Val Seehagel and the Fleet Canuck

Written by Steve Finkelman


Women standing beside plane (fleet canuck)
Val with an Edmonton Flying Club Cessna in the mid 1980s

Val Seehagel flips through the pages of her pilot’s logbook and stops at a photo. It shows a little white aircraft, with red and black markings, sitting in deep snow almost up to its belly.

“DZK” belonged to the Edmonton Flying Club where Seehagel was an instructor during the 1980s. The Fleet Model 80 was fitted with skis, which allowed it to operate from snow-covered surfaces.

“We flew out to Winterburn and we were kind of just scanning it out,” she remembers. “We got good and low and did what we needed to do to verify that this was in fact a suitable place to land. And it was. But it wasn’t a suitable place to get out of.”

When she tried to turn the plane around to take off again, DZK got stuck in deep, soft snow.

“Well, my husband (Tim) happened to be dispatching that day. So good,” Seehagel remembers thinking back. “I have somebody I can yell at. Where’s the shovel?  How come you send people out on skis and there’s no shovel?”

It took a bit of work but Seehagel and her student stamped down the snow enough to get the plane back on solid ground for a safe takeoff.  But the photo remains in her logbook with the inscription, “Oops.”

The Fleet, also known as the “Canuck,” was designed and built just after the Second World War. It was a sturdy, light aircraft aimed at

training pilots for an expected boom in demand. That demand never materialized and the Fort Erie, Ontario, company was soon out of business after producing 225 air frames.  Despite that, those aircraft soldiered on for decades, providing an aerial classroom for thousands of  primary pilots. In the late 1960s the Edmonton Flying Club had 10 Fleets in service.

Twenty years later, when Seehagel completed her Commercial, Instrument and Instructor ratings, the Flying Club still had a couple of Fleets. By then the training airplanes of choice were more modern, Cessna 150s and 172s. Those aircraft had nose wheels, making them easier to land. The Fleet, as most airplanes of its age, had a little tail wheel in the back. And “taildraggers” could be challenging to land in a gusty wind.

Photo of a white and red plane sitting in the snow
DZK stuck in the snow at Winterburn

Still, the chance to fly this piece of aviation history, especially in winter on skis, was appealing.

“I remember with the big wing that it had, it was a lot more responsive and smooth,” she says. “It’s like getting in a really old vintage car and driving it around with the roof down, versus getting in a sport utility vehicle. It just has a panache. And there’s history around you. It’s very unique and fun. And I did well in that machine.”

The “Oops” not withstanding.

Soon, the Alberta Aviation Museum will pay tribute to DZK, and the many other Canucks that served the Edmonton Flying club for so many years. The museum is restoring its own Fleet 80 and painting it in EFC colours.

“The Edmonton Flying Club was the main user of Fleet Canucks before their 1967 fire, says Museum Curator Ryan Lee. “As many as 10 percent of the Fleet Canucks in the world were in Edmonton Flying Club service at one time or another.”  The fire destroyed the club’s hangar and 14 aircraft, a disaster from which the EFC quickly rebuilt.

Plane sitting spray booth most of the body is tapped off ready to be painted
The Museum’s Fleet 80 in the paint booth.

Lee says the restored Canuck will also tell the important role the Edmonton Flying Club played in training Canadian pilots.

“The Flying Club is one of the oldest flying clubs in Canada. It was established the same year as Blatchford Field opened. And it’s still in operation today. Obviously, the airport’s closed, so they’ve moved to a new airport in Parkland. But all of the famous Edmonton pilots came up and were students of the Edmonton Flying Club.”

Val Seehagel, who went on to a career flying for Transport Canada, is also excited about the new Flying Club display.

“This is important to anyone who lives in this part of the world who has had anything to do with aviation. This is where it belongs.”

And she will continue to keep pictures of her cherished DZK in her logbook to remind her of a time flying a very unique and memorable aircraft.





Learn more about the Fleet Canuck HERE
Would you like to explore similar articles? Subscribe to our bi-monthly newsletter and stay updated with 2-3 emails per month featuring articles, program updates, and more: Click here to sign up