22 January 2022 | Granbury, Texas, USA. Tom Correa explains in an online article on the American Cowboy Chronicles webpage titled Native American Folklore & Our Connection With Eagles, that one Comanche legend tells of a Native American tribal chief’s young son who died. The devastated leader prayed to the Great Spirit, requesting that his son’s life be restored. The Great Spirit answered the fervent petition and resurrected the deceased lad by turning the boy into a magnificent bird, an eagle to be precise. Correa states that, ‘Native American Indians saw the Eagle as a symbol for great strength, leadership and vision’. The aforementioned descriptors can aptly be utilised to describe the Commemorative Air Force‘s Comanche Peak Sponsor Group, which is based at Granbury Regional Airport, in Granbury, Texas.
The dedicated Restoration Sponsors of the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group appropriately took a decision to incorporate an eagle into their logo despite the fact that their charge, a winged flying machine known as a Fleet Finch, is of a different feather. Ornithologists know that American goldfinches are small, migratory North American birds and may also be spotted in the Granbury area. Naturally, the Comanche are also familiar with finches. These petite avians migrate southward from the Canadian Province of Alberta during the annual breeding season and in wintertime from just south of the Canada–United States border. The male of the species (Spinus tristis) is a striking yellow colour in summertime and bright yellow during the late summer breeding season. Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) trainers likewise wore a yellow livery during the Second World War.
Featured (page 12) as ‘Plane 4’ of the CAF’s 2021 12 Planes of Christmas and within The Giving Issue (circa November 2021) of The Dispatch magazine, the vintage warbird is finally receiving meritorious attention. Airframe repairs are now underway and flying wires, hardware, and instrument board gauges are being replaced. Additionally, the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group are obtaining needed technical manuals, spare cylinders for the Kinner B-5 engine, magnetos, mounts for ballast and an Emergency Locator Transmitter. The former RCAF elementary flying trainer has been inactive since 2016, but thanks to donors and the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group, which was chartered in 2021, it is nearing airworthiness status. Expectations are that the plane will again be flying in 2022.
CAF Colonel David Townsend, of the CAF’s Comanche Peak Sponsor Group, told Military Aviation Chronicles that, ‘In RCAF service, our airplane was ship number 4456. So we now know dates and locations where it was based during the war’. He explained that the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group is ‘organized as a Sponsor Group’. ‘We don’t have a Squadron or Wing in which people can become members’. He added, ‘Each of us is an “Aircraft Sponsor” of the Fleet Finch as defined by the CAF Unit Manual’.
The Comanche Peak Sponsor Group say that the stated vision for the restored airplane will be to honour and tangibly symbolise the sagas of the thousands of largely forgotten and overlooked American volunteers who risked losing their U.S. citizenships or lives by training and serving, beginning on 10 September 1939, with the RCAF and/or Royal Air Force (RAF) before the U.S. entered the War. Those men and women who enlisted (in excess of 8,800) with the RCAF are commonly referred to as RCAF-Americans, and the much smaller number (approximately 450) of individuals who entered the RAF are known as RAF-Americans.
The CAF’s Fleet Finch is a Mk II (Model 16) and was assigned production number 383 by the manufacturer. The aeroplane was constructed by Fleet Aircraft of Canada Ltd at Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada circa 1940. Interestingly, the date of manufacture may qualify the venerable airplane as the oldest aerial vehicle possessed by the CAF. The Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) Fleet Finch webpage states that Fleet Finches ‘served in twelve elementary flying training schools within Canada’ and many were ‘equipped for Canadian winter operations with a sliding canopy over the two cockpits’. These aeroplanes served alongside contemporary primary training aircraft such as the de Havilland Tiger Moth and Fleet Fawn.
Undeniably, Texas and the city of Granbury make a suitable home for an airplane that symbolises the RCAF-Americans. After all, in one scene within the classic 1942 Warner Bros. film Captains of the Clouds RCAF Air Marshall Billy Bishop awards pilot wings to a volunteer from the Lone Star State. Karl Kjarsgaard, the Curator for the charitable organisation BCMC in Nanton, Alberta, has noted that a large contingent (the names of 38 individuals are known as of the date of this article) of American volunteers who entered the RCAF hailed from the State of Texas.
One of the Texans was Robert Carson Jordan (RCAF Serial Number R137382) of Abilene. He was the Bomb Aimer aboard 434 Bluenose Squadron Handley Page Halifax EB258, which was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on the night of 17-18 August 1943. The aircraft was on a mission to bomb V-1 flying bomb launching sites at Peenemunde, Germany.
