Model Airplane News|
Bellanca - Fitzmaurice 28-70 "Irish Swoop"
Model Airplane News Cover Art for January, 1935
by Jo Kotula
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The Bellanca 28-70 was a long-range air racer designed for James Fitzmaurice of Ireland, who christened it "Irish Swoop", a wordplay on the famed Irish Sweepstakes. 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.
Photos of the Bellanca - Fitzmaurice 28-70 "Irish Swoop"
Patent No. 2,051,021, filed in 1933
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Some understanding of the nature of the race is essential to understanding this plane as well as the DeHaviland Comet, one of the other contestants to be featured on the previous month's cover of M.A.N. In order to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the City of Melbourne, the city fathers organized an air race from London to Melbourne with mandatory stops at all key parts of the British Empire (e.g. Gibraltar, Malta, Alexandria, Baghdad, Karachi, Singapore, etc, etc. This was not only a test of the endurance of an airplane but also of its fitness to serve in the transport of mail and passengers within the Empire. Military considerations were a barely submerged subtext. The event was sponsored by the MacRoberts Chocolate factory and was widely heralded in the press. The entrants were seen in the press, the newsreels and even on trading cards. Click here to download a ".pdf" that gives the full details of the race.
Col. James "Fitz" Fitzmaurice, former commanding officer of the Irish Free State Air Force, travelled to the United States in spring 1934 to commission a long-distance air racing aircraft for the MacRobertson Race. He sought out famous designer Giuseppe Mario Bellanca who made a proposal to build a "one-off" specialty aircraft for $30,000.00. The aircraft had apparently been on Bellanca's mind as evidenced by Patent No. 2,051,021, filed a year before he met with Fitzmaurice.
In May 1934, Fitzmaurice signed an agreement for a new aircraft called the Bellanca 28-70. Bellanca turned to a conventional wooden frame with cloth covering . Powered by a Pratt & Whitney 700 hp double-row "Wasp Jr.", the long streamlined fuselage merged a tandem cockpit area topped by an extended canopy into a low-wing monoplane configuration with retractable main landing gear. An unusual set of top and bottom wing braces were utilized. Designed for a fuel capacity of 400 gallons, in order to have long "legs," a total of 600 gallons of fuel were aboard, raising the gross weight to 8,350 lbs
After receiving the aircraft, Fitzmaurice and his co-pilot, Eric "Jock" Bonar conducted a rapid series of pre-flight tests in New York before carrying out the first flight in September of 1934. The aircraft, with "29" painted on the tail in large letters, was shipped to Southampton. Bad luck dogged the plane -- The flight to London was interrupted by a cracked cowling forcing a landing at Amsterdam. The MacRobertson race rules committee considered the Bellanca not "race-ready". Further, the plane was not certified for its 8,400 pound gross weight. Rather than give up fuel, Fitzmaurice withdrew the plane hours before the race. So much for the race. This has only touched the highlights of Fitzmaurice's difficulties. Click here to read the full details.
After being re-certified for its new configuration, Fitzmaurice tried to save face by attempting a new London-Baghdad (2546 mi) speed record. Over Belgium, however, problems with a fairing and the cowling caused an end to the attempt. The Bellanca was shipped back to the USA but was badly damaged in a landing accident . In 1936, the aircraft was rebuilt with a 900hp P&W Twin Wasp and redesignated the 28-90 "Flash". It was developed into an American bomber for export to Spain to take part in the Spanish Civil War. Although it never reached Spain, the order was diverted to China where the aircraft briefly saw service. Later, a new batch destined for Spain ended up in Mexico. A total of 43 aircraft were produced
Click Here for more information about the Bellanca - Fitzmaurice 28-70 "Irish Swoop".
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