Anthony Fokker

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Anthony Fokker
Anthony Fokker 1912.jpg
Anthony Fokker in 1912
Born Anton Herman Gerard Fokker
6 April 1890 (1890-04-06)
Kediri, East Java, Netherlands Indies (now Indonesia)
Died 23 December 1939 (1939-12-24) (aged 49)
Murray Hill Hospital, New York City, United States
Cause of death
pneumococcal meningitis
Nationality Dutch, US
Occupation aircraft manufacturer
Spouse(s)

Sophie Marie Elisabeth von Morgen (1919–1923),

Violet Austman (1927–1929) (her death)

Anton Herman Gerard "Anthony" Fokker (6 April 1890 – 23 December 1939) was a Dutch aviation pioneer and an aircraft manufacturer. He is most famous for the fighter aircraft he produced in Germany during the First World War such as the Eindecker monoplanes, the Dr.1 triplane and the D,VII biplane. After the collapse of Germany, Fokker moved his business to the Netherlands where his company was responsible for a variety of successful aircraft including the Fokker trimotor, a successful passenger aircraft of the inter-war years. He died in North America in 1939. Later authors suggest he was personally charismatic but controversial or unscrupulous in business.

Early life[edit]

Anthony (Tony) Fokker was born in Kediri[1] (then Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia), to Herman Fokker, a Dutch coffee plantation owner.[2] When Fokker was four the family returned to the Netherlands and settled in Haarlem in order to provide Fokker and his older sister, Toos, with a Dutch upbringing.
Fokker was not a studious boy and did not complete his high school education but he showed an early interest in mechanics, and preferred making things, playing with model trains and steam engines and experimenting with model aeroplane designs. He devoted considerable effort to the development of a wheel that would not suffer from punctures, basically a wheel with a perimeter formed by a series of metal plates. This idea had been experimented with elsewhere and was already patented.

Anthony Fokker moves to Germany[edit]

Fokker in de Spin

Fokker's first interest in flight stemmed from Wilbur Wright's exhibition flights in France in the summer and fall of 1908. In 1910, aged 20, Fokker was sent by his father to Germany to receive training as an automobile mechanic at Bingen Technical school, but his interest was in flying, so he transferred to the Erste deutsche Automobil-Fachschule in Mainz.[3] That same year Fokker built his first aircraft "de Spin" ("the Spider"), which was destroyed by his business partner who flew it into a tree. He gained his pilot license in his second "Spin" aircraft. In his own country, he became a celebrity by flying around the tower of the Sint-Bavokerk in Haarlem on 31 August 1911, with the third version of the "Spin".[4] He also added to his fame by flying on this date as it was the birthday of Queen Wilhelmina.

In 1912, Fokker moved to Johannisthal near Berlin where he founded his first own company, Fokker Aeroplanbau. In the following years he constructed a variety of airplanes. He relocated his factory to Schwerin where it was renamed Fokker Flugzeugwerke GmbH, and later shortened to Fokker Werke GmbH.

Involvement in World War I[edit]

At the outbreak of World War I the German government took control of the factory. Fokker remained as director and alleged designer of many aircraft for the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte), including the Fokker Eindecker and the Fokker Dr.I, the triplane made famous in the hands of aces such as Manfred von Richthofen (the Red Baron). In all, his company delivered about 700 military planes to the German air force as well as supplying the German navy and Austria-Hungary.

Fokker himself was a skilled pilot, demonstrating his aircraft on many occasions.[5] On 13 June 1915, Fokker demonstrated the new Eindecker (monoplane) at Stenay in the German 5th Army Sector in front of the German Crown Prince and other VIPs. Fokker worked closely with an accomplished military pilot, Otto Parschau, to bring the Eindecker into military use and on this occasion both men demonstrated the aircraft. Max Immelmann, later to come become a high-scoring Flying Ace with the Eindecker, commented in a letter written shortly after this event on 25 June 1915 that:[5] "Fokker, especially, amazed us with his skill".

