Bellanca Model 28-70 Racer

Bellanca Model 28-70The Bellanca 28-70 was a long-range air racer designed for James Fitzmaurice of Ireland, who christened it Irish Swoop. Although built for the 1934 MacRobertson Race from England to Australia, it never completed any long-distance race, but ultimately inspired a high-speed bomber.

Design and development

To prepare for the 1934 England-Australia race, Col. James “Fitz” Fitzmaurice, formerly of the Irish Free State Air Force, travelled to the United States in the spring to obtain a suitable air racer. He sought out Giuseppe Mario Bellanca who, not having a suitable aircraft already in hand, proposed to build a one-off custom aircraft for $30,000.

[ad#ad-1]In May 1934, Fitzmaurice committed to the a new aircraft, which would be called the Bellanca 28-70. Bellanca used a conventional wooden frame with cloth covering with a distinctive “set-back cockpit” racing profile of the 1930s. Powered by a Pratt & Whitney 700 hp double-row Wasp Jr., the long streamlined fuselage merged a tandem cockpit area into a low-wing monoplane configuration with retractable landing gear. While designed with a fuel capacity of 400 gallons, a total of 600 gallons of fuel could be loaded, for extended range.

Operational history

Fitzmaurice and his co-pilot, Eric “Jock” Bonar conducted the first test flight on 1 September 1934, which showed problems in aileron controls. After modifications, the aircraft, painted as “race 29,” was shipped to Bremerhaven, due to difficulties in unloading in Southampton. Christened the “Irish Swoop,” Fitzmaurice and Bonar took off on 9 October, arriving in Great Britain barely in time for the start of the race.

Because the Bellanca exceeded its specified 400 gallon fuel capacity (now carrying 600 gallons) and had not been re-certified, the MacRobertson Race rules committee imposed a crippling penalty, forcing Fitzmaurice to withdraw hours before the race.

After being re-certified for its new configuration, Fitzmaurice and Bonar undertook another long-distance record flight on 29 October 1934, trying to break the London-Baghdad record. However, over Belgium, problems with a fairing and the cowling ended the attempt. The Bellanca was shipped back to the US, but was badly damaged in a landing accident on 15 April 1935 when a gust of wind flipped the aircraft on its back.

In 1936, the aircraft was rebuilt with a 900hp P&W Twin Wasp and redesignated the 28-90. Purchased by British long-distance air racer James Mollison for $28,000, he renamed the aircraft Dorothy and used the Bellanca for a new transatlantic speed record, but in 1937 sold the aircraft to the Republican government in Spain. The Bellanca 28-90 Flash was developed into an American bomber in the 1930s 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 ended up in Mexico. A total of 43 aircraft were produced.

from Aero Digest, April, 1935:

Bellanca Aircraft Corporation, New Castle, Delaware