Mr. Kjarsgaard, who doubles as the Project Manager of Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada), furthermore pointed out that, ‘Over 60% of the (840) “RCAF Americans” killed-in-action . . . were flying the Halifax bomber’. Under the direction and guidance of Mr. Kjarsgaard, BCMC maintains an RCAF-Americans name database and associated archives.
The majority of the American volunteers served as airmen in RCAF, RAF and British Commonwealth bomber and fighter squadrons, but a considerable number of civilians and enlistees, male and female, undertook aircraft maintenance, training and administrative duties within the Dominion of Canada. The unglamorous roles were nonetheless essential to conducting operations and winning the war.
For instance, Ohioan Ed Tracey was posted within Canada as a flying instructor because there was an urgent need for such experts. Tracey, as an RCAF Sergeant Pilot, instructed pilot trainees on the Fleet Finch. After transferring to the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), he was commissioned as an officer and subsequently saw considerable action as a North American A-36 Apache and P-51 Mustang pilot in the Mediterranean Theatre of Operations.
One RCAF-American who attained international notoriety after his service-related death was Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr., the author of the famous and inspirational sonnet High Flight.
The above cited groupings additionally include those Americans who were posted with the famous RAF Eagle Squadrons, which, after America entered the War, comprised the core of the 4th Fighter Group in the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) 8th Air Force. The 4th Fighter Group immediately provided the USAAF with combat-experienced personnel and the pilots immediately showed their skills and proficiencies. Legendary ace and Ohioan Dominic Salvatore ‘Don’ Gentile, who became one of the USAAF’s premier fighter pilots and fellow Ohioan and ace Donald ‘Don’ Blakeslee are examples of the many who first enlisted in the RCAF and trained in Canada. As the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group’s stated Vision indicates, ‘Nine of these volunteers became Aces’.
Some of the known stories of the American volunteers are fascinating. William R. Dunn was born in Minnesota and joined the Canadian Army. Dunn was taken on strength with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. He shot down two Stuka dive bombers from the ground in England with an antiquated Lewis gun; subsequently, as a pilot of No. 71 Squadron, RAF, Dunn became the first Eagle Squadron pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft after donning RAF uniform and learning to fly. Furthermore, historians contend that William Dunn was either the first or second American ace of the conflict.
Only recently has the service of one uncelebrated squadron mate of Dunn’s been publicised (Greeks in Foreign Cockpits) to any extent. Frank G. Zavakos was born in Dayton, Ohio, and attended the University of Dayton. Frank enlisted in Canada with the RCAF and eventually transferred to the RAF. He died on 2 June 1942 as a result of Rolls Royce Merlin engine failure and an ensuing crash over the English Channel. At the time Flying Officer Zavakos was piloting a No. 71 Eagle Squadron, RAF, Supermarine Spitfire fighter and was searching for a downed aviator.
A relatively large percentage of the RCAF-American aircrew perished during their service. Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial, which is located on the grounds of Bomber Command Museum of Canada (BCMC) in Nanton, Alberta, contains the names of some 800 Yanks who died while serving in RCAF squadrons assigned to RAF Bomber Command. More are being added fairly regularly, as historical records are continuously being examined by BCMC associates.
Congressional Gold Medal legislation (H.R. 1709 – American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2021) that would in part recognise the contributions of the RCAF-Americans and RAF-Americans was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives last year, but the bill has languished in committee as have two predecessors (H.R. 980, 116th Congress and H.R. 1553, 115th Congress). Unfortunately, bipartisanship has sorely been lacking within the U.S. Congress in recent years and H.R. 1709 is suffering from neglect. At this point its future looks bleak, which is a disappointment to the surviving American volunteers and their families who yearn for official governmental recognition of their loved ones’ contributions to the Allied victory. Other than a mention in a 2020 issue of the Congressional Record (Saluting American Patriots of WWII for Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces; Congressional Record September 29, 2020, Vol. 166, No. 169 – Extension of Remarks, Page E) by Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH), this worthy goal has been elusive.
The Fleet Finch story is intimately connected with Rueben H. Fleet. As the overleaf of the book Fleet: The Flying Years says, ‘The story of Fleet’s beginnings in 1930 revolve around the colourful founder Major Rueben Hollis Fleet who also co-founded Consolidated Aircraft Co in the U.S.A., the parent company of Fleet Aircraft’. The text continues, stating, ‘Hundreds of Fleet trainers were used for the training of thousands of embryo pilots to fly in the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan and take part in the massive air offensive in Europe during WW II’.