Author A.R. Weyl (Fokker: the creative years, Putnam 1965) says the while Fokker was a talented and bold pilot, his business character was more flawed. He failed to reinvest war profits back into his factory which consequentially struggled to meet fulfil war contracts as the factory floor was often muddled with prototype development and production taking place at the same time. Fokker distrusted qualified engineers (which he was not) and resented frequent German insistence on carrying out stringent structural tests to ensure prototype aircraft were fit for combat. He could be bad tempered and insensitive as when he verbally abused his dying designer Martin Kreuzer on the evening of 27 June 1916, after Kreuzer had crashed the prototype Fokker D.I. The rudder jammed but Kreuzer was able to give a verbal report on the accident before he died. "Fokker hurried to the scene and shouted reproaches at the mortally injured man". Weyl says this incident was witnessed by Reinhold Platz, who succeeded Kreuzer.

While Weyl's biography paints an unpleasant picture of Fokker as a businessman, he was a popular and charismatic figure with service pilots and could charm even senior officers. This charm enabled him to deal with the first major crisis of his German career when his newly delivered Fokker Dr.I triplanes began to experience sudden fatal accidents in late 1917 and the type was temporarily grounded as too dangerous to fly. The triplanes' top wings frequently ripped off under aerobatic conditions and even Lothar Von Richthofen (brother of Manfred) was lucky to survive one such crash. Fokker was able to prove to the German high command that the basic design was not at fault but the German military inquiry concluded that shoddy workmanship due to poor supervision and quality control at the Fokker factory were to blame. Fokker received a stern warning about future conduct. Unfortunately the same scenario repeated itself again, a few months later, with the introduction of his E.V/D.VIII monoplane in mid-1918. A further high level German inquiry revealed more production and workmanship issues. Weyl asserts that the German authorities were now willing to file criminal charges against Fokker and might have done so, had he not returned to Holland shortly after the end of WW1.

Weyl also discusses claims of Fokker's outright plagiarism or taking sole credit for the work of his staff, first designer Martin Kreuzer and later Reinhold Platz. For example, contemporary German documents for the E.V/D.VIII refer to Fokker as 'the designer' but Weyl and other authors now suggest that Platz was the real design genius behind the Dr.I, D.VII and D.VIII. There may be some truth in this as Platz recalled to Weyl that he attended high level meetings alongside Fokker but was never introduced or referred-to as the designer and often never even spoke. Yet when Fokker fled Germany it was Platz who immediately took over the German works on Fokker's behalf. Fokker later moved Platz to Holland, as head designer, when the post-war German operation collapsed which indicates Platz really did play a greater design role than Fokker admits. Weyl uncharitably suggests that Platz's role at the Fokker D.VIII crisis meetings was to take the blame if anything was wrong and not receive credit. How much of this interpretation is based on the fact that Platz was still alive to tell his side of the story in 1965, and Fokker was not, is unclear.

Another book by Henri Hegener (who knew both Fokker and Platz personally) depicts a rather different story, saying that Platz, while a skilled craftsman (and excellent welder), had received no formal technical training, and that his contributions to the Fokker designs are exaggerated, although Hegener grants that Platz was a good "rule of thumb" designer. Hegener also contradicts the claims that Platz was treated badly by Fokker, at least not financially because Platz's year-end bonuses often exceeded his yearly salary.[6]

The interrupter gear[edit]

Fokker is often credited with having invented the synchronisation device[7] which enabled World War I aircraft to fire through the spinning propeller. His role was certainly significant but there were a number of prior developments before the result was achieved for which Fokker is commonly credited.

The famous French pilot, Roland Garros, was shot down on 18 April 1915. His aircraft had been fitted with a deflector device, whereby metal deflector wedges were fitted to the airscrew. Garros was able to set fire to the airframe before being taken prisoner but the aircraft's gun and the armoured propeller remained intact and came into German hands.[5]

This initiated a phase of consideration of the interrupter gear concept in the Imperial German Army Air Service (Luftstreitkräfte). Fokker was heavily involved in this process but the story of his conception, development and installation of a synchronisation device in a period of 48 hours (first found in an authorised biography of Fokker written in 1929) has been shown to be not factual. The available evidence points to a synchronisation device having been in development with Fokker's company for perhaps six months prior to the capture of Garros' machine.[5] Additionally there were patents filed in France, Germany and Austria-Hungary as far back as 1910 which show a very similar device to that pioneered by Fokker. Author A. J. Weyl suggests that Fokker – or more probably someone on his production team – were aware of these patents. One patentee, Franz Schneider and his employer LVG, later sued Fokker in the German courts and won their case; but Fokker (by now in America) refused to pay up.

