Innovator/IndustrialistEnshrined 1980 1890-1939
During World War I, Fokker perfected a mechanism to synchronize a machine gun’s fire with the propeller rotation so that bullets do not strike the blades. He mounted the gun on one of his Scout planes and demonstrated the armed aircraft to skeptical German officers. Although he was a neutral citizen, the Germans put him in uniform, and ordered him to the front to prove that his invention would shoot down enemy aircraft. Fokker went but refused to take the lives of the two helpless French observers that he encountered in the air. “Let the Germans do their own killing,” vowed the Dutch inventor.
- In 1910 he built his open monoplane and earned his pilot certificate.
- In 1912, he established Fokker Aeroplane in Germany and trained pilots, as well as building planes for individuals and the German army.
- During World War I, Fokker perfected a synchronized machine gun firing between propeller blades.
- He designed monoplanes, biplanes and triplanes during the First World War. After the war, he formed an airplane company in Holland and his first airliner was used on KLM’s route to England in 1920.
- His T-2 monoplane made the first nonstop flight across the U.S.
- He formed the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation in the U.S. and introduced the Fokker Trimotor, which made the first flight over the North Pole.
- His Trimotors set numerous air records and helped develop U.S. airlines.
Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker’s interest in aviation began at the age of 16 when he witnessed his first airplane flight. Another inspiration for him was the news of Wilbur Wright’s flights in France. In 1910, Fokker enrolled in a school in Germany that offered a course in practical aeronautics. There he helped build an airplane. But when the instructor wrecked this plane, the school dropped the course. Undaunted, Fokker helped build two more monoplanes in which he made his first flight and earned a German pilot license.
When Fokker completed his third plane, he took it home to Holland and made a triumphal flight honoring Queen Wilhelmina’s birthday. It was the greatest moment in his life, for which his father proudly presented him his own gold watch. In 1912, after moving to Johannisthal, a mecca of aviation near Berlin, his father financed his formation 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.
One of Fokker’s most terrifying experiences in the air took place when a wing began to crumple. Miraculously, he nursed the plane down to 30 feet before it crashed, killing a passenger. Fortunately, Tony escaped serious injury. In an attempt to interest his own country in his aircraft, Fokker demonstrated one at the Hague. But the Dutch bought French planes. He was equally unsuccessful with the Russians, Italians and English.
Fortunately, after opening a flying school, he received a three-year contract to train German Army pilots, and also won a German Army competition with his truck-transportable scout plane. Fokker electrified all of Germany by making the first loop in that country and this achievment caused newspapers to give him glowing accounts of his loop-the-loop exhibitions.
After moving his factory to Schwerin, Germany, Fokker was taken completely by surprise by the eruption of World War I. Having already offered his planes to other European countries without success, he decided to stay in Germany when Holland declared itself a neutral nation. The Germans quickly swamped Fokker with orders for his unarmed observation and scout planes. With the profits from these, he payed all of his debts and became sole owner of his airplane company. During the first year of the war, airmen begin dueling in the sky. In 1915 French pilot Garros added a machine-gun firing forward through the arc of his plane’s propeller to wreak havoc among German airmen and become an ace. Fortunately for the Germans, his plane was finally downed and his secret of adding metal plates to deflect bullets striking the propeller blades was out. Immediately, Fokker was ordered to adapt the bullet deflector idea to his planes. Instead, he perfected a mechanism to synchronize a machine gun’s firing with propeller rotation so its bullets would never strike the blades, mounting the gun on one of his scout planes. But when he demonstrated his armed plane to German officers, they were doubtful. Though he was a neutral citizen, they put Fokker in uniform and ordered him to the front to prove it by shooting down an enemy plane. When Fokker refused, Max Immelmann scored the first victory in Fokker’s armed plane in August 1915. This was a historic event, because Fokker had revolutionized all previous concepts of war. Realizing their tremendous advantage, the Germans put scores of Fokker’s armed monoplanes into the air. They had a devastating effect, for there was no defense against them. Not until April 1916 did one fall into French hands and his secret was out.
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 one of the most formidable fighters yet created, and it was used by Richtofen, the infamous “Red Baron”, to help score 80 victories and turn the tide against racy British Sopwith Camels and deadly French Spads. Then in a competition for a better fighter, Fokker’s D-7 was unanimously selected and rushed into production. It was one of the most maneuverable fighters of the war. Another was his revolutionary D-8 monoplane. It was so good the British called it the “Flying Razor”. When Germany finally 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.
Foreseeing the need for a postwar airliner, Fokker developed the F-2, which he smuggled out of Germany. It was used by KLM, the Royal Dutch airline, to inaugurate air routes throughout Europe. Billy Mitchell was the one who ordered advanced Fokkers to be equipped with American engines for his Army air service. Among them was the famous T-2, used by Lieutenants Macready and Kelly in 1923 to make the first non-stop transcontinental flight.
After Fokker came to the United States in 1924 and established Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, he created the famous Fokker trimotor for the 1925 Ford Reliability Tour. It was a sensation and soon became the world’s standard for comfort and safety. Commander Byrd and Floyd Bennett brought Fokker’s trimotor lasting fame when they made the first flight over the North Pole in the Josephine Ford. After the Fokker Aircraft Corporation was established in 1925, the air service purchased several of its transports. One, The Bird of Paradise, was used by Lieutenants Hegenberger and Maitland to make the first flight from California to Hawaii.
Almost simultaneously, Commander Byrd and his crew flew their Fokker trimotor America from New York to Paris, only to be turned back by fog and forced to ditch in the water on the French coast. Juan Terry Trippe recognized the commercial potential of the Fokker trimotor and bought several for his newly-created Pan American Airways that soon encircled South America.
Meanwhile, Fokker trimotors were setting records. Among them was the Southern Cross used by Kingsford-Smith to fly from California to Australia; the Friendship in which Amelia Earhart became the first woman passenger to cross the Atlantic; and the Question Mark used by Carl “Tooey” Spaatz, Ira Eaker and others to set a world’s endurance record. 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.
Anthony Herman Gerard Fokker’s untimely passing at the young age of 49 on December 23rd, 1939, brought to a close the career of this aeronautical genius. As the “Flying Dutchman”, he was arguably the most skilled of pilot of his time, as well as a gifted aircraft designer and astute business entrepreneur.
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