In 1917 Rueben H. Fleet, an American who was born in the State of Washington, became involved in the U.S. Army’s pilot training programme. Prior to the United States’ entry into World War I as a combatant, Rueben Fleet reported for duty with the Aviation Section of the U.S. Army Signal Corps at San Diego, California. Commissioned at the rank of Major, Reuben Fleet graduated as Junior Military Aviator No. 74. He was then posted as acting commanding officer of the U.S. Army’s 18th Aero Squadron, Training. During the conflict Major Fleet served as the executive officer for Flying Training, Signal Corps Aviation Section. His posting was at Washington, D.C. Fleet was also tasked with establishing the first scheduled U. S. Air Mail between New York City and Washington, D.C. Afterward Major Fleet undertook temporary duty in England with his commanding officer, who was then-Colonel Henry Harley Arnold. (Arnold had received his flying instruction via the Wright Brothers at Dayton, Ohio, and was one of the first military pilots in the world.) According to Ron Page and William Cumming in (page 12) Fleet: The Flying Years, Major Fleet ‘familiarised himself with the British method of training pilots, which he found superior in every respect to the American method’. Fleet became the Army Air Service’s chief aviation contracting officer, which was part of the Engineering Division, at McCook Field in Dayton, Ohio.
One of Major Fleet’s noteworthy early flights was in fact the second test flight of a Liberty motor-powered de Havilland DH-4 at the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company’s South Field in Dayton, Ohio.
After the Armistice that ended World War I, at McCook Field Major Fleet significantly contributed to the development of the turbocharger, which is a turbine-driven, forced induction apparatus that increases an internal combustion engine’s power generation by forcing compressed air into the combustion chamber and thereby drastically improves aero engine performance at altitudes above 3,048 metres (10,000 feet). Additionally, Major Fleet tested the Loening PW-2A, which was the first American pursuit of monoplane design, and the de Bothezat helicopter. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his work and achievements at McCook Field.
At the age of 35 years, Major Reuben Fleet took the position of vice-president of Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation. He soon obtained the design plans and rights for the trainers produced by the Dayton-Wright Company. Rueben Fleet, on 29 May 1923, founded Consolidated Aircraft Corporation. Fleet then arranged the merger between the Gallaudet Aircraft Company and the Dayton-Wright Company, naming the new entity the Consolidated Aircraft Company. To Major Fleet’s chagrin, the Consolidated Aircraft board of directors took a decision to drop their lightweight trainer aircraft designs and sold the rights to these planes to Brewster Aircraft. During February 1929 Major Fleet founded Fleet Aircraft Inc to produce his Husky Junior training airplane under the model moniker Fleet. The U.S. Army and U.S. Navy eagerly contracted for numbers of these planes, and in light of the military contracts the Consolidated Aircraft board rethought their previous divestment. Meanwhile, during the summer of 1929, Major Reuben Fleet purchased acreage in the Canadian Province of Ontario with the intention of someday constructing an airplane factory in Canada. Soon thereafter Major Fleet sold Fleet Aircraft Inc and the property in Canada he had acquired to Consolidated Aircraft.
Consolidated Aircraft decided to organise their Fleet Aircraft acquisition as a separate division, forming Fleet Aircraft of Canada Ltd on 25 March 1930. Major Fleet appointed Captain W.J. (Jack) Sanderson, a former Royal Air Force (RAF) pilot he had met while recovering in hospital at London, Ontario following an air crash, as Fleet’s Canadian representative. In the summer of 1936 Major Fleet decided to sell off Fleet Aircraft of Canada to Nesbitt, Thompson and Co. Ltd. The sale was consummated on 17 November 1936. The new entity was known as Fleet Aircraft Ltd. The company gained momentum and soon produced the Fleet Model 2 and the follow-on Model 7. Issues with these machines resulted in the improved Model 10. A revised Model 10 became the Model 16.
The first Fleet Model 16B (Finch II) was flown on 12 March 1940. Finch Model 16R (Mk I) aeroplanes were delivered to RCAF Central Flying School at Trenton, Ontario. According to Ron Page and William Cumming (Fleet: The Flying Years, page 72) during the year 1940 335 Finches were delivered to the RCAF and 69 units were completed and delivered in early 1941. It is recorded that the majority of Finches were utilised by Elementary Flying Training Schools under the British Commonwealth Air raining Plan (BCATP). Furthermore, Page and Cumming add the following appraisal: ‘The Finch was well liked by the BCATP and served with the following Elementary Flying Training Schools: Nos. 3, 4, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 21 and 22′. Although a few Fleet Model 16s remained in service with the RCAF until 1947, most were struck off strength by October 1944.
