Fleet Finch
Flight Journal|September - October 2021
The classic WW II Canadian trainer
MIKE DAVENPORT

In 2019, I went to the EAA's AirVenture fly-in in Wisconsin for just the second time. The first was back in the ’80s when I flew there in a friend’s Piper Arrow. This year I took my Stinson instead. But this is not about the trip but about one of the planes that really caught my eye.

I clearly have a thing about old airplanes; after all, like me, mine is over 70. But what caught my eye was a beautifully restored Fleet Finch 16B powered by a 5-cylinder 160 hp Kinner engine. And I love the sound of that fine old engine.

The first time that I sat behind a Kinner engine was in a Ryan PT22. It was one of those great summer days when everything goes just right. There I was in the front seat of an open cockpit airplane while the pilot in the back seat looped and rolled all over the sky. The five cylinders of the Kinner just sort of popped away and blew smoke and bits of oil in my face, but who cared?

Years later in the summer of 2000, it was a different Kinner, but the sound was the same, the air smelled great, the view was different this time through the wings of a biplane and once again I’m having a ball. I’m the pilot this time in the front seat of a 1941 Fleet Finch II/16B biplane. Yes, the front seat; the Finch is flown from the front seat, unlike the Tiger Moth or Stearman that are flown from the rear. This gives a much better view of the ground in the immediate area around the nose than some others.

Aerobatic trainer

The Royal Canadian Air Force purchased the Finch II in 1940 from Fleet Aircraft of Canada Ltd. in Fort Erie, Ontario. Depending upon the source, between 431 and 623 were built by Fleet and used as elementary trainers at British Commonwealth Air Training Plan (BCATP) facilities across Canada. The Finch was a strengthened replacement for the Fleet Fawn and meant for teaching aerobatics. It was later replaced in turn by the Fairchild Cornell. Built-in 1941, the aircraft shown in the detail photos is owned by the Canadian Museum of Flight in Langley, British Columbia. It is painted bright yellow in the style of the BCATP in World War II and carries the number 4725 on the fuselage. It was used during the war by 9 EFTS Elementary Flight Training School (EFTS) at St. Catherines, Ontario and later at 11 EFTS in Cap de Madeleine, Quebec. During its service career, it was involved in at least four minor accidents.

The Fleet, also popularly known as the “Yellow Peril,” suffered heavily at the hands of students and instructors alike. According to Spencer Dunmore’s book, “Wings for Victory,” 48 were destroyed, 92 had to be returned to Fort Erie for major repairs, and there were 648 repairs completed at the bases. Another source, “Behind the Glory” written by Ted Barris, indicates that a number of losses were due to both students and instructors getting the aircraft into inverted flat spins. It was difficult to recover from this maneuver in early models, and after some losses were incurred a redesign of the tail and the installation of some gap seals between the fuselage and the horizontal stabilizer eliminated the problem. After the war, 4725 was sold to Barry Jackson, who operated the Finch in New Mexico and in Mexico. Barry restored it in 1976 and in 1979, donated it to the museum.

Preflight: Coveralls required

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