No. 11202. Fleet 16B Finch Mk.II (N39615 c/n 359)
Photographed at Sugar Hill Airport, Greenwood, Delaware, USA, ca. 2007, by Jan Kopacz

Fleet 16B Finch Mk.II

03/31/2012. Remarks by Johan Visschedijk: "Consolidated Aircraft Corporation at Buffalo, New York, USA, had for some time specialized in the design and production of military training aircraft, but in 1928 the Corporation's founder and president, Major Reuben H. Fleet, thought that a smaller trainer should be developed for the civil market. The new aircraft was rapidly designed, as the Husky Junior, but Consolidated then decided not to go into the civil market.

Reuben Fleet then bought the design and formed Fleet Aircraft Inc., also at Buffalo in February 1929. Six months later Consolidated changed its plans and bought Fleet Aircraft. In addition to production in the USA, Consolidated decided to produce the aircraft in Canada and set up the subsidiary Fleet Aircraft of Canada Ltd. at Fort Erie, Ontario in March 1930.

In September 1938, a Model 10D was evaluated by the RCAF at Trenton Air Station, Ontario, which requested modifications to make it suitable for aerobatics with full military equipment. Fleet then designed the Model 16, which was as the Model 10 but with Douglas fir instead of spruce for the wing spars; some interplane struts and fuselage members made of heavier-gauge tubing; double landing wires and double wires on the underside of the tailplane. These double wires were the only feature distinguishing the Model 16 from the Model 10.

Fleet started a batch of 28 aircraft, 27 for the RCAF and one for Consolidated Aircraft. Standard was the Model 16D, powered by an 160hp Kinner R-5 engine, however, the 27 similar RCAF aircraft (s/n 1001 to 1027) were designated Fleet 16R Finch Mk.I. These were distinguishable by the unique landing lights under the upper wing, and were tested at Fort Erie by Thomas H. Higgins, with the first flight probably being made in September 1939 or early October. All 27 were delivered by the year's end.

The 28th aircraft was completed first as the Model 16F (NC20699 c/n 262) and, powered by an 145hp Warner Super Scarab engine was first flown on February 8, 1939, at Fort Erie by Richard E. Young, and on February 21 it was tested by test pilot George J. Newman of Consolidated. It was the only Model 16F made, but one Model 16B, N39627 (ex-RCAF 4787) was re-engined with a Warner Super Scarab.

At this time Consolidated assigned the US rights to the Fleet design to the Brewster Aeronautical Corporation at Long Island City, New York, but other rights remained with Fleet Aircraft. By 1940 the sole Model 16F was designated Brewster Fleet 10, probably because it would be easier to get US approval of the type as a Model 10 variant already with US approval. Brewster never exercised the rights to manufacture the type and the prototype was later re-registered N2069.

On the outbreak of war fuselage manufacture began for anticipated orders, and an order for 404 Model 16B Finch Mk.IIs (distinguishable by a cockpit enclosure) for the RCAF (s/n 4405 to 4808) was issued in January 1940. Incidentally, the reason that more D.H.82Cs than Fleet Model 16s were used in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) was because when the scheme was set up it was agreed that Britain was to supply and pay for the Gipsy engines in the D.H.82Cs but Canada was to be responsible for the whole cost of the Fleet 16s.

The first Finch Mk.II was first flown at Fort Erie on March 12, 1940, by Thomas Fredric Williams who had been appointed Fleet's test pilot in December 1939. In spite of Fleet's good intentions expressed by stockpiling fuselages and various parts before getting a contract, production was delayed by difficulties in obtaining embodiment loan equipment which was RCAF supply, but once obtained production proceeded well, 335 aircraft were delivered in 1940 and 69 in 1941. In addition Fleet delivered five Model 16Ds to the Portuguese Navy in May 1941.

In RCAF service the Model 16s were used at Elementary Flying Training Schools, where they usually formed all, but occasionally only part, of their aircraft establishment. They continued in use until replaced by the Fairchild Cornell starting in the summer of 1942 and, while the last of the Model 16s remained in the RCAF until 1947, the great majority was disposed of by October 1944.

The Model16s were well liked in the BCATP, but an unexpected problem arose in summer 1940 when crashes occurred after entering an inverted spin. This was quite unexpected as their predecessors, the Model 7s, had been used successfully for extensive aerobatics. Two investigations were held, one in Ottawa by Dr J. J. Green of the National Research Council and the RCAF Test & Development Establishment and the other by Fleet in Fort Erie. It was established that it was possible to bring the aircraft out of an inverted spin only by application of very heavy rudder and then the recovery was slow.

Two solutions eliminated the problem. In Ottawa, the height of the rear fuselage fairing was reduced and the aircraft recovered normally; in Fort Erie Tommy Williams was experimenting with RCAF s/n 4764 and felt that the trouble had arisen due to the fitting of the two-piece tailplane and, after the gaps between the fuselage and tailplane were taped over, the aircraft recovered normally. A metal fairing, to be fitted to the fuselage to minimize the gap, was added to all Model 16s and the trouble disappeared.

Surplus Fleet 16s were civil registered in Canada, Iceland, Mexico and the United States, where most were used for flight training and for private flying, and a number still remain airworthy. In general the cockpit enclosure was removed in civil use. One Model16B only, CF-BXJ (ex-RCAF 4703) was used as a seaplane on Edo 47-1935 floats by the Labrador Mining & Exploration Co. in 1944. It featured an enlarged rudder.

The pictured aircraft was taken on strength on October 1, 1940 under s/n 4616. While with No. 11 Elementary Flying Training School at Cap de Madeleine, Quebec, it was damaged on August 1, 1941. Repaired it served for another two years with the RCAF before it was declared surplus on December 1, 1943. After WW II it came on the US register as NC39615, later N39615, owners included Richard Neubauer of Miami, Florida, B.R. and J.L. Michelsen of Clarkston, Michigan. Present owner is Jan Kopacz of Milton, Delaware. The aircraft is wearing fictive markings as the Model 16 never served with the USAAC."

Created March 31, 2012