However the final result of the development was Fokker's pushrod control mechanism, Gestängesteuerung, which allowed the aircraft's forward-firing machine gun to fire only when the propeller was out of the line of fire. As incorporated into the famous Fokker Eindecker, its use directly led to a phase of German air superiority known as the Fokker Scourge.[7] Despite its shock effect on the enemy, the first Fokker interrupters remained unreliable and were prone to failures. Both Oswald Boelcke and Max Immelmann survived failures which resulted in propellers being shot off and even engines pulled out of their mountings due to the engine becoming unbalanced by the loss of the propeller. Immelmann's eventual death in combat has also been attributed to interrupter gear failure as the aircraft was seen to break up in mid-air while engaged against a Royal Flying Corps F.E.2b.

Other works on aircraft armament[edit]

Fokker and his armament team, including Lübbe and Leimberger also worked on lesser known projects, including a multi-barrelled machine gun, known as the Fokker-Leimberger.[8] Although superficially similar to a Gatling, the action of the Fokker-Leimberger was substantially different. Problems with the gun, especially with ruptured cases, prevented its adoption into production during the war.[9] After moving to the US, Fokker continued to work on the design, but he was ultimately unsuccessful—properly sealing the rotary split-breech was apparently very difficult. A single surviving prototype is known today at the Kentucky Military Treasures.[10][11]

Return to the Netherlands[edit]

Fokker in the Netherlands in 1934

After the war's end, the terms of the Treaty of Versailles forbade Germany to build any aircraft or aircraft engines. The treaty singled out the Fokker D.VII for destruction or confiscation, the only aircraft to be named in the treaty. In 1919 Fokker returned to the Netherlands and started a new aircraft company, the Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek (Dutch Aircraft Factory), predecessor to the Fokker Aircraft Company. Despite the strict disarmament conditions in the Treaty, Fokker did not return home empty-handed: he managed to smuggle six goods train's worth of D.VII and C.I military planes and spare parts out of Germany across the German-Dutch border. Author Weyl says that Fokker used 350 railway wagons and made sure that each train was too long to fit into the railway sidings where trains were normally checked for contraband. Weyl quotes Fokker himself as saying that he paid 20,000 Dutch guilders in bribes. The trains included 220 aeroplanes, more than 400 aero engines and much other material. This initial stock enabled him to quickly set up shop, but his focus shifted from military to civil aircraft such as the very successful Fokker F.VII trimotor. Fokker's admitted bribery and the fact that many of the aircraft had actually been already bought and paid-for by the Germans have contributed to his reputation for sharp business practices. Weyl also points out that – in addition to possible criminal charges for the Fokker D.VIII fatal crashes – Fokker also failed to pay taxes to German authorities and actually owed more than 14 million marks.

Personal life[edit]

On 25 March 1919, Fokker married Sophie Marie Elisabeth von Morgen in Haarlem. This marriage ended in divorce in 1923. In 1927, he married Canadian Violet Eastman in New York City. On 8 February 1929, she died in a fall from their hotel suite window. The original police report said her death was a suicide, but this was later changed to 'vertigo victim' at the request of her husband's staff. On the subject of his marriages, Fokker wrote, "I have always understood airplanes much better than women. I had more love affairs in my life, and they ended just like the first one, really, because I thought there was nothing that could be more important than my airplanes... I have now learned, by bitter experience, that one must give a little too; in love one has to use one's brain just as much as in business, and perhaps even more".[12]

Move to the US and death[edit]

Fokker's grave in Driehuis

In 1922, Fokker moved to the United States and later became a US citizen. Here he established the North American branch of his company, the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation.

He was the maker of the Fokker F-VII airplane Josephine Ford (named after the grand daughter of automobile magnate Henry Ford), which Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Byrd and Machinist Floyd Bennett flew over or near the North Pole on 9 May 1926.

In 1931, Fokker sold his American aircraft plants to General Motors, whereupon they became the company's General Aviation division.

Fokker died at age 49 in New York in 1939 from pneumococcal meningitis, after a three-week-long illness.[13] In 1940, his ashes were brought to Westerveld Cemetery in Driehuis, North Holland, where they were buried in the family grave.

