashioning hundreds of metal fittings by hand.  He was known when an airline pilot to take two cases on his trips to New York – one for his clothes and the other for his tools.  In his hotel room at night he worked on his Comper Swift.  By the time of his retirement the metal bits were complete.  Then the Swift began to take shape in his workshop at his home at Blackacre Farm in Wiltshire.  It was finished in 1993, having taken 8,000 hours to build and in the August of that year first took to the air.




Comper Swift G-LCGL

The finished aircraft empty weight was just 2lbs heavier than the 580 lbs of the original.  Those who know and love the Swift describe John’s plane as the “42nd Comper Swift”.

John died on 11th March 2010, aged 79, having logged over 19,000 hours of flight in his career.  He was greatly respected both in the worlds of model and full-sized aviation.





The Swift reproduction, midway through overhaul at Breighton in late February.

Happily the beautiful Comper Swift reproduction, G-LCGL, has now been acquired by Robert Fleming and taken to the Real Aeroplane Company (RAC) hangar at Breighton, North Yorkshire. John had not flown the 90 h.p. Pobjoy Niarara IA powered ultralight for several years, but after refurbishment was again fully airworthy.



Comper SwiftOn the 18th of December 2011 the Club de Aeromodelismo Cormorán de Villava took delivery of the replica of the Comper Swift originally flown by Fernando Rein Loring in his second and successful attempt to reach Manila in 1933. He covered the 15,000 kilometres bewteen Madird and Manila in eleven stages and took 82 hours and forty minutes in doing so.

This replica was constructed using several of the original parts and now is on show in Hangar 1 at the Madrid museum.










Roy Fox brought the nearly original 1932 Klemm L25 D II and the equally original 1932 Comper Swift to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh in 2009.

Both airplanes travelled there by container, on a trek sponsored in part by the BBC and Fly for Life. Initially, plans included only the Klemm, but available room in the container allowed the Comper also to make the trip.

According to Dave Greig, a volunteer restorer and pilot who accompanied Fox to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh, the Comper Swift is the only remaining example of three built with Gypsy III, 160-hp, inline, four-cylinder engines.

“This was built as a racer for the 1932 King’s Cup,” Greig said. The King’s Cup was a pre-war British air race.

Other than the addition of brakes, conversion of the tailskid to a tailwheel, and a widening of the landing gear, the 404-hour airframe is as it was when it left its British factory. The engine is the original.

“We had to make some wing rib repairs,” Greig said. “But we are lucky that it has been kept in very dry climates.”  The idea of bringing the planes came to Fox during a visit to EAA AirVenture Oshkosh last year.

“We were chatting, and they mentioned that this year there would be a commemoration of missionary and humanitarian aviation,” Fox said. “And I said that we have the oldest missionary aircraft in the world over in Australia, at least we think so.

“It’s even been on a postage stamp.”


File:ComperSwift.JPGThe Collection’s Comper Swift was the ninth Swift to be built in 1932 and a 15 minute test flight was made on August 24 1932 by Nick Comper. It was originally registered to Alban Ali as VT-ADO ‘The Scarlet Angel’ and spent the first part of its life in India.

It was a competitor in the 1933 Viceroy’s Challenge Cup Air Race in Delhi. Also competing in this race was Richard Shuttleworth and his flying instructor George Stead, racing in two more Comper Swifts. Alban Ali came sixth with the second fastest time at 124mph. Richard Shuttleworth retired from the race. After the race Ali left Delhi to fly the Swift back to England escorted by George Stead. During this flight Ali had to make a forced landing near Gaza and VT-ADU was badly damaged.

After repairs Ali continued his flight, but the engine was not working properly and Ali crated VT-ADO and shipped it to Heston.  ‘The Scarlet Angel’ was then sold to George Errington who rebuilt it and re-registered the aircraft as G-ACTF on May 24 1934, with the aircraft then flying soon after. Errington then flew the Swift all over the country and abroad and listed all of the places that the aircraft had visited on the rudder.

The aircraft was sold in 1937 to Francis K. Luxmore who kept the Swift at Portsmouth where it remained during the war. In 1948 it was bought by test pilot Ron Clear. Clear groomed the aircraft for air racing and cleaned up the airframe, in the 1950 Daily Express race, the now silver G-ACTF finished in fifth place with an average speed of 141mph.

G-ACTF was sold in 1951 and went through several owners until being sold to BOAC pilot Alan Chalkley who flew it extensively. However it was put into storage until being purchased by the Collection on August 16 1996. It had not flown for six years, but made its first display appearance in 1997. Over the years G-ACTF had been extensively modified with an enlarged cockpit, wheel spats, brakes and other parts. During 1998 it was overhauled and restored to its original factory condition and paint scheme. However engine problems have kept it away from the display scene since then, but it should fly again soon.   Height:   Length: 17ft 9in  Wingspan: 24ft 0in  Engines: one 90hp Pobjoy Niagra II



The Royal Air Force Museum officially unveiled the Museum’s latest acquisition, the Comper Swift CLA.7 G-ACGL.  The aircraft was unveiled to invited guests including relatives of the aircraft’s designer and of original owner in the Museum’s Hangar 1, where it is now on permanent display to the public.

During the unveiling guests gathered by the Comper Swift for a welcome speech from the RAF Museum Director General, Peter Dye.  Immediately afterwards the aircraft was unveiled by special guest Alex Henshaw Junior, son of Alex Henshaw Senior, the original owner of the aircraft.  The Swift was flown by Henshaw Senior in several air races around the country including the Kings Cup Air Race in1933 where he won the Siddeley Trophy.  Other V.I.Ps at the launch included Comper Swift Aircraft Designer’s grandson, Mr Stephen Perry and its Engine Designer’s daughter Mrs Shirley Ann Manser.

Designed by Nicholas Comper, an ex-RAF Flight Lieutenant in the early 1920’s, the first prototype Swift flew in 1929.  Whilst designing the Swift, Comper drew on his experiences with the Cranwell Light Aeroplane Club (CLAC), a group founded by Comper as an extra curricular activity for RAF Apprentices.  Members of the CLAC also included Frank Whittle and George Stainforth plus many other individuals who became legends within the RAF.

Only 41 Swifts were ever built and they were only available in two colours – red or blue of which the Museum’s is red.  Most were fitted with a Pobjoy R type engine and they were popular in air racing throughout the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s.  At only 5ft high, 17ft long with a wingspan of 24ft the Swift could reach a maximum speed of 140mph.  Big enough for just one person, a Swift was flown solo by Mr Arthur Butler between England and Australia in 1931 establishing a new record time.  Another was flown to South Africa and only just missed out on the record.

Henshaw Senior sold the Swift G-ACGL in 1934 and it passed through four more owners before reportedly being scrapped in 1942. Henshaw went on to become Chief Test Pilot at Castle Bromwich Aircraft Factory and test flew more Spitfires than anyone else.  The remains of the Museum’s Swift were saved and secured by various groups until 2008 when its parts donated by Mr Stanley Brennan of Manchester to the Royal Air Force Museum.  The aircraft has recently been restored by Skysport Engineering, Bedfordshire. There are now only eight remaining Swifts; four in the UK, one in Argentina, two in Australia, and one in Spain.

The Comper Swift is now on permanent display at the RAF Museum Cosford.  The Museum is open daily from 10am and admission is free of charge.  For more information on the Museum, visit or call 01902 376200.

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