Aircraft designed and produced by Anthony Fokker or by companies under his ownership or direction or that bear his name.
Anthony Fokker was born in Kediri, Java, in 1890. After his family returned to the Netherlands, Fokker began a lifelong commitment to aviation. When he was twenty-one, he started an aviation company in Wiesbaden, Germany. Fokker’s first two attempts to build viable aircraft ended in crashes; the Spin I hit a tree in 1910, and the Spin II crashed in 1911. In 1913, however, Fokker’s Spin III model tested successfully and was purchased by the German military. Prior to the outbreak of World War I, Fokker made overtures to both the British and Dutch governments concerning purchase of his aircraft for military purposes. He was rejected by both, and so turned his attentions to designing exclusively for the German military authority.
The first true fighter aircraft to appear in World War I were Fokkers. Fokker produced 7,600 aircraft for Germany during World War I. Of these, his most famous designs include the Fokker Eindecker series, the Fokker Dr-I triplane, the Fokker D-VII, and the Fokker E-V/D-VIII.
The Fokker Eindecker monoplanes caused a revolution in concepts of employing aircraft as weapons. Fokker produced about 450 Eindeckers in four versions, E-I to E-IV, with the E-III produced in the greatest numbers. The Eindecker was the first aircraft to effectively employ a fixed, forward-firing machine gun that was synchronized with the engine to fire bullets through the propeller arc, an innovation credited to Anthony Fokker. The machine gun was aimed by pointing the entire plane at the target. The results achieved with these machine-gun-equipped Fokkers were so spectacular that during 1915, when they reigned over the Western Front, the era is referred to as the “Fokker Scourge,” and Allied aircraft referred to as “Fokker Fodder.”
The Fokker Dr-I was the result of a triwing design concept first built by the British Sopwith Company in 1917. No less than thirty-four prototypes were tested by the German military to counter the Sopwith. Of the planes tested, only the Fokker Dr-I triplane was produced. The plane was small, light, and exceptionally agile. The Fokker design was unique in that it had no wire bracing between the wings, only a single strut connecting the lifting surfaces near the tips. It was the first aircraft to employ the Göttingen 298 airfoil with a 13 percent thickness ratio, a feature adopted on almost all subsequent Fokker designs. This airfoil gave the Dr-I one of the lowest zero-lift drag coefficients of all World War I fighter aircraft. The Dr-I was issued to elite fighter squadrons and used in combat for less than a year. The Dr-I is one of the most recognizable of all aircraft ever manufactured, inexorably linked to its most famous pilot, Manfred von Richthofen, the “Red Baron.”
In 1917, Fokker and Reinhold Platz designed a new aircraft using input from Manfred von Richthofen. The result was the Fokker D-VII. The plane had a squarish airframe equipped with an in-line engine and an air-cooled radiator. The most advanced feature of the D-VII was its internally braced cantilever wings with thick airfoil sections and a wooden structure. The first of these planes reached the front in April, 1918, and by October, eight hundred were in active service. Popular with German pilots, the D-VII was strong and fast, and it performed superbly at high altitudes. Most aviation historians view the D-VII as the most advanced and outstanding fighter plane of World War I. The quality of the Fokker D-VII was acknowledged by the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Article IV stated that all Fokker D-VII planes had to be handed over to the Allies, the only aircraft to be specifically targeted by the armistice. After the war ended, Fokker managed to smuggle two hundred dismantled aircraft, five hundred engines, and other machine parts to the Netherlands, where he started his own factory at Sciphol outside of Amsterdam. During the 1920’s, the Fokker D-VII became the mainstay of the Dutch Air Force.
In 1918, the German Air Force sponsored a fighter design competition. Twenty-five prototypes were submitted; five were Fokker-designed monoplanes. The Fokker D-VIII parasol monoplane was the winner. It entered production too late to affect the war’s outcome, but its design concepts were a significant change in aircraft theory. Unlike earlier aircraft, the D-VIII had a wing that was tapered in both platform and thickness ratio, and it was covered entirely in plywood, giving it great strength and rigidity. The tapered wing reduced wing weight and stress, while increasing aerodynamic efficiency and strength, giving the plane a higher rate of roll.
In July, 1919, N.V. Nederlandsche Vliegtuigenfabriek was incorporated in Amsterdam. Although Anthony Fokker was its managing director, his name was not included in the company name because people had not forgotten that during the war, Fokker had designed some of the most effective German military aircraft at his Fokker Flugzeug-Werke GmbH factory in Germany. Often accused of choosing the wrong side during the war, Fokker always pointed to the fact that before the outbreak of hostilities, both Great Britain and Holland had turned down the aircraft he had offered them. Because of his notoriety, however, it was not until much later that the name Fokker was included in the corporate title. A number of well-known civilian and military aircraft were produced by Fokker between the World Wars.
In October, 1919, another aviation company was incorporated in the Netherlands, N.V. Koninklijke Maatschappij (KLM). Fokker became KLM’s main supplier of aircraft and remained so for years. Due to contracts with KLM, orders for Fokker civilian aircraft increased worldwide. Fokker set up factories in the United States and by the late 1920’s had become the largest aircraft manufacturer in the world. Numerous aircraft were built under license, and Fokker planes were used by airlines the world over.
The success of postwar Fokker aircraft was linked to a simple construction technique in which the fuselage and the tail section were made of welded steel pipe. In 1933, Douglas Aircraft Company began marketing a modern, streamlined, all-metal aircraft with a retractable undercarriage, and Fokker realized too late that he had stuck with his cheap and simplistic design theory for too long. The DC-2 and DC-3 forced Fokker from the airliner market, when KLM made Douglas their main supplier. It was not until 1958 that Fokker placed a new passenger airliner on the market.
During World War II, production of Fokker aircraft came almost to a standstill. Between 1940 and 1945, when the Netherlands was occupied by Nazi Germany, the Fokker factory was used for the repair and construction of German military aircraft. By the war’s end, Allied bombing had reduced the Fokker factory to ruins, and salvageable tools and machines had been plundered by the retreating Germans. After the war, the Dutch government decided that aircraft production in the Netherlands should resume, and the government consolidated its aircraft industries into one company, Fokker. Reconstruction of the Fokker Company had to start from scratch, forcing the company to lag behind its competitors. In countries such as the United States, Great Britain, and Germany, the war had given the aviation industry a great boost, with the outcome being new designs, technologies, and engines, especially the jet engine. Initially, all Fokker was able to do was provide services to refit DC-3’s and convert military aircraft into civilian passenger aircraft. Later, however, the postwar Fokker Company developed a number of successful small business aircraft and military trainers, including the S-11 and S-14 models. The company also began the assembly and licensed production of military aircraft designed by others, including the Sea Fury, the Gloster Meteor fighter jets, the Hawker Hunter, the F-104 Starfighter, and the F-5, and later participated in coproduction of the F-16 Fighting Falcon. Nonetheless, these contracts did not make Fokker an independent manufacturer of passenger aircraft. In 1949, on its thirtieth anniversary, the company changed its name to N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuienfabriek Fokker.
In 1955, Fokker developed the F-27 Friendship, the successor to the popular DC-3, and later, the F-28 Fellowship. Market research indicated there was a demand for a replacement for the famous DC-3. The new aircraft needed a capacity of forty to fifty passengers. While they never became stars in the aircraft marketplace, both the F-27 and F-28 were dependable workhorses and continued to be used in the air fleets of many countries through the beginning of the twenty-first century. Between 1958 and 1986, 786 F-27’s were sold, making it the most successful turboprop aircraft in the Western market. The F-28 was the first passenger jet developed by Fokker. It was less successful than the F-27 because of competition from the Boeing 737 and the DC-9. Fokker delivered 241 F-28’s between 1968 and 1986. The successors to the F-27 and F-28 were the F-50 and F-100 airliners, introduced in the late 1980’s. The largest export order in Dutch history was the sale of seventy-five F-100’s to American Airlines. During this period of production, the Fokker Company employed more people than did the civil aircraft division of McDonnell Douglas. However, Fokker was deeply in debt from the cost of the simultaneous development of these two new aircraft, as well as from losses resulting from an all-time low in currency exchange rates and an unexpected drop in aircraft demand.
In an attempt to save the company, Fokker became one of the first major corporations to implement cross-border corporate integration by merging with the German VFW Company. When this merger ended in failure, Fokker attempted a second merger with DASA in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, the Fokker Company went bankrupt despite the fact that its product line was well liked and respected, and orders for Fokker products were backlogged. In 1997, the last airliner to bear the Fokker name was assembled at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, marking the end of a tradition whose origins traced to the earliest days of aviation. In the late 1990’s, the Stork Company bought what remained of Fokker and converted it to the specialized manufacture of major components, electric and power distribution systems, and advanced aerospace materials and maintenance. The Fokker Aircraft Group still exists and is in partnership with several global aircraft projects. Following a 1997 decision by the Netherlands government, it participates in projects with Airbus.
Angelucci, Enzo. The Rand McNally Encyclopedia of Military Aircraft: 1914-1980. New York: Rand McNally, 1980. This richly illustrated book is an excellent reference and does a fine job in outlining the history of military aircraft. Fokker, A. H. G., and Bruce Gould. Flying Dutchman: The Life of Anthony Fokker. New York: Arno Press, 1931. A somewhat self-promotional autobiography, but one that does well in outlining the early developments of Fokker aircraft and military innovations such as the synchronized forward-firing aircraft mounted machine gun. Loftin, L. K. Quest for Performance: The Evolution of Modern Aircraft. NASA SP-468. Washington, D.C.: NASA Scientific and Technical Information Branch, 1985. A very easy-to-read and thorough history of aviation and aircraft design. While this book is out of print, it can be found in the United States government collections in most research libraries. It is also available over the Internet at the NASA Web site.
Manfred von Richthofen
World War I
World War II