In 1910, through native intelligence, curiosity, ambition and inventiveness, and not through a classic technical education Anthony Fokker, the aircraft pioneer, designed and built his first aircraft, which was then considered to be the fastest, most stable aircraft in the world. Through the next fifteen years, from 1910 to 1935, aircraft designed and built by Fokker and his associated companies dominated the world of flying, exploration, record setting and air travel throughout the world. Fokker’s biggest success was the Fokker tri-motor passenger aircraft which dominated the European market until the arrival of the all metal aircraft brought out in the mid thirties by such American manufacturers as Douglas and Lockheed.
Anthony Fokker was born in Kediri, Java, The Dutch East Indies, in what is now Indonesia on April 6, 1890. His father was a tea and coffee planter. When Anthony was a boy the Fokker family returned to their native Holland and settled in Haarlem where Anthony received his elementary and high school education. As a teenager Anthony already had developed into a clever designer and builder. His parents allowed him to go to Germany to study automobile design and manufacture. While in Germany, Anthony became fascinated with flying machines which then had only been recently developed. The Kitty Hawk flights were very recent history. Also the aircraft of those days were simple but ingenious contraptions. A young inventive person such as Anthony obviously could relate to them.
By the time he was 20 years old, while still in Germany, Anthony designed, developed and built his first aircraft, and then taught himself how to fly it. Again keep in mind at that time, 1910, the aircraft industry had not even been started. It was still very much in the experimentation phase. In 1911, with family money he was able to go into the aircraft building business. His first commercial design was named “Die Spinne”, in Dutch “De Spin” and in English “The Spider”. The plane immediately won him recognition, not only in Germany, but throughout the international technical world.
By the start of the First World War, Fokker’s aircraft were in immediate demand and quickly the German Air Corps became his biggest customer. The German government forced the big Junkers industrial firm to work with Fokker on the building of the Fokker designs. The success of the German Air Corps in the First World War forced attention by all governments to the importance of aircraft as part of the defense of their countries.
Following the war, Fokker was able to move out of Germany, which now no longer was that promising economically or industrially. He was able to move much of his aircraft making equipment and inventory out of Germany to Holland. There he established an aircraft factory. However, he 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 U.S. with the intent to start building aircraft there. He founded the Atlantic Aircraft company which later became General Aviation Corporation. He also became an American citizen.
It was during this time that he developed his now famous Fokker tri-motor aircraft which became the workhorse of the rapidly developing air travel industry. These rugged planes were also used extensively by the explorers of that age. It was a U.S. 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, Fokker returned to Holland to focus more on his Dutch possessions. He traveled back and forth between the U.S. and Europe and became one of the first global industrialists. 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. He was only 49 years old at that time. The man who had been the pioneer in the aircraft building industry, the man who was the founder of air transport as we know it today, died of a minor infection, at a time when the age of antibiotics was still at an early stage.
Fokker’s planes made history on many occasions. The early examples center around the famous German Air Corps ace, Manfred Von Richthofen, known as the Red Baron. He was the feared German Air Corps pilot who downed many aircraft from the Western Allies. What is not always known is that the Red Baron was able to accomplish what he did because of the aircraft designed and built by Fokker.
Other famous exploits made with Fokker-built aircraft are by the following three flight pioneers. All three used the same aircraft, the Fokker F.VII, which says a lot for its reliability at that time. Richard E. Byrd made his first trans-Atlantic flight from New York City to Paris in1927. Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic in 1928. And Charles Kingsforth-Smith completed his first trans-Pacific flight, also in 1928. All three successful flights were made in the same Fokker model aircraft.
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