Popular culture[edit]

Fokker's nickname was The Flying Dutchman.[14] In popular media, Hurd Hatfield portrayed him in the 1971 film Von Richthofen and Brown and the character Roy Fokker from the animated series Macross was named in honor of Anthony Fokker. Fokker is portrayed by Craig Kelly in the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles: Attack of the Hawkmen.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Santosa, Eddi. "Laporan dari Den Haag: Fokker, dari Kediri Lalu Mendunia (Report from The Hague: Fokker, from Kediri Went Worldwide) Indonesian." detiknews.com, 28 February 2007. Retrieved: 8 October 2009.
  2. ^ Some sources say that he was born in Kediri. At that time, Blitar was a part of the 'Kediri Residency', a colonial administrative division the capital of which was in Kediri.
  3. ^ van Weezepoel, Paul. "Anthony Fokker Biography." dutch-aviation.nl. Retrieved: 15 August 2010.
  4. ^ "Anthony Fokker". The National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved 23 August 2013. 
  5. ^ a b c d van Wyngarden, G. Early German Aces of World War 1. Oxford, UK: Osprey Publishing, 2006. ISBN 1-84176-997-5.
  6. ^ Henri Hegener; Bruce Robertson (editor) (1961). Fokker-the Man and the Aircraft. Letchworth (UK) / Aero Publishers (US). p. 4. 
  7. ^ a b Guttman, Robert (2012). "Fokker’s Fabulous Flying Coffin". Aviation History 22 (5): 42. 
  8. ^ "Motor Guns-A flashback to 1914–18", Flight, 8 March 1957, pp. 313–314
  9. ^ Anthony G Williams (8 November 2005), SPLIT BREECH GUNS: THE NUTCRACKER AND THE 40MM MK 18. quarry.nildram.co.uk
  10. ^ "Fokker Split Breech Rotary Machine Gun, ca. 1930". lrc.ky.gov / Kentucky Historical Society. ""This test model of a rotary machine gun built for Dutch designer Anthony Fokker proved unsuccessful because of its inability to seal breech cylinders. Although an incomplete specimen, it is the only known extant example of the Fokker Split Breech Rotary Machine Gun. [...] Due to the unsatisfactory test results of this prototype, the project was abandoned. Other prototypes were destroyed. Donated by Val Forgett, 1977.08.01" 
  11. ^ Gun, Machine. Kentucky Historical Society
  12. ^ Henri Hegener; Bruce Robertson (editor) (1961). Fokker-the Man and the Aircraft. Letchworth (UK) / Aero Publishers (US). p. 111. 
  13. ^ "A.H.G. Fokker Dies. Airplane Designer. Pioneer Manufacturer Victim of Rare Disease After 'a Most Gallant Fight'. Made World War Craft. Synchronized Propeller With Machine Gun to Permit Firing Between Blades". New York Times. 24 December 1939. Retrieved 1 October 2012. "Anthony H.G. Fokker, pioneer airplane designer, manufacturer and promoter, died yesterday morning at Murray Hill Hospital, where he had been ill of pneumococcous meningitis for the last three weeks. He was 49 years old. A pioneer in aviation, who took up flying in 1911, he first attracted attention .... Holding FAI license No. 88, issued May 16, 1911, he continued to fly ..." 
  14. ^ Fokker, Anthony and Bruce Gould. Flying Dutchman: The Life of Anthony Fokker. London: George Routledge, 1931.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Boyne, Walter J. The Smithsonian Book of Flight for Young People. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1988. ISBN 0-689-31422-1.
  • Dierikx, Marc. Fokker: A Transatlantic Biography. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997. ISBN 1-56098-735-9.
  • Fokker, Anthony and Bruce Gould. Flying Dutchman: The Life of Anthony Fokker. London: George Routledge, 1931.
  • Hegener, Henri; Bruce Robinson (ed.) Fokker – The Man and the Aircraft. Lethchworth: Harleyford, 1961.
  • Molson, K.M. Pioneering in Canadian Air Transport. Winnipeg: James Richardson & Sons, Ltd., 1974. ISBN 0-919212-39-5.
  • Nevin, David. The Pathfinders (The Epic of Flight Series). Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1980. ISBN 0-8094-3256-0.
  • Postma, Thijs. Fokker: Aircraft Builders to the World. London: Jane's, 1979. ISBN 0-7106-0059-3.
  • Weyl, A.R. Fokker: The Creative Years. London, Putnam publications, 1965

External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
George Bernard Shaw
Cover of Time Magazine
31 December 1923
Succeeded by
William G. McAdoo