Fleet Finch

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The Fleet Finch is a product of the Fleet Aircraft Limited of Fort Erie, Ontario.

Fleet was started in Canada by Major Rueben Fleet and Mr. Jack Sanderson.  Fleet had been in the US military during WW1, and had developed affinity towards training aircraft.  He also helped to start the Consolidated Aircraft Company of Buffalo New York.  When the Board of Directors of Consolidated decided not to support his latest training aircraft design, Major Fleet and Jack Sanderson decided to try their luck at selling the aircraft to the Canadians and the Commonwealth.  As such, they set up across the river in Fort Erie, and began marketing various models of the Fleet biplane.  

The Fleet biplane design was popular with the RCAF.  It was rugged and well designed.  It also had been stressed to +6/-6 g’s, which was unusual at the time.  It also featured an American engine, which made parts and such more available.  Equipped with a cockpit heater, sliding cabin enclosure, and a 125 hp Kinner 5 cylinder radial engine, The RCAF bought several pre-WW2.

Prior to the start of WW2, the RCAF became concerned about the reliance upon British aircraft designs and engines, as supply lines could be difficult with war in Europe.  Fleet was approached about updating the Fawn with some additional features, which included the following:

  • A larger, 160 hp 5 cylinder Kinner engine, equipped with a self starter
  • Improved heating system
  • An electrical system with night flight lights
  • A heated pitot tube
  • Retractable landing light
  • Blind flying hood in the rear cockpit
  • Some additional flying/landing wires to improve the strength
  • Some changes to the cockpit sliding hood
  • Different instrumentation
  • Improved fire protection

The RCAF ordered 25 improved Fawns, that would be known as the Finch Model I.  Fleet’s own system ended up calling the aircraft the Model 16R.  Fleet ended up building 25, with 2 additional demonstrators.  These were all taken on by the RCAF in 1939.

At the start of the war, the RCAF approached Fleet and asked for their capacity to build approximately 1,000 Finch Model I’s.  Fleet, who was comparatively small, advised that they could probably produce less than this, and in the end, the RCAF ordered 400 Finches for the RCAF.  Fleet then approached Kinner for the supply and delivery of 400 160 hp Kinner R-5 Series 2 engines, which Kinner had recently discontinued.  The United States military decided that they didn’t want a tapered crank shaft, and they found the engine case too light.  As a result, Kinner dropped the R5 series 2 engine, and instead offered Fleet the B-5R engine, which was of 125 hp, with a rear facing exhaust.  Having no choice, Fleet and the RCAF accepted this.  Kinner would go on to develop the R-55 series engine, which was known in the US Military as the R-540 series.  In order to save weight, many features of the model I were removed.  The electrical system was removed, along with the starter, the batter/generator, and the heated pitot tube.  The cockpit instrumentation was also changed slightly.  These models were called the Fleet Finch Model II.

As a result, 404 Model II’s were built by 1942 when production ended.  In all, 431 Fleet Finch models were built.

Our aircraft is Serial number 238, or the 7th Fleet Finch Model I built in Fort Erie in 1938.  It served at the Central flying School/Flying Instructors School in Borden and Trenton until an accident in 1941, which grounded the aircraft.  A replacement wing was ordered, and the aircraft was then sent to technical trades training at Borden for the remainder of the war.

In 1945, the Charles Babb Company purchased approximately 290 Fleet Finches from War Assets.  Although 2 of these were sold to Iceland, the majority of the Finches were sold to the Mexican Air Force for use as trainers/sprayers.  Our Finch was included in this.  The Mexican Air Force cut off the heating systems and removed the canopies.  They served until the 1950’s/60’s, where most were scrapped.

A few photos ~ more to come once we get her off the ground!

Jeff (right) and John work on the Finch restoration.
Nearing completion!
The Finch gleams in the sun!
The Finch in the shop, almost ready to move into the Hangar.

Our Finch was found derelict on a Mexican Air Force base in the early 1970’s.  It was partially rebuilt, and Americanized with the installation of an R-540 engine.  The cockpit controls were all modified to allow for a rear seat solo (Fleet biplanes are all front seat solo).  The aircraft was imported into Arizona.  It then was sold into Ohio, and then moved to an owner in Cincinnati.  It was then partially rebuilt and sold to an Ontario judge named J. Tobias (hence the registration C-GTOB).  Judge Tobias flew the plane for several years, and then sold it to a Richard Cooper in Victoria.  This is where our museum purchased it.

Our Fleet Finch is the most accurately restored Fleet Finch in the world, and is complete down to the Flare Pistol.  The only thing not original on the aircraft is the engine, as we are currently running an R-540 engine.  The R5 Series 2 engine is a very rare engine with less than 200 built.  Everything about the aircraft has been researched and verified with the original specifications.  Other than the modern radios, the aircraft is as original as possible. 

Information compiled by Jeff Bell (pilot and head of the Finch restoration)