Reuben Fleet had an ability for business that ranged from lucrative land deals in the Northwest to the development of aircraft to meet the needs of customers, both civilian and military.
A World War I Army aviator, Fleet was part of the postwar flight test establishment at McCook Field, near Dayton, Ohio, until 1922 when he resigned to pursue manufacturing aircraft. His efforts led to the creation of Consolidated Aircraft, settling in Buffalo, New York, by 1924.
Fleet hired a young Larry Bell and Isaac Laddon. Bell went on to fame with his own aircraft manufacturing company and Laddon’s contributions through Consolidated included leading the design of the B-24 Liberator heavy bomber of World War II.
The young Consolidated Aircraft Company earned a reputation for building multi-engine airliner flying boats capable of several-day flights from Florida to South America. Fleet saw an opportunity to extend the usefulness of the flying boats by creating a short-run series of single-engine monoplanes as feeder airliners.
The first Fleetster was this Model 17-1 used initially as a company demonstrator. The closely shrouded tailwheel necessitated handles on aft fuselage to lift and turn the aircraft when not taxiing. (Consolidated via Gerald Balzer)
In January 1930, a type certificate was issued for the Consolidated Model 17 Fleetster, a high-wing, single-engine monoplane bearing at least a superficial resemblance to Lockheed’s already successful Vega. Laddon is credited with the design of the Fleetster. The Fleetster extended the coastal intercontinental seaplane routes of the New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Line (NYRBA) into the interior.
Four Model 17s were built. They seated six passengers in the fuselage, while a seventh passenger could ride up
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