Teaching to fly because it has wings: Canada’s Fleet Model 80 Canuck light / private airplane

The first Fleet Model 80 Canuck light / private airplane, Fort Erie, Ontario, March 1946. This aircraft belonged to Sturgeon Air Services Limited of Fredericton, New Brunswick. CASM, negative number KM-07962

Let’s be original and daring today, my reading friend. Would you like to take a look at one of the aircraft in the prodigious collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, Ontario? No? Let me respectfully reject your reality and substitute my own.

And yes, yours truly was paraphrasing Adam Whitney Savage. This co-host of the very popular Australian American (!) television series MythBusters presumably heard this sentence in the 1984 American fantasy / horror / science fiction film The Dungeonmaster.

I will not tell you anything you did not know, aviation enthusiast that you are, by affirming that the aircraft mechanic of the Ottawa Flying Club for some years during the second half of the 1930s, J. Omer “Bob” Noury, played an important role in the history of aviation in Canada.

As the world slowly drifted toward a second world war, Noury decided to design and build a light / private airplane – the first cabin light / private airplane of Canadian design if you must know. It was his hope that such a machine could be marketed in Canada. Then in his early 30s and a native of Québec, Noury had worked for bush flying pioneer operator Laurentide Air Service Limited, the first firm of its type in Québec / Canada in fact, for some time after 1924.

The 2-seat monoplane that he designed and completed in 1939 with the help of engineer Charles H. Cotton and Department of Transport inspector Lyle Nesbitt flew for the first time in January 1940. The aircraft proved itself to be joy to fly. Sometimes known as the Nourycraft, it was registered in February. Noury took the aircraft with him when he moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, in January 1941 to join the staff of a bush flying firm, Prairie Airways Limited. He sold it to W.A. Crozier of Tuxford, Saskatchewan, who re-registered the aircraft in early September of that same year.

Barely two weeks later, Crozier stalled the aircraft on landing and seriously damaged it. He may not have been wounded. Noury bought back the Nourycraft in 1942, re-registered it in June and rebuilt it at his new home in Stoney Creek, near Hamilton, Ontario, close to the factory of his new employer, Cub Aircraft Limited, a small parts maker and overhaul firm. Modified to drop test parachutes in September, the aircraft went into a spin at low altitude over the local airport, in September 1942, while being operated by Cub Aircraft. Its pilot, R.R. Honey, was killed. The aircraft was damaged beyond repair.

In 1943, Noury founded Noury Aircraft Limited in Stoney Creek, in a former cannery, to produce 2 derivatives of the Nourycraft. He hired George Dalton, an engineer from a well-known aircraft manufacturing firm, Fleet Aircraft Limited of Fort Erie, Ontario, to help him. The chief engineer at that firm, George E. Otter, also put in some time. And yes, Fleet Aircraft was mentioned in November 2017, March 2018 and May 2019 issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee. The N-75 flew towards the end of 1944, in Hamilton. T. Borden Fawcett, Noury’s test pilot and sales manager, was at the controls.

Faced with serious financial problems, Noury contacted the vice-president and general manager of Fleet Aircraft, Walter N. Deisher. The latter realised that the Second World War was coming to an end. Deprived of military contracts, Fleet Aircraft would have to redirect its production. A light / private airplane like the N-75 could prove very useful. Like many other American aircraft manufacturers, it indeed hoped that very many American and Canadian ex-military pilots would buy light / private airplanes once the conflict was over. Fleet Aircraft purchased the production rights of the N-75 in May 1945, the month of national socialist Germany’s unconditional surrender.

Modified somewhat over the summer, the N-75 became the Fleet Model 80 Canuck. The name of the aircraft commemorated the Curtiss JN-4 Canuck, a well-known training two-seater mentioned several times in our you know what since December 2017. A first example of the Fleet Aircraft’s new light / private airplane flew in September 1945.

The Canuck proved very popular with private pilots, flight schools and flying clubs. The most important user of the new aircraft was one of the best-known and, apparently, the largest flying schools in Canada at the time. Central Airways Company of Toronto, Ontario, was owned by Robert Shun “Bob” Wong and his younger brother, Thomas Shun “Tommy” Wong.

Central Airways was in fact the second flight school founded by the Wong brothers. The first one had opened in Toronto in 1945. A fire soon destroyed the hangar it occupied, as well as its aircraft, however.

Initially, the Wong brothers thought that the bulk of their clientele would consist of young Chinese Canadians who wished to go to China to fight alongside the government, against the forces of the Zhōngguó Gòngchǎngdǎng, or Chinese communist party, led by Máo Zédōng. They soon realised, however, that many other Canadians used their services.

The Wong brothers were among the few Chinese Canadians who were able to join the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) during the Second World War. “Bob” Wong, for example, was a licensed pilot with a degree, obtained in 1940, from the first federally approved school of aeronautics of the United States, Parks Air College Incorporated. Even so, he was initially involved in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, one of Canada’s most important contributions to the Allied victory in the Second World War, as a civilian instructor employed by a flying club. “Bob” Wong was quite likely the first Chinese Canadian enlisted in the RCAF. He served until the end of the conflict.

