With 80+ years of history, Fleet is one of the oldest aerospace manufacturers in Canada.
Fleet began designing and manufacturing its own bi-planes in 1930; since then, we've grown with the aerospace industry to build satellites launched into space. Our workforce has met every challenge ever placed before it. The Fleet name is synonymous with the factory on Gilmore Road in Fort Erie and with quality aerospace aircraft and components.
Reuben Hollis Fleet established Fleet Aircraft of Canada Ltd. on Gilmore Road in Fort Erie, Ontario on March 23, 1930 as part of Consolidated Aircraft Ltd. There was a slight change in name to Fleet Aircraft Ltd. in November of 1936. In this first decade, Fleet designed and constructed entire planes made of welded steel structures, covered by cloth with wood stringers. Fleet Model 7's (known as Fawns) were sold to the RCAF as trainers, and to the civilian market as well. Fleet Model 10's (Finches) were sold around the world. Within the first decade, Fleet had already established an international reputation for excellence, producing hundreds of aircraft for customers worldwide, including China and Yugoslavia.
Today, many of these original airframes have been restored and reside in museums from coast to coast, including the National Aviation Museum in Ottawa. Some of them, after loving restorations, are still flown regularly by aircraft aficionados for pleasure and to the joy of airshow spectators.
Fleet Fawns, Finches and Forts became mainstays in the British Commonwealth Air Training Program. This program saw young men from many countries at war come to Canada to learn to fly at airfields across the country. Fleet Canada was producing over 160 aircraft per month, which would be the highest production of any Canadian aircraft manufacturer at the time.
As efforts to support the war increased, Fleet’s output increased as well, helping other aircraft manufacturers increase their output. Fleet made Cornells for Fairchild in the U.S., which were also used by the RCAF. The 1,000th Cornell was manufactured at Fleet with many of the hours donated by the employees. The plane was appropriately christened the 'Spirit of Fleet', and was donated to the Canadian Government. Fleet also supported the assembly line at Victory Aircraft in Malton, Ontario by supplying outer wings, trailing edges and elevators. During this period, employment swelled to almost 4,000 people, the majority of whom were women known as Rosie-the-Riveters. Fleet Canada is very proud of its contributions to the Canadian war effort.
Manufacturers across North America turned their sights back to civilian needs. Fleet had designed the Canuck (Model 80) in 1939. Pilots trained during the war years were now looking for work at home. The old trainers and Canucks were the perfect rugged aircraft to link remote areas across the globe through the new medium of flight. To meet this emerging market need, de Havilland designed the DHC-2 Beaver. Fleet was contracted to make fuselage panels and wing assemblies for the Downsview company.
Wartime capacity expansion at Fleet meant it was necessary to bring in much more work. A change of name to Fleet Manufacturing & Aircraft Ltd. told the world that the company was open to other types of opportunities. During the next decade, Fleet produced CabinCar trailers, Twin Coach buses, ship board aluminum furniture, Fleetlite windows and doors, baby furniture, counter tops and kitchen sinks, Astral refrigerators, and boats for Feather Craft.
Fleet continued its work for the armed forces with its contributions to the de Havilland-built CS2F-1 Tracker for the Royal Canadian Navy. Partnering with Doman in New York in 1955, Fleet manufactured the first helicopter in Canada, the LZ-5, with major components supplied by Doman.
The first autoclave was installed at Fleet in 1955 to manufacture plastic components, and would form one of Fleet's key capabilities in decades to come. In 1959, Fleet introduced metal-to-metal bonding capabilities to its facility.
One of Fleet's most significant programs commenced in January of 1965, when the company was awarded job of building the flap and ailerons for the DC-9 for Douglas Aircraft. It was the largest structural component Fleet had ever made for another company. It brought honeycomb bonding to Fleet, along with heat treat, x-ray and upgraded laboratory facilities. The plane became the MD-80, and the program continued until the 1990s.
Fleet’s R & D department became focused on the quickly-developing field of composite bonding and honeycomb structures with the Canadian government's Defense Research Board and the University of Toronto. The installation of a new, larger autoclave in 1965 saw Fleet become a industry leader in the field in North America, and win a prized contract to manufacture satellite bodies for the Hughes Aircraft Co., some of which were launched from the NASA space shuttle.
In 1973, Fleet became a division of RONYX Corporation Ltd.
One of Fleet's largest and longest term programs started in 1977. 165 flight stations for the P-3C Orion/CP -140’s Aurora were manufactured for Lockheed Aeronautical Systems Company from this time until 1990. This program showed all that Fleet could do. With 700 sub-assemblies and almost 5,000 detail parts (mainly manufactured in-house with exceptionally intricate fitting requirements), Fleet craftsmanship was employed and demanded throughout the facility. The massive fin and rudder for the Boeing 707/E3A was also manufactured in the same hanger that was built to produce trainers in the 1940s.
1980 begins with Fleet employees celebrating the company's 50th aniversary by restoring a Cornell, christening it 'Sprit of Fleet II' and donating it to the Canadian Warplane Museum. In 1986, Fleet is purchased by Murray Edwards and renamed Fleet Industries, becoming a division of the Fleet Aerospace Company.
The 2, 500 ft runway on the property maintained its certification and provided executives with the ability to fly in from other Magellan divisions and for customers to fly their own planes for convenience.
The decade began with a splash of colour… a new, massive paint facility, completed in December of 1990, had separate areas for complete aircraft and major components. The company was working for many of the world’s largest aerospace OEMs, and producing entire cabins for the Bell Model M230/430.
In 1996, Fleet Industries is renamed Magellan Aerospace.
This decade began with Fleet again looking for programs to replace those winding down, but also making efforts to increase efficiency. In August of 2001, a MODIG CNC machine was purchased to produce extruded detail parts. As with many upgrades during this era, the improved efficiencies and added capabilities were designed to support the systems at other Magellan sites.
Magellan closed the facility in December of 2005 and sold the assets to a local group led by Glenn Stansfield. The new company, Fleet Canada Ltd., reopened the doors in February of 2006 with 14 employees, all of whom were shareholders in the enterprise. The company began with legacy work on the Bombardier Q-300 aircraft, which had been a staple of the old company for over a decade.
The company began supplying Erickson Aircrane with details and sub-assemblies for their fleet of Skycranes. The bondshop was busy with fairings and honeycomb panels for the Bombardier Q400.
As the only company to supply bonded wing skins for the Twin Otter, Viking Air looked to Fleet experience when they ventured to relaunch the iconic Canadian plane, decades after production had ceased. Fleet expanded its supply relationship with Viking and now supplies the wingskins, rear fuselage, tail plane and tail fin for the internationally popular Twin Otter Series 400.
Supporting the development of the new KC-46 Tanker program for Boeing has been rewarding for the company as it continues to grow its capabilities and workforce.
Fleet Canada manufacturers the front cockpit nose enclosure, pylons and platforms for the Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter. A mainstay of militaries worldwide for five decades, Fleet is proud to again be supporting efforts to keep soldiers safe and helping relief efforts flying for those in need.
Fleet Canada is proud of its 85 year in the industry. Building on the Legacy is what we do every day at Fleet Canada.
Contact Fleet Canada today to learn more about our aerospace manufacturing offering.