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Fokker F.II

First comfortable passenger plane.
It doesn't often happen that a worker receives instructions from his boss to steal an aircraft from his own company. However, this was the unusual assignment given to Bernhard de Waal - friend of Fokker and an employee from the earliest days when he was sent to Schwerin in Spring 1920.

De Waal introduced himself and said he had been instructed to fly the prototype of the F.II to Holland. Because export of aircraft from Germany was forbidden at that time by the Allies, it had to appear that it was being stolen. So while Platz departed for "business" in Berlin, three Fokker employees - Messrs Wichmann, Bolkow and Dungel - assisted with the departure of the F.II.

To make the whole event even more illegal, de Waal took the opportunity to smuggle out a German Gritzner sewing machine. This was at a time when sewing machines were very scarce in Holland. The take-off, made directly from the hangar, signalled the start of a bizarre flight.


Click on the picture to enlarge