Good-bye Fokker…

The demise of Fokker at KLM and KNILM

During the late 1920’s and the early 1930’s Fokker aircraft dominated the commercial aviation world. Both KLM and KNILM were “Fokker-Only” operators. But by 1934 Fokker aircraft had been swept from the skies.

Why?

F10A

A Western Air Express Fokker F.10A in California ca. 1930

The answer lies in the tragic crash of TWA flight 599 on March 31, 1931. One hour after its departure from Kansas City, Missouri, and en-route for Wichita, Kansas, a TWA Fokker F. 10 Tri-motor came tumbling from the skies. It crashed into a field near Bazaar, Kansas, killing two crew and six passengers. Part of the Fokker F.10’s wing was found a mile distant from the crash, an indication it had broken up in flight. It was later established that moisture had leaked into the wing over a period of time and had weakened the bonded and laminated wood structure until the main spar finally snapped…

Fokker’s chief designer Reinhard Platz had warned repeatedly that it was time to move away from wooden aircraft construction. But Tony Fokker was unwilling (or unable) to invest in new production technologies and clung to his concept of a laminated wooden wing and a fabric covered fuselage constructed of welded tubes. A concept dating back to the formidable Fokker D.VII fighter of WW I…

knute-rockne

Notre-Dame University Football Coach Knute Rockne

One of the passengers killed was the famous Notre-Dame university football coach Knut Rockne. In thirteen seasons his teams won 105 games, tying five and losing only twelve. Rockne was a phenomenal motivator and he became more than a football coach; he was an American icon.

The “Rockne Crash” caused a national outrage in the USA.
The aviation industry, TWA and Fokker could have had no more adverse publicity had the victim been the president of the United States and the US government grounded all Fokker aircraft until the cause of the crash had been determined.
TWA was desperately casting about for a replacement of its Fokker fleet. They managed to lay their hands on some chunky Ford Tri-Motors but the public did not like them (they looked too much like Fokker’s). There was the Boeing Model 247 – the first “modern” airliner. But Boeing’s parent company also owned United Air Lines, and reserved the first year’s production for its own airline.

Frozen out, TWA’s president Jack Fry turned to upstart Donald Douglas and the result is history. On July 1, 1934, slightly more than 10 months after the contract was signed, the Douglas Commercial-1, or DC-1, first took flight. While Jack Fry didn’t get exactly what he ordered, he got a lot more than he probably dreamed of and as a result ordered 20 of the improved version, the DC2. The new airliner, even at its pre-production stage, had made the B-247 obsolete and (incidentally) saved TWA.

dc1-1

The first of the many – Douglas DC1 in TWA livery

The shockwaves of the Rockne crash reached KLM’s founder and managing director Albert Plesman as well. He had been dissatisfied with Fokker for years and decided to move away from Fokker products. He ordered the first DC2 for KLM in 1934 and sent it to compete in October 1934 “Melbourne Race” (see my earlier post).

DC2_AJU

The “Uiver” (Stork) KLM’s entrant in the “Melbourne Race” seen at Mildenhall in October 1934

The results of a standard, passenger carrying airliner against custom built racers were so spectacular that Plesman decided to equip his airline with Douglas products only. KLM’s Fokker equipment was quickly and quietly phased out. The same happened in the Netherlands East Indies where KNILM boss Versteegh decided to go for all-metal Douglas and Lockheed products.

Only in the late 1960’s would KLM buy Fokker equipment again, this time the workhorse F-27 and regional jetliner F-28….

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About Kingsleyr

Thank you for visiting my blog! The posts you find here are a direct result of my research into aviation and military history. I use the information I gather as a foundation and background for my books. You may call the genre historical fiction, a story woven into a background of solid and verifiable historical facts. However, the period and region I have chosen to write about (late 1930's - 1950's in South-East Asia) are jam-packed with interesting information and anecdotes. If I'd used them all I would swamp the stories. So this blog is the next best thing. It is an "overflow area" in which I can publish whatever I think will interest you. And from the reactions I get, I deduce I am on the right track. A lot will be about aviation in the former Dutch East Indies. This, because my series of books ("The Java Gold") follows a young Dutch pilot in his struggle to survive the Pacific War and its aftermath. But there's more in the world and you'll find descriptions of cities, naval operations and what not published on this blog. Something about myself; I am a Dutch-Canadian author, living in, and working out of the magical city of Amsterdam. My lifelong interest in history and aviation, especially WW2, has led me to write articles and books on these subjects. I hope you'll enjoy them!
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