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Anthony Fokker

aircraft builder

Anthony Fokker

Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker was born in Kediri, Java (now part of Indonesia), on April 6, 1890, the son of a tea and coffee planter. The family returned to their native Holland when Anthony was still young, and he received his elementary and high school education in Haarlem.

Although he wasn't a good student in school, Fokker did display a talent for designing and building, and in 1910 his parents allowed him to go to Germany to study automobile design and manufacture. He ended up enrolling in a practical aeronautics course, however, and it was as a part of this course that he helped build his first airplane. But when the instructor wrecked this plane, the school dropped the course. Undaunted, Fokker helped build two more monoplanes, in one of which he made his first flight and earned a German pilot license.

Fokker's first aircraft, Spin I, was able only to manage 100 yard flights.  Its successor, Spin II, was similarly unsuccessful the following year. It was Spin III that proved a success, when he took it home to Holland and made a triumphal flight honoring Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday. In 1912 he moved to Johannisthal, Germany (near Berlin), where his father financed the formation of a company to manufacture airplanes. In order to interest German Army officials, he built a scout plane and towed it to a nearby military base, where he assembled it and was airborne in minutes. German Army officials were so impressed, they ordered two of the planes.

When World War I broke out Fokker offered to make airplanes for Allied and Central Powers nations alike, but Germany was the only country to show interest. The Germans quickly swamped Fokker with orders for his unarmed observation and scout planes, and the profits from these allowed him to become sole owner of his airplane company. When pilots began mounting machine guns to their planes, Fokker was charged with devising a way to allow them to shoot "through" the propellor. In 1915 he perfected a mechanism to synchronize a machine gun’s firing with propeller rotation so its bullets would never strike the blades. In 1916, Fokker introduced his biplane fighter equipped with synchronized machine-guns. Meanwhile, when he refused to give up his Dutch citizenship, the German government declared Fokker a naturalized German and would not allow him to leave the country. Fokker’s triplane, introduced into combat in 1917, was used by Baron von Richtofen, the infamous “Red Baron”, to help score 80 victories. In a competition for a better fighter, Fokker’s D-7 was unanimously selected and it became one of the most manuverable fighters of the war. Another was his revolutionary D-8 monoplane, which the British called the “Flying Razor.” When Germany surrendered, the armistice required liquidation of Fokker’s factories. To prevent this, he smuggled hundreds of planes and engines into Holland, where he re-established his factory at Veere.

In Holland, Fokker developed the F-2 airliner, which was used by the Royal Dutch airline (KLM) to inaugurate air routes throughout Europe. Despite the F-2's success, Fokker knew that the future of the aircraft industry was in the United States, so in 1925 he established the Atlantic Aircraft Corp. in New Jersey. His first U.S.-produced plane was the Fokker F. VIII trimotor, which soon became the world’s standard for comfort and safety. Commander Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett made the F. VIII famous when they made the first flight over the North Pole in the Josephine Ford. The F. VIII was also the plane flown by Amelia Earhart when she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic. In 1928, Fokker opened a second factory near Wheeling, West Virginia, and its expanded line of aircraft included the popular Universal and the Super-Trimotor, which Western Air Express used to establish a model airline between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In 1929, General Motors acquired control of Fokker Aircraft Corporation and Fokker was named technical director as the F-11 amphibian and the F-14 transports were introduced, followed by the 4-engined F-32, America’s largest transport. During the Depression, Fokker returned to Holland to focus more on his Dutch possessions. While in the U.S., in 1939 he had some minor surgery done in a New York hospital. The surgery’s side effects caused an infection, from which he died on December 23, 1939.

Encyclopędia Britannica
First World War
National Aviation Hall of Fame
New Netherland Institute

World War I
Baron von Richtofen
Richard Byrd
Floyd Bennett
Amelia Earhart

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This page was last updated on 12/22/2017.