Geoff Pritchard, EAA 348315, Vintage 719951
The test flight of my 1930 Fleet Model 2 on October 5 of this year was yet another high point in five years of owning this iconic aircraft. I was an instant fan of this simple, understated early Fleet design for many years, having been a member of the International Fleet Club for over 20 years. During that time I received the somewhat random newsletters that highlighted the comings and goings of flying Fleets, or those being restored, and the personalities and technical issues involved in these faraway activities.
The notion of actually owning one of these vintage aircraft was, at first, definitely classed as impossible, but the passage of time and improved circumstances put the notion in the improbable category, and ultimately, with only heightened passion to blame, it became inevitable.
Armed with a load of armchair expertise, I ventured to Seattle, Minneapolis, and eventually Oshkosh in 2011 and 2012 to seek out a suitable candidate. Although I was focused on a Fleet Finch, the iconic World War II trainer that Fleet built for the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), I knew that the prewar Model 2, one of the earliest versions, as well as the Model 7 were occasionally on the market, and were derivatives of basically the same biplane design. Apart from its aesthetic attraction, the Fleet was only about three-fifths the size of the biplanes of that golden era. And with its relative low weight and smaller wingspan, it was suitable to be handled by one person.
I eventually settled on a Model 2, located in (of all places) Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It struck me as somewhat surreal that I would be the only person on the ramp of the entire airport, trying to visualize the thousands who would be in the exact place in a few short months. With the deal negotiated, and with the help of a local FBO, the airplane was loaded on a flatbed trailer in April of 2012, for the long journey back to Calgary.
With the seemingly glacial pace of importation and certification, the test flight did not materialize until late September, and with that signed off, I was free to explore the Fleet in earnest. Soon, I was facing a litany of challenges with the Kinner 160 hp engine, and it became obvious that all was not well in terms of compression, oil consumption, and general performance. I made the decision to send it to a shop in California that was well-known for its work with Kinners.
This article is Part I of a series featured in Bits and Pieces, EAA’s newsletter for builders and aviators in Canada. Subscribe here >>