N80844 resurrection - part 1

by Larry LaForce

I've been around airplanes most of my life. My first flight was in a ‘63 Sky Hawk owned by my uncle, Dr. Carl Laffoon in Dallas (I still remember it like yesterday). He always kept something that had wings; a SkyHawk, a Stearman, a Staggerwing (traded the Staggerwing for a show quality Cessna 140, can you believe!!), and a Swift. I cannot remember the Swift nor can we find any pictures of it to get the N number from. I hope it is still one of the Dallas area Swifts and I will finally be able to identify it.

My Dad bought a Cessna 140 (N1649V) from my other uncle at the time (Judge Gary Stephens) in 1972 and I started taking lessons in it. That was in the summer of 1976 (I was 15). Of course I could not solo till I was 16 and could not get my license until 18. Needless to say, I had umpteen hours flying solo in the 140. My Grand Dad bought a ‘73 Cessna 150 (N10088) in 1978 and that is what I took my check ride in with Henry Wisener (Wisener field Mineola TX) in 1979. Dad bought a 63 Mooney M-20C (N6853U) in 1978 and I have logged numerous hours in it as well. The 150 is gone now (destroyed after Grand Dad sold it). The 140 and Mooney still reside here at home with the Swift project.

In early 1998 I started helping an A+P friend at night with a PBY Catalina static project that was going to Australia to be a centerpiece in a museum honoring the "Cat" crews that flew out of that area. Up to that point I had never driven a rivet nor had any dealings with sheet metal. My A+P was an excellent teacher and I was very interested. So I picked up the technique fairly quickly. I helped with the project for about 18 months. Towards the end I started thinking I would like to get an airplane project of my own. I settled on a Swift just because of their "War Bird" appearance. Found the Swift website and joined the Swift association. I poured over everything in print that I could read about them. There was actually a derelict Swift less than 10 miles from our house. Of course when I inquired about buying it the owner said "no way". Jim Montague introduced me to Ed Lloyd because he was "in my area" (Texas). Ed told me of several projects he had looked at when he was Swift shopping, but highly recommended buying a flying bird. We were not financially able to invest in a flying bird so I went to Llano, TX to look at "the project".

N80844 in 1999

My Dad and I arrived early at the airport in October 1999 to look at N80844, SN #247. We were shocked at the state of disassembly of the Swift. No instruments, no radios and no wiring. Engine was a rusty 125 that was removed. I didn't even recognize it as a Swift at first glance!! Ed had told me what he thought it could be bought for, so that is what I offered. The owner had other ideas and told me he would take $22,000 for it (I offered 1/3rd of that). Well, I'm not a negotiating type person and I politely told him that we were so far apart on price that there was no way we could reach an agreement. I walked back to the truck and got in. My Dad asked what was happening and I told him that we had just wasted our time driving to Llano, so we left. Now let me point out that we had brought a 20ft trailer and a ¾ ton truck loaded / packed with everything we thought it could possibly take to get the project home. That trip was around 6 hours each way.

Meanwhile, there was another project listed in Trade-A-Plane located in Tucumcari, NM that I had inquired about. I was hesitant to make the trip because of the distance and possible disappointment. I had finally decided that we were going to make the drive when the owner of 80844 called me. He asked if I had thought anymore about the deal and I told him yes but I still did not want it at his price. I told him we were going to Tucumcari the next weekend to buy the other project and he just blurted out "I'll take your offer". So we loaded the truck and trailer up again and headed for Llano instead of Tucumcari the next weekend. As we were loading it on the trailer a local came by and said "that looks like a 7 year project". I thought, what do you know? He was wrong by a number of years! November 2009 completed 10 years that I've been restoring and working on 80844 (not continuously of course).

N80844 Arrival at Big Sandy,TX.

If you've ever heard the term "basket case" that pretty much describes what I bought. N80844 started life as a GC-1A in July of 1946. It has been based in Texas all of its life. It was converted to a GC-1B in 1949 after an apparent ground loop tore the left gear leg and associated gear box out (very poor repair work I might add). The last logbook entry was in June of 1973. I'm the 15th owner. I believe every owner since 1973 thought they would "restore" it and took something off the airframe. It was literally in boxes and scattered all across the open hanger that it was in. The part of the airframe that was still "assembled" was held together with what seemed like 1000’s of Clecos. When I asked where the right wing was...the owner said "it's inside the fuselage" (completely disassembled). I spent several weeks / months just sorting through everything and figuring out what I actually had / did not have. Lots of the parts were unidentifiable and I had no clue where they went. One positive aspect of the project was that the guy I bought it from had purchased many dollars worth of new parts and pieces. All said and done, he probably took a huge loss when he sold the project. When I finally get it back in the air...there will be very few (if any) items that I have not inspected, cleaned, painted or replaced with new.

Continued in Part 2.