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Canadian classic – Fleet 80 Canuck

report by neil macdougall • photography by doyle buehler – first published fall 1999

Fleet Canuck 8

The soft light of a summer evening bathes Peter Moodie’s Fleet Canuck in this idyllic scene captured by photographer Doyle Buehler. See the photo gallery for more pictures of this beauty.

Canadians may secretly think of themselves as solid, stable and reliable. The Fleet Canuck has all of these qualities, besides having the vintage aura of a 1946 car. It’s a rugged, forgiving two-seater of Canadian design often overlooked by buyers of used aircraft.

To many pilots, Fleet Aircraft is as familiar as the airport at Flin Flon, Manitoba. Yet Fleet started in Canada in 1929, surely a sign of horrible luck (because of the Depression) or outstanding optimism. The firm produced a trickle of aircraft, mostly biplanes of American design. Then the Second World War arrived to rescue Fleet, and even Cessna, from oblivion. Four hundred Fleet 16 Finch biplane trainers were built for the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan. These were followed by a mouth-watering order for 2,000 Fairchild Cornells, although only 1,642 were actually built under licence and delivered.

Peacetime meant no more military orders and poor prospects for workers who once built 150 Cornells in a single month. Fleet’s two original designs, the 1938 twin-engined biplane Model 50 Freighter and the Model 60 Fort trainer had innovative features, but their lack of commercial success may have encouraged the company to look further afield. Or, more likely, it was faster and less expensive to acquire a promising entry-level design on which two Fleet employees had done the stressing. In 1944, Fleet bought the rights to the Noury N‑75, designed and built by J. Omer (Bob) Noury of Stoney Creek, Ontario. A former air engineer at the Ottawa Flying Club, he had been planning since 1939 to produce two models of his two-seater. Noury Aircraft tried to sell a tandem version, but abandoned the idea in 1946, after a survey showed the Canadian market was too small to justify the plane’s $2,690 price.

With a new tail and the 75-hp engine replaced by an 85-hp Continental C85-12J, the home-built Noury became the production Fleet 80 Canuck. The engine was fuel injected, but most were converted to carburettors, a change made because a clogged Excello fuel injector cost $80 to replace, although some say starting problems were the reason. Recommended time between engine overhauls is 1,800 hours.

The Canuck is a high-wing monoplane with two side-by-side seats. The fuselage is of welded-steel tubes with wood former strips. The wings have metal leading edges, spars and ribs. All the aircraft is fabric covered, except the metal ailerons. Shock cords are used on the landing gear. A NACA 23012 airfoil, said to be the same as that on the Douglas DC-3 and the Beech Bonanza, is used. Although the design doesn’t incorporate washout (twisting the wing tips to improve stalling characteristics), the Canuck’s stall is mild.

An unusual feature of the owner’s manual is a graph of fuel consumption against speed. At a cruising speed of 100 mph, the plane is said to get 22 miles per Imperial gallon.

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