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Canadian classic – Fleet 80 Canuck page 2

report by neil macdougall • photography by doyle buehler

The Canuck was named after the Curtiss JN-4 (Canadian), which Fleet Vice President and General Manager Walter N. Deisher flew after the First World War. The new plane met British and American certification standards, Canada then having none of its own. Owners would later say it was “over-engineered”. The manual prohibited only inverted flight, outside loops and banks of more than 70 degrees. Some flying schools taught aerobatics in Canucks, although one pilot was killed when a wing strut failed during a roll. An airworthiness directive was soon issued.

Asked if aerobatics are legal in the Canuck now, a Transport Canada inspector, perhaps thinking of all the Champs and Cubs that have been aerobated, says, “Why not?” In fact, aerobatics in the Canuck and similar vintage types would be illegal under today’s rules, a more senior inspector says. Anyway, flying aerobatics in a 53-year-old light-plane would be as imprudent as peeking through the crack in a swinging kitchen door in a busy restaurant.

Gross weight of the landplane was initially 1,425 pounds, later raised to 1,480 pounds. The same weight applies to skiplanes, while seaplanes are approved at 1,525 pounds. Empty weight is said to be 858 pounds. One engineering report records the 75-hp prototype weighing 934 pounds, with unknown equipment. A typical Canuck, CF-DPZ, weighs 998 pounds empty. Atypically, it has a directional gyro, artificial horizon, radio, Loran and transponder. When piloting a Lockheed JetStar, owner Jack Thorpe was tired of being warned by ATC of “unidentified slow-moving traffic” ahead. Retired and slow-moving in his Canuck, he remembered his frustrations and fitted a transponder and altitude encoder. With full fuel of 19 U.S. gallons (optional fuel is 25 U.S. gallons) and oil, 358.5 pounds remains for pilot and passenger. The baggage compartment can carry 105 pounds, but is useful mainly when the pilot is alone.

The cockpit is 40 inches wide, remarkable for a two-seater in its day. Two people clothed for Winnipeg winters would be more comfortable than in the skinnier Cessna 140 or a Luscombe 8E Silvaire. A large skylight, a common option, makes the cockpit bright. Standard aircraft have dual sticks, toe brakes on the pilot’s side only, five basic instruments and a compass. A crank in the ceiling controls trim. The view over the nose is better than in many tail-draggers, so taxiing doesn’t require zigzagging. The landing gear is wider than in tandem two-seaters, improving ground stability in high winds. The manual gives no crosswind limit.

During takeoff, the rudder quickly becomes effective, and you lift off at 50 mph. Full power (2,575 rpm) is limited to one minute. In cruising flight, the nose seems so low that Cessna 150 pilots and others think they’re descending. The manual recommends that approaches be flown at the usual 1.3 times the stalling speed, or 60 mph. Many owners prefer a greater margin of safety. Indeed, the recommended approach speed for gliders, which also have low stalling speeds and are as susceptible to wind shear and gusts, is 1.5 times the stalling speed plus 1/3rd the wind speed. During a three-point landing, the tail touches first if a smidgen of power is not carried.

William A. (Bill) Tee, who owned a Canuck for 20 years, lent me seven pounds of Fleet engineering reports and flight test data. These documents go a long way toward explaining why aircraft are so expensive. Many reports are 90 pages long, with sheets of data that make high-school science lab reports look like kindergarten stuff. There were tests for engine cooling, airspeed calibration, climbing, various propellers, speed, takeoff and landing, all taking days and days. The airspeed calibration required 20 tests, each with 18 data points, resulting in five pages of results and calculations. All this for a simple aircraft. No wonder manufacturers complain about certification costs!

Spin tests were done at different weights and centres of gravity. For each spin, the position of the stick during the spin and during recovery was recorded, along with the number of turns before recovery and the turns to recover. A one-turn spin and recovery took 1,000 feet, while each additional turn added 200 feet. Results are expressed factually, with the lack of emotion many engineers have. Handling is described as “very nice”. Any marketing manager who read further would find it easy to substitute “sensational”.

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