Donations remain a necessity to get and keep the CAF Fleet Finch in the air so the biplane can educate the public about the critical roles RCAF-Americans and RAF-Americans undertook more than eighty years ago. Clicking on the following link will take readers to a Fundrazr.com page established to receive payments: Fleet Finch – N16BR. Donors may also become an Aircraft Sponsor, Restoration Sponsor or Supporting Sponsor. Colonel Dave Townsend indicated that, ‘These are one-time contributions that go into the Finch maintenance and overhaul fund and can’t be used for anything else. They are paid directly to CAF Headquarters using a form that directs the money to the Finch‘. Those desiring to be designated as one of the aforementioned sponsors should ring the CAF at 877.767.7175 and enquire about sponsorship.
The author (John T. Stemple) is an Aerospace Member of the Civil Air Patrol, a Life Member of the Commemorative Air Force, Bomber Command Museum of Canada and the Royal Canadian Air Force Association. He is additionally a Restoration Sponsor with the Comanche Peak Sponsor Group. Mr. Stemple thanks the Commemorative Air Force, Comanche Peak Sponsor Group, Karl Kjarsgaard of Bomber Command Museum of Canada and Jeff Robinson of British Columbia for their gracious assistance during the preparation of this article.
Sources and Suggested Readings
71 Eagle Squadron: William Dunn – 1st American Ace of World War II
Bomber Command Museum of Canada
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
British Commonwealth Air Training Plan
Canada’s Bomber Command Memorial
Captains of the Clouds
Captains of the Clouds
Comanche Peak: A Refuge from Civilization
Comanche Peak Sponsor Group Granbury, Texas
CFB Cold Lake
Commemorative Air Force
Congressional Record: ‘Saluting American Patriots of WWII for Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces’; Congressional Record September 29, 2020, Vol. 166, No. 169 – Extension of Remarks, Page E
Dayton-Wright Airplane Company Photographs (MS-152)
de Bothezat helicopter
de Haviland Tiger Moth
De Haviland Tiger Moth
de Havilland Tiger Moth
Dominic Salvatore Gentile
Dominion of Canada
Dunn, William R. Fighter Pilot: The First American Ace Of World War II. University Press of Kentucky, 1982.
Eagle Symbolism & The Spiritual Meaning Of Seeing Eagles
Ed Tracey: RCAF-American WW2 flight instructor and USAAF fighter pilot
Finches in Texas (8 Species with Pictures)
Fleet Fawn Mk II (7c)
Fleet Fawn Mk II (7c)
Fleet Finch page – The Dispatch 2021 Volume 48 Number 11
Fleet Finch – N16BR
Frank Zavakos – No. 71 ‘Eagle’ Squadron, RAF
General Henry H. Arnold
Gen. Henry H. ‘Hap’ Arnold
Golden Years of Aviation Civil Aircraft Register – Canada
Granbury Regional Airport
Halifax 57 Rescue (Canada)
Handley Page Halifax
Henry H. Arnold
Hood County, Texas
H.R.1709 – American Patriots of WWII through Service with the Canadian and British Armed Forces Gold Medal Act of 2021
H.R. 1709 (117th Congress): Supporting and Documenting the Text
Karl Kjarsgaard, Halifax bomber expert, receives honours
Lewis light machine gun, Mark I (1913)
Model 16 Fleet Finch Comanche Peak Sponsor Group
Native American Folklore & Our Connection With Eagles
North American A-36A Apache/Invader/Mustang
North American P-51 Mustang
Page, Ron and William Cumming. Fleet: the Flying Years. Erin Ontario: The Boston Mills Press, 1990.
Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee: ‘High Flight’
RCAF 434 Bluenose Squadron 1943-1945
Royal Canadian Air Force Association
Reuben H. Fleet
Texas Birds (PDF)
The 379 Americans
The 379 Americans
The 4th Fighter Group Association
The Lewis Gun Was a New Kind of Killing Machine: The ‘Belgian Rattlesnake’ fought on land, on sea and in the air
The University of Dayton Alumnus, March 1943
V-1 flying bomb
William R. Dunn