Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum
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British Commonwealth Air Training Plan

The Fleet Freighter

 A recent photo album donation to the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum yielded a World War II photograph of an unusual and unknown aircraft with RCAF markings on the tarmac at RCAF Station Trenton. It had the archival staff scratching heads and audibly asking ``What the hell is that?’’ Subsequent research revealed it to be a Fleet 50K Freighter.​​

This aircraft probably seemed like a good idea at the time to the engineering and marketing 

departments at the Fleet Aircraft Ltd. in Canada. They set out to build a twin engine utility biplane which could haul larger loads of cargo, based both on the weight and dimensions of the loads. It was also supposed to be adaptable to floatplane duty. The intended market was to be bush plane operators looking to increase cargo loads at lower costs with subsequently benefits to their profit margins.

Five Fleet Freighters were built in the late 1930s with the prototype known as model type 46K first taking to the air on February 22 1938. Subsequent models with more powerful engines were known as the model 50K. The experience of those operating these aircraft was short and painful due to high operating costs and poor performance. Those private owners who took a chance on this large bush plane  flew them only for short periods of time of which only one of the Fleet 50K Freighter was in service for more than 18 months.

What was good about the Fleet Freighter – operators found the four or five large (depending on the model type) door openings as well as the roof mounted hoist in the fuselage very useful in loading and unloading bulkier pieces of freight. It was the first aircraft ever to have a nose door with gave access to cargo space the length of the fuselage.   Two of the five built were capable of carrying up to 10 passengers and two crew.
The F50KF could cruise at 128 mph with a maximum speed of 148 mph, a ceiling of 15000 feet and range of 650 miles. It was powered by two Jacobs L-6MB, 330 horsepower radial engines. It was 36 feet long x 45 feet wide  x 13 feet high and had a cargo capacity of 3200 pounds.

What was bad about the Fleet Freighter – a number of incidents which demonstrated how badly underpowered its twin Jacobs engines were in addition to a number of disappointing incidents, such as a fire which destroyed one of the Freighters on a marketing junket to the United States. This together with the start  of World War II, which sent governments pursuing reliable aircraft with proven track records, meant the end of production for the Fleet Freighter in 1939.

The Royal Canadian Air Force obtained two of the five Freighters for a brief period of time.  CF-BJU, saw limited service between 1939 and 1942 for short periods with Canadian Airways and Quebec Airways before it was sold to the RCAF as number 799. The air force first put it to work in paratrooper training at Rockcliffe Air Station and then at Trenton Air Station in 1943 as an air ambulance and floatplane trainer. The RCAF, also found the aircraft underpowered and dangerous and sold it to the Labrador Mining and Exploration Company as CF-BXP in June 1944. It operated the aircraft for nine days before it crashed on a beach during a floatplane takeoff. The company took its losses and abandoned the hulk where it sat. The Canadian Air and Space Museum recovered the carcase in 1964 and now has it on display.

The other RCAF Fleet 50K Freighter was numbered 800 and came new to the air force in November 1942. As a custom-built it went to the Test and Development Flight at RCAF Station Rockcliffe. It had 11 hours and 20 minutes of airframe time when it was sold to a company in Mexico as 
``What the hell is that?''
Royal Candian Air Force 800 
Royal Canadian Air Force 799
Loading lumber through the Fleet Freighter's Nose Door
 ​XA-DOE in September 1944. It crashed and was deemed unsalvageable in 1946.

The Fourth 50K Freighter, having been leased by Fleet Aircraft for short times to a number of operators, eventually sold it to Austin Airways in 1945 which lost the aircraft to fire in 1946.  The CAS Museum has obtained parts from this aircraft.

The last two Fleet Freighters flew in 1946.