Bellanca 28-70 Irish Swoop Article & 4-View
August 1972 American Aircraft Modeler
Berliner wrote a historical article about the Bellanca 28-70 Irish Swoop
racer for the August 1972 edition of American Aircraft Modeler. Bjorn Karlstrom
provided one of his masterpiece 4-view illustrations. I scanned, OCRed,
and posted the contents for your convenience. The Academy of Model Aeronautics
still provides full-size drawings and plans for most of the airplanes featured
over the years.
"The Bellanca 28-70 was a long-range air racer designed
for James Fitzmaurice Irish pioneer aviator, who christened it Irish Swoop.
Although it was built in time for the 1934 MacRobertson Race from England
to Australia, it was never destined to be a competitive long-distance racer
but it was ultimately reborn as a high-speed bomber."
Bellanca 28-70 Irish Swoop
The latest airplane to carry the grand old name of Bellanca is nothing more
or less than a slightly modernized old Aeronca Champion. As unexciting as
this seems at first glance, it is yet one more sign that the goal of Bellanca
is to do more with less than anyone else. The Champ, known throughout its
long first life as one of the finest little touring/ training two-seaters
ever built, is now ready to provide even more economical flying than its
companion on the Bellanca assembly lines - the aerobatic Citabria.
enjoyable flying at minimum cost is certainly a ·worthy goal, and could
well be imitated by other manufacturers. But such was not always the guiding
principle at Bellanca. No performance and efficiency were long the qualities
for which the late Guiseppe Bellanca was known all over the aviation world.
And perhaps even more than for those, Bellanca was renowned for the novel
ways he achieved them. Like wide-chord lifting struts, and a tri-motor transcontinental
racer with two Menasco engines and one Ranger engine!
Bellanca's reputation for being able to do things better by doing them differently,
an order was received in the late spring of 1934 for an airplane to win
the upcoming MacRobertson Race from England to Australia. The pilot, Col.
James Fitzmaurice, was sponsored by the Irish Hospitals Trust and wanted
an airplane capable of flying 3000 miles non-stop at 235 mph. And he wanted
it to be ready to start the race in less than five months! Such was the
confidence he had in the name of Bellanca.
Construction began early
in June 9, 1934 and the first test flight of the Model 28-70 (for 280 sq.
ft. of wing, and 700 hp) was made three months later, on September L After
some delays in shipping the prototype, it finally reached Mildenhall aerodrome
(now the site of a USAF base in England) just four days before the October
20 scheduled start of the race. Named the "Irish Swoop" and licensed in
Ireland as EI-AAZ, it was all ready to race and then the officials stepped
in, as they still seem to do at unfortunate times. Because of limited testing,
the airplane had not been cleared at its maximum design loaded weight of
8350 lb. which was to have included some 600 gallons of fuel, weighing 3600
lb. The officials refused to let it take off at more than 5350 lb. which
would have limited it to just over 100 gallons and forced it to make about
20 refueling stops. Fitzmaurice felt he would thus have no chance to win
the race under such a restriction, and so he withdrew.
The Model 28-70 was returned to the factory, was slightly modified with
an improved engine cowling, and then was seriously damaged in a landing
accident during the continuing test program. It sat around until 1936, when
it was rebuilt with a 900 hp Pratt & Whitney R-1830 Wasp engine in place
of the original 700 hp P& W Twin Wasp Jr . The designation was changed
to 28-90 to reflect the increased horsepower, and it was registered in the
U.S. as N190M. At this time, a central skid was added to the bracing posts
under the fuselage.
Renamed the "Flash," 42 Bellancas were purchased by Spain during its
civil war, 20 more by the Chinese to fight Japan. Some ended up in Mexico
where they were equipped with machine guns and bombs.
Specifications of the Model 28-90
Length - 25' 11"
Wingspan - 46' 1-3/4"
Wing Area - 278.8
Height - 8' 8"
Empty Weight - 4450 lb.
- 7099 lb.
Top Speed-281 mph at 5000'
Speed - 250 mph
Maximum Range - 800 mi.
Initial Rate of Climb-2S00
Service Ceiling - 30,500'
Re-named "The Dorothy," it was purchased by
English long-distance flier James Mollison, who immediately set up a new
record from New York to London of 13 hours, 17 minutes, or about 260 mph.
This was in October of 1936. A month later, Mollison headed south from London
with the intention of breaking the record to Capetown, at the southern tip
of Africa. A broken fuel tank forced him down along the banks of the Nile
River, unfortunately, and the flight ended there.
Sometime in 1937,
he flew the airplane to Madrid and sold it to the Spanish Republican government,
which apparently used it for high-speed reconnaissance during the Spanish
Civil War. Even before they bought Mollison's prototype, however, the Spanish
had ordered 20 of Bellanca's Model 28-90, by now called the "Flash." The
order was made in the name of Air France, in order to get around the Neutrality
Act which then forbid the export of military aircraft to certain foreign
countries at war. The planes were painted up in Air France colors, even
though it was common knowledge they were headed for Spain, but before they
could be delivered, the law clamped down.
Despite the fact that
the ChineseJapanese War was in full swing, the neutrality rules somehow
failed to cover China, and the 20 Flashes were shipped to Shanghai. Military
equipment was installed in China, but most of the airplanes were destroyed
by the Japanese before they could be sent into combat.
order for the Spanish was received by Bellanca in late 1937, this time for
22 airplanes in the name of a Greek flying school which did not even exist!
The export application was turned down, but the airplanes were built anyway
- all 22 being completed in just three months. Before they could be sneaked
to Spain via Mexico, the Spanish Republicans were defeated by the Fascists,
and Mexico took over the model 28-90B's to cover part of the debt owed them
by the Spanish. A brief period of active service with the Mexican Air Force
ended after two of the Flashes had crashed fatally, and the remaining aircraft
The Mexican Bellancas were set up to carry a pair
of forward-firing .30 cat. machine guns, and a third .30 cal. in a moveable
mount in the rear cockpit. Bomb racks could carry eight 120-pounders.
Construction of the wing was quite conventional, with two spars and
closely spaced ribs, covered with fabric. External bracing was composed
of tie rods from the upper surface to the fuselage, and from the lower surface
to steel supporting struts extending down from the belly. Fixed tail surfaces
were plywood covered, while the control surfaces were welded steel tubing,
covered with fabric. One of the novel innovations (for the time) was a cockpit
canopy made of Plexiglas.
In the long-range Model 28-70, all fuel
was carried in front of the cockpit, in a 480-gallon main tank and a 120-gallon
auxiliary tank. In the limited production Model 28-90, there was a single
150-gallon tank forward of the cockpit.
And so, to the best of our
knowledge, ends the saga of the Bellanca Flash. There were 43 built, with
all apparently ending up in Spain, Mexico and China. According to all official
records, not an airplane remains, though intriguing rumors occasionally
float up from Mexico of mysterious airplanes in scrap yards. So far, none
of these has concerned any of the flashy Bellancas, but it's always a possibility
that at least part of one remains, somewhere. And if even a few miscellaneous
parts can ever be found, the way will then be open for some ambitious antique
restorers to work their magic.
But this is probably only a dream.
<click image for larger version>
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Posted May 21, 2011
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