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Reuben H. Fleet

 

U.S. Aviation Industrialist

Born Montesano, Washington

March 6, 1887—October 29, 1975

Reuben Hollis Fleet graduated from the Culver Military Academy in 1906. He then formed a successful real estate business and became a state legislator.

He was called to active duty in early 1917 to attend aviation training at the army aviation school in San Diego. Upon receiving his pilots wings as military aviator No. 74, Capt. Reuben Fleet was assigned to Air Service Headquarters in Washington, D.C. to plan and supervise aircrew training. In testimony to his fine staff work, this program trained nearly 11,000 pilots by November 1918. During his duty in Washington, Major Fleet was given the task of establishing the first U.S. Air Mail from Washington to New York. Within six days, he had assembled the necessary modified Curtiss JN-4's and the service was inaugurated on May 15, 1918.

In 1919, Major Fleet was reassigned to the U.S. Army Flight Test Center at McCook Field, Dayton, Ohio as business manager. It was here he acquired the experience that inspired him to enter the aviation industry, leaving the military service in late 1922 to begin his distinguished career as an aviation industrialist. Acquiring the assets and engineering talents of Gallaudet Aircraft Corporation and the Dayton-Wright Airplane Company, he combined the two into a new firm, Consolidated Aircraft in 1923. In a leased factory, the new company developed a successful series of training planes in which literally every military pilot learned to fly during the next decade. It was, however, the great flying boats developed by Fleet and the Consolidated team in 1929, which made his company an industrial giant—the Admiral Patrol Bombers for the U.S. Navy and the commercial Commodore Flying Boats for Pan American Airways. Large contracts from the Navy for Seaplane Patrol Bombers required a larger factory and year round test flight capability. With typical Fleet determination and courage, he elected to move his entire company to San Diego, California. In the spring of 1935, in a move unprecedented in industry, he transferred his entire Consolidated operation in 157 freight cars of machinery and materials as well as employees and families to the newly constructed factory in San Diego.

The famed Catalina PBY Patrol Bombers production required several expansions of the factory to keep pace with the flood of orders from the Navy. The introduction of the four engined B-24 "Liberator" Bomber for the army Air Forces added further growth. Fleet personally managed this entire operation, along with active flying and testing of his products.

In late 1941 this captain of industry, one of the last of the industrial tycoons who built and led their own large corporations, retired from active management of Consolidated as it was acquired by other interests. When war came to the United States a few weeks later, Fleet immersed himself completely as advisor and consultant to industry and government. In the postwar years he devoted his time and fortune to works of philanthropy: Culver Military Academy, hundreds of scholarship programs, a variety of charities, the Fleet Space Theatre and Planetarium, and the International Aerospace Hall of Fame.

Invested 1965 in the International Aerospace Hall of Fame

From "These We Honor," The International Hall of Fame; The San Diego Aerospace Museum, San Diego, CA. 1984


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