The Wong brothers’ interest in aerial matters actually dated back to long before their military service. In 1935, they began to fabricate a Pietenpol Sky Scout, a homebuilt single-seat aircraft of American design. Their practical experience was then limited to the few models fabricated by “Bob” Wong. The Wong brothers were / are in all likelihood the first members of a Canadian visible minority to fabricate an aircraft.

The Chinese-Canadian community then having to face a systemic racism, it is gratifying to note that the Wong brothers could count on the benevolence of certain employees of Boeing Aircraft of Canada Limited of Vancouver, British Columbia, a subsidiary of the American aeronautical giant Boeing Aircraft Company. Said employees provided advice to the 2 brothers and gave them access to an industrial sewing machine which they used to prepare the fabric covering for the Sky Scout. A mechanic living relatively close to the Wong family’s home also agreed to refurbish and modify an engine found in an automobile cemetery.

And yes, both Boeing Aircraft of Canada and Boeing Aircraft have been mentioned several times in our you know what, since February 2019 and June 2018. Can we get back to our story now? You are digressing.

Getting the small monoplane out of the attic of the family home once it was completed, in 1936, was another challenge as it had to be taken out piece by piece. By then, “Bob” Wong was a 17-year old student at the Vancouver Technical School. His brother, on the other hand, was barely 14 years old. An RCAF pilot inspected the aircraft and was impressed with its sound design and well-built structure. Registered in July 1936 by “Bob” Wong, the silver-painted aircraft was finally put together later that month in a loft at the Boeing Aircraft of Canada factory on the Vancouver waterfront.

The Vancouver Sun published an article on the Wong brothers’ aircraft in late July, with a photo of the Sky Scout showing its proud makers. The Sky Scout was apparently test flown a few days later, possibly by a commercial pilot named Leonard “Len” Foggin who damaged the aircraft as he landed on the very rough airfield. Its flying activities over the following weeks and months are all but unknown. A photo of the Wong brothers with the Sky Scout was, however, published in the May 1937 issue of Popular Aviation, a very popular American monthly magazine.

The Sky Scout later became the property of R.A. Gillis of Vancouver who re-registered it in August 1939. The Sky Scout was sold again, to D.P. Todd of Vancouver, who applied for a registration in July 1944 but did not take it up in the end. S. Danielchuck of Canora, Saskatchewan, bought the aircraft and applied for a registration in July 1945. For one reason or another, he failed to take it up as well. The Sky Scout was presumably scrapped during the second half of the 1940s, or during the 1950s, but back to our story.

Fleet Aircraft soon realised that the vast majority of American and Canadian ex-military pilots did not intend and / or have the financial means to purchase a light / private airplane. Several aircraft manufacturing firms founded in the United States around 1944-46 to take advantage of this market went bankrupt. Fleet Aircraft escaped this fate but experienced serious financial difficulties. In July 1946, it changed its name to Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft Limited, a company name which would reflect a diversification of its activities.

Norman Vincent, the boss of a group of Toronto, Ontario, mining companies, Vincent Mining Corporation Limited, took control of the firm in August. Outraged by the wish of the new management to change the nature of said firm’s shares on the stock market, the board of directors resigned soon after. In December, Vincent Mining sold the firm to a new Toronto financial group, Harrison Securities Corporation Limited.

A typical Holte / Fleet CabinCar trailer and an equally typical Fleet Model 80 Canuck, Fort Erie, Ontario. CASM, negative number 15677.

A typical Holte / Fleet CabinCar trailer and an equally typical Fleet Model 80 Canuck, Fort Erie, Ontario. CASM, negative number 15677.

In the midst of all this, Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft continued production of the Canuck. It also launched into the production of small and light wooden trailers, a decision imposed by Vincent who believed that Canadian and American veterans would want to travel.

Designed around 1945 by an American aeronautical engineer, Junius Augustine Holte, the CabinCar was far less expensive than its competitors. The first 2 examples of this streamlined trailer were made in 1946 in the United States by Holte Motors Limited. One of them went on display in New York City, New York, and the other was closely examined by Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft personnel. The firm soon acquired Holte Motors. It wanted to export trailers to South Africa but did not have much success. The American market seemed far more promising.

Very interested, R.S. Evans Motors of Jacksonville Incorporated seriously considered ordering 50 000 CabinCars. This major American distributor, however, did not have the necessary resources. Worse still, the North American trailer market was not as large as Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft believed. Sales not being up to the mark, it had to store more than 200 CabinCars under the grand stand of the Fort Erie horse racing track or, worse still, outside. The firm ended the project in July 1947. It produced only 1 500 CabinCars in 1946-47.

It should be noted that the thin plywood skin of the CabinCar proved vulnerable to humidity and leaks – a most unwelcome problem for a trailer one must admit.

And yes, the CabinCar and the Canuck were 2 examples of what can happen when managers launch projects without proper marketing surveys.

If I may be permitted a brief, yes, yes, brief, digression, the collection of the Canada Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa, Ontario, a sister / brother museum of the aforementioned fantastic Canada Aviation and Space Museum, includes a CabinCar. (Hello, EG of CSTM!)

The last Canuck, meanwhile, left the workshops of Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft in 1947. Fleet Aircraft / Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft manufactured just under 200 aircraft of this type, as well as a single copy of the Model 81, a 3-seat version quickly converted into a 2-seater. Twenty-four Canucks were exported, mainly to Argentina. The Canuck remains in 2020 one of the rare Canadian factory-made light / private airplanes.

Sensing a bargain, a well-known general aviation company mentioned in a July 2020 issue of our blog / bulletin / thingee, Leavens Brothers Air Services Limited of Toronto, bought the rights of the Canuck and all the parts still available. It fabricated 25 aircraft between 1947 and 1949. It should be noted that the last Canuck delivered by Leavens Brothers Air Services included many new parts, as well as a slightly more powerful engine. Leavens Brothers Limited, a new company name adopted no later than 1956, fabricated a Canuck fuselage in 1960 for an Ontario flying club which completed the aircraft with existing spare parts.

Leavens Brothers sold the rights and still existing parts of the Canuck to Marcel Dorion Aviation Incorporée in the spring of 1975. This aircraft repair shop of Montréal, Québec, hoped to produce 2 more powerful versions of the Canuck with a metal covering and a tricycle landing gear, a 2-seater and a stretched 4-seater that is. These projects were soon abandoned.

This being said (typed?), around 1982-83, Joseph Wilfrid Marcel Dorion supervised the manufacture, or refurbishment, of an improved Canuck which would, he hoped, fly in the summer of 1983. This aeronautical mechanic who had worked for the aircraft manufacturer Noorduyn Aviation Limited of Cartierville, Québec, during the Second World War, even hoped to start production of this aircraft, in the workshop of Marcel Dorion Aviation, now located in Saint-Mathieu-de-Beloeil, Québec, if Canada’s Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce granted him a subsidy. This project was soon abandoned. The prototype the firm was working on may not have flown.

And yes, Noorduyn Aviation was mentioned a few times in our blog / bulletin / thingee since January 2019. And you are digressing again…

Around 1984-85, a Montrealer by the name of Jacques Neveu acquired all of the plans and parts of the Canuck then available. Air Canuck 80 Incorporée was created in March 1985. The firm in question appeared, I repeat appeared, to sell parts over the years. Dissolved in August 2008, Air Canuck 80 rose from the ashes in April 2010. It disappeared once and for all in January 2017.

As yours truly suggested at the beginning of this article, the prodigious collection of the Canada Aviation and Space Museum includes a Canuck. It is actually one of the aircraft used by, you guessed it, Central Airways.

Fleet Manufacturing and Aircraft delivered the museum’s Canuck to a Toronto dealer, Roger Watson, in September 1947, which soon sold it to Central Airways. Doctor John Donald “Jock” Robinson of Flesherton, Ontario, bought the Canuck in 1971. The aircraft was sold to Ernest Welles of Port Loring, Ontario, in 1973, then to Lloyd Howes, also of Port Loring. The National Aeronautical Collection, as the Canada Aviation and Space Museum was called back then, acquired the Canuck in 1974.

Interestingly enough, the airplane which started it all, the Noury N-75, was still in existence in 2020, at the Reynolds-Alberta Museum, in Wetaskiwin, Alberta. One of its former owners, Stanley George “Stan” Reynolds, was one of the best aircraft collectors in Canada and the father of the famous Wetaskiwin museum.

With our review of the Canuck coming to an end, let me wish you a pleasant week and...

What is it, my reading friend? You seem very discombobulated. I forgot to perorate on the second aircraft designed by Noury Aircraft, you say? Hell and darnation, you are correct.

Said aircraft flew in Hamilton in November 1945. The aforementioned Fawcett was at the controls. Registered soon after, the aircraft was named T-65 Noranda after a mining town in Québec. Early in 1946, Noury Aircraft announced that the Noranda would be produced, in Kingston, Ontario. Sadly, this announcement proved premature. By then, Noury had come to the conclusion that the early postwar boom in light / private airplane sales would not last, an analysis which proved entirely correct. The Noranda was never put in production. Indeed, Noury Aircraft closed its doors in 1946. Noury sold the Noranda that same year and later joined the Department of Transport where he worked as an inspector. The Noranda was sold and resold as time went by. It kept on flying until 1960. Its final whereabouts are unknown.

A pleasant week to you.

I would like to thank everyone who provided information. Any error in this article is my fault, not theirs.

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Rénald Fortier