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The Innovating Spirit Of Anthony Fokker

SimpleFlying logo SimpleFlying 4 days ago Sumit Singh
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Described by Charles Lindbergh as the greatest airplane designer in the world, Anton Herman Gerard ‘Anthony’ Fokker has had a lasting impact on the course of aviation for over a century. Born on April 6th, 1890, in East Java, which was part of the Dutch East Indies at the time, the pioneer would go on to create numerous aircraft innovations in the early 1900s.

German production

Fokker was sent to Germany at the age of 20 to train as a car mechanic at the Bingen Technical school in 1910. However, since he was more interested in flight, he transferred to Mainz' Erste Deutsche Automobil-Fachschule. He soon built his first aircraft, the Fokker Spin. Notably, the model had many bracing wires to help it hold up. Sadly, the first unit was destroyed when Fokker's business partner crashed into a tree. Nonetheless, a total of 25 units of the Fokker Spin would be developed in different variants between 1912 and 1913.

Fokker Aeroplanbau was formed in Berlin in 1912, but he soon relocated to Schwerin in Germany’s north and retitled the firm Fokker Aviatik. Early productions were heavily military-centered, including the Fokker M.5, which became the Fokker Eindecker after the synchronization gear was created. This device allowed pilots to fire through the spinning propellor, a considerable breakthrough amid the First World War.

Military opportunities continued during the war. The Fokker Dr.1 was an influential military triplane than ran on Le Rhone or Oberursel engines. With a top speed of 102 mph (164 km/hr) and a gross weight of 1,290 lbs (585 kg), it was praised for its fantastic maneuverability with a high rate of climb. German fighter pilots during the war significantly favored the plane.

Another WWI force was the Fokker D.VII, which ran on Mercedes D.III engines. This plane had a top speed of 117 mph (188 km/hr) and a gross weight of 1,984 lbs (900 kg). It is often viewed as the greatest fighter plane of its period. It had the rare ability to hang on its prop while its nose pitched up. This was a benefit for pilots when attacking from below.

The Fokker E.I was another of many German WWI productions. Photo: Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome

Change of scene

Since the Treaty of Versailles after WWI didn't allow Germany to produce aircraft, Fokker shifted his operations to the Netherlands. Here, he would go on to grow his presence across the aviation spectrum with his new company, the Dutch Aircraft Factory, a forerunner to the Fokker Aircraft Factory. In the mid-1920s, he headed over to the United States to further dominate in his industry.

Prominent Dutch American Entrepreneurs by C. Carl Pegels shares the following about Fokker's activity on either side of the pond:

“He established an aircraft factory in the Netherlands but quickly realized that the future of the aircraft industry, at least in the near term, was in the United States. So in 1922, he moved to the United States with the intent of building aircraft there. He founded the Atlantic Aircraft Company, which later became General Aviation Corporation. Along the way he also became an American citizen.

“It was during this time that Anthony Fokker developed his now famous Fokker tri-motor or three engine aircraft, which became the workhorse of the rapidly developing air travel industry. Other designs of Fokker's rugged planes were also used extensively by the explorers of that age. It was a United States Air Corps Fokker T-2 which made the first non-stop transcontinental trip from New York to San Diego. Also the explorer Richard E. Byrd used a Fokker aircraft to make the first flight over both the North and South Poles. During the depression, in the 1930s, Anthony Fokker returned to Holland to focus more on his Dutch operations. He traveled back and forth between the United States and Europe and became one of the first global industrialists.”

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Making history

The Fokker F.VII became an international hit. This trimotor was initially designed as a single-engine plane by Walter Rethel. Yet, Fokker had the plane converted to take part in the Ford Reliability Tour in late 1925. The type was immensely popular and took part in several pioneering flights. It was also flown by many airlines across the globe, from KLM to TWA.

A skilled pilot himself, Fokker was undeniably proud that Richard E. Byrd's first transatlantic flight in 1927, Amelia Earhart's flight across the Atlantic in 1928, and Charles Kingsforth-Smith's initial transpacific flight in 1928 were all conducted with the Fokker F.VII.

Commander Richard Byrd announced he was the first to fly over the North Pole, in a Fokker F.VII, in May 1926. Photo: Getty Images

The entrepreneur would hold as much as 40% of the passenger-carrying market by 1936, but just three years later, he died in New York from pneumococcal meningitis. He was just 49 years old.

Still, the Fokker name would remain a legend within the aviation industry for decades to come. Aircraft such as the Fokker 70 and 100 would cater to niche regional segments across the globe. These planes can still be spotted on short-haul missions, highlighting the long-term legacy of Anthony Fokker. Often a polarizing figure for his contribution to aerial warfare, he nonetheless helped revolutionize both civil and military aviation on multiple occasions.

What are your thoughts about the innovations of Anthony Fokker? What do you make of his overall activity over the years? Let us know what you think in the comment section.

Source: Prominent Dutch American Entrepreneurs: Their Contributions to American Society, Culture and Economy, C. Carl Pegels, Information Age Pub, 2011.

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