Rendering of the Swift trainer in-flight over the clouds.

UK MoD sees promise in Swift composite aerobatic plane

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Green Wing logo with white letters against a green backdrop, and leafs on either sideSwift Aircraft, part of the Swift Technology Group (STG), is among those genuine pioneers seeking to bring a new generation of net-zero aircraft to market.

Recognising a market gap for a new-technology, light aerobatic trainer, Swift Aircraft founder and managing director David Stanbridge in the mid-2000s began designing the Swift, a two-seater low wing composite aircraft with striking elliptical wings and double curvature surfaces.

“It was designed with future-proofing in mind, easily adaptable to different propulsion and fuel types,” explained Mike McLean, who is responsible for business development at Swift Aircraft. 

Housed in a former fighter jet hangar on a Cold War air station in the UK’s rural Norfolk region, Swift Aircraft’s team comprises a small, capable workforce led by Stanbridge.

But with research on the Swift draining company resources, the team sought investment. Then the Covid pandemic hit. An innovation loan followed in September 2022 from the Defence and Security Accelerator (DASA), part of the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD), and Swift Aircraft is now in the final stages of building its first flying prototype.

A full-scale promotional model of the the Swift is seen in the hanger in blue and white livery with a red cheatline.

A full-scale promotional model of an earlier Swift iteration leads into the ‘aviation corner’ of STG’s hangar. The Swift is all-composite. A fuselage’s upper shell can be seen on the floor to the left. Image: Swift Aircraft

In parallel, the Royal Air Force (RAF) announced its intention to become carbon neutral. And in 2021, its ambition advanced with an effort to bring a zero-emission trainer into service by 2027. Stanbridge had considered internal combustion engines of various power ratings for the Swift, and running the light trainer on different fuel types, but its modular design also lent it to electric propulsion. In April of this year, Swift Aircraft announced it had been awarded a contract with the MoD to help support the RAF’s path to a sustainable aviation future.


The RAF’s so-called Project MONET “will demonstrate technologies that have the potential to deliver net-zero emissions in flight and the Swift provides an unrivalled test bed for the project; digitally designed to use a variety of power plants, the aircraft is able to demonstrate measurable real-world performance characteristics with its chosen green power sources”, said Swift Aircraft in a statement.

As a starting point, the RAF is directing the effort at defining a zero-emission aircraft capable of fulfilling the mission currently flown by the UK’s fleet of Grob Tutor trainers. Stanbridge is pragmatic over the limitations of existing electric technologies in that context, but told RGN: “someone has to make a start.”

The Tutor equips the RAF’s air experience flights, which provide the first taste of flight to young RAF Air Cadets, and its University Air Squadrons, as well as flight screening for the British Army and Royal Navy. The Swift appears well placed to take over.

All the major aircraft structures shown here in the hanger.

All the major aircraft structures shown here are produced in-house, using composite construction techniques perfected by parent STG. Composites are ‘baked’ in an oven improved by Stanbridge and his team to provide incredible efficiency. RGN was shown a newly delivered autoclave, Stanbridge revealing, “It’s off the shelf, but we’ve altered it to make it better”. The Lycoming engine and propeller will no longer be used on the prototype. Image: Swift Aircraft

Meanwhile, that connection with young people, and the aspiration to provide a platform for Air Cadets and university students, is entirely appropriate for Swift Aircraft.

The company’s most remarkable qualities are found in its STEM programme. Though he is responsible for business development at Swift Aircraft, McLean’s remit is broad and includes STEM and outreach activities. And together with his colleague, group marketing manager Rebecca Haines, they believe nurturing aviation mindedness is an essential element of sustainability.

McLean explained: “Most people are disconnected from aviation unless they live near an airfield. All they know about is an airliner. But aviation is cool, and we need to re-engage. So, we get children in because a lot of them have no idea what goes on. During a recent visit I asked some nine-year olds: ‘Who can work in aviation?’ They started throwing things around until one kid got it… ‘Anybody can work in aviation’. They all agreed, and I was sitting there thinking ‘my work here is done.’”

“We’ve been working with children for 15 years,” Haines added, “and there are people we saw when they were five who are now at university studying aeronautical engineering. That’s crazy, isn’t it? We’ll soon have a podcast with some of these children and young adults, looking to inspire others.”

Various Swift Aircraft employees are having a discussion with students.

STEM and outreach are essential elements of Swift Aircraft’s business. The company has advanced in-house computational fluid dynamics (CFD), finite element analysis (FEA) and computer aided design (CAD) capability. “You use CFD to find out if it’ll actually fly, FEA to find out if it’ll break, and CAD to find out if it’ll fit together,” quipped Mike McLean. Image: Swift Aircraft

STG’s companies boast expertise in composite construction for the aerospace, automotive and marine industries; as well as materials testing; and advanced energy technology. Aptly, STG also supports the global Europa composite kit plane fleet. And soon, its Swift Aircraft unit will have a flying prototype of the first new aerobatic elementary trainer to hit the market in years. 

A large tent sits in the Swift Aircraft hanger

Swift’s hangarscape changes almost daily. The marque arrangement is integral to the composite construction process, a combination to the outsider seemingly of dressmaking, panel beating, gift wrapping and advanced stress analysis. Image: Swift Aircraft

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Featured image credited to Swift Aircraft