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Fokker: A Brief History

For the bulk of the 20th century, Fokker was a big name among European aircraft manufacturers. Overall, it produced commercial planes for more than eight decades, before eventually going bankrupt just before the turn of the century. Let’s examine the history of this Dutch manufacturer, whose best years came in the interwar period.

The Fokker 100 first flew just 10 years before the company’s demise. Photo: Bernal Saborio via Flickr

Initially based in Germany

The manufacturer takes its name from its founder, Anton Herman Gerard ‘Anthony’ Fokker, who built his first aircraft in 1910. Having spent most of his childhood in the Netherlands, Fokker was studying in neighboring Germany at the time. He stayed there to make use of the better opportunities present, founding Fokker Aeroplanbau in Berlin in 1912.

Later that year, he relocated to Schwerin in northern Germany, and renamed the company Fokker Aviatik GmbH. With the First World War starting just two years later, many of the company’s early aircraft had a military focus. One such aircraft was the Fokker M.5, which became the Fokker Eindecker after synchronization gear was developed.

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Fokker Dr.I Replica
A replica of the Red Baron’s Fokker Dr.I triplane. Photo: Oliver Thiele via Wikimedia Commons

This technology allowed the plane’s machine gun to fire automatically between its propeller blades, leading to a period of German aerial superiority. Fokker developed several biplane designs during the war, such as the D.V, D.VI, and D.VII. It also made the Dr.I triplane, flown, among others, by the ‘Red Baron,’ Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen.

The golden age

After the war, Fokker moved back to the Netherlands, taking his business with him to Amsterdam. Interestingly, he did so under a new name, Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek (Dutch Aircraft Factory), to distance himself from his involvement in the previous conflict.

In any case, the interwar period proved to be one of Fokker’s most prosperous times. Indeed, it had become the world’s largest aircraft manufacture by the end of the 1920s. This came about thanks to the success of the Fokker F.VII Trimotor, flown by a total of 54 carriers.

Fokker F.VII
The F.VII’s success helped Fokker to become the world’s largest aircraft manufacturer by the late 1920s. Photo: Walter Mittelholzer via Wikimedia Commons

Fokker moved to the US in 1923, where the F.VII eventually gained a significant share of the passenger-carrying market. By 1936, this was as high as 40%. He also took the opportunity to establish an American branch for his company there. He eventually died in New York in December 1939 aged just 49, having suffered from pneumococcal meningitis.

Post-war operations and bankruptcy

Following Fokker’s death and the Second World War, the company’s output reduced. Nonetheless, it remained operational for half a century after the conflict, producing several successful airliners. In 1946, it conceptualized a jetliner known as the F26 ‘Phantom,’ but it achieved a breakthrough the following decade with the F27 ‘Friendship.’

The F27 first flew in 1955, and Fokker produced 586 examples of the ‘Friendship’ between then and 1987. 1987 also saw the entry into service of the Fokker 50, which the company designed as a modernized version of the F27. It also produced a cargo variant known as the Fokker 60. All in all, it built 213 of these modernized turboprops between 1985 and 1997.

VLM Fokker 50
The Fokker 50 was a development of the F27 ‘Friendship.’ Photo: Jake Hardiman | Simple Flying

As far as jetliners are concerned, Fokker first entered this domain in 1967 with the F28 ‘Fellowship.’ This was a rear-engined, five-abreast regional jet with four variants, whose capacities ranged from 65 (-1000 and -3000 variants) to 85 passengers (-4000). It was developed into the company’s newer Fokker 70 and Fokker 100 in the 1980s and ’90s.

Fokker’s demise in the 1990s came about due to increased competition from Airbus and Boeing’s smaller aircraft. This saturated the market for the Fokker 70 and 100. As such, it was declared bankrupt in March 1996, following the withdrawal of funds from Germany’s Daimler-Benz, and a failed acquisition by Canada’s Bombardier Aviation.

Which Fokker aircraft have you flown on over the years? Do you have any particular favorites? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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