Flying the Right Speeds

by Sam Swift

As I've learned from nearly 13 years of doing Swift checkouts is that no two Swifts are the same. I often compare them to the old Volkswagen Beetles. There are always different mods from engines, wheels, paint schemes, interiors, etc. The same can be said of the plumbing for the pitot-static system. After over 60 years, these systems have been repaired, removed, and replaced with different pitot tubes depending on what materials were available at the time. Nowadays, it is rare to see one of the original pitot tubes still in service. If you remember, it is the one that looks like a side-view of a set of stairs. It goes down, then forward, then down again, then forward again (crazy, eh?). Walking down the flight line at your next Swift fly-in you might also see a version of the original that has been cut down a bit. Or, how about the popular Piper pitot tube? Those are all over the place (on my aircraft, too). Some even have the bird-stabber that protrudes forward nearly a foot straight out of the leading edge. Now, for the extra kick of confusion, some have static systems, and some don't. What! Many of those with the static systems installed are in all different locations on the airframe. I've seen static ports on the sides of the fuselage aft of the cockpit (at arm location +122 inches aft of firewall), static ports forward of the wing (fuselage side below instrument panel), and combinations of one versus two ports in the previously-mentioned locations. What I've found on most airframes is to not have a separate static system installed, as most are VFR-only aircraft. The pitot-static instruments are merely referencing the static air pressure from the ambient air in the cockpit. This seems to work fine on my aircraft and my transponder always seems to encode what my altimeter reads and Air Traffic Control is happy that I am where I say I am. There seems to be no need to fix what isn't broken.

With that being said, there is no wonder why differences exist in indicated airspeeds. Whether I am doing a checkout for a person new to the Swift, or a Flight Review for someone already flying their Swift, there seems to be a lot of difference in procedure for determining a proper landing speed. I've found pilots flying anything from 60-100mph down final without reasonable justification of the number. Now it's a given that the lightweight stock 125hp Swifts can come in slower compared to a heavy, full-IFR 210hp Swift with all the goodies, but you need a good basis for your final speed. What I've done on the first flight with a new-to-me Swift is go up and do a few stalls in both a clean and dirty configuration and write down the results of the IAS at stall. The one I pay most attention to is the speed with flaps down, gear down, and around 1300-1500 rpm. This seems to be the most accurate approximation of a final approach configuration. Then I take that IAS and multiply it by 1.3 to get a good starting number for final approach speed. Using this method generally gives a good margin for the roundout and flare to touch down in a slightly tail-low attitude on the mains.

Remember, too little speed and you run the risk of stalling, too much and you increase your landing roll, tire and brake wear, and propensity to induce a bounce (or three). When watching guys that fly in the bush, we see very current guys that are flying right above stall speed and have little to no energy remaining for error. Bottom line, unless you are very current in your plane, try to keep the speed reasonable (but not too fast). The Swift isn't a STOL airplane, but conversely you don't have to land it like it's a jet, either! Let's fly safe this summer and remember if you're flying someone else's Swift .... the 75mph in your Swift might not be the same 75mph in your buddy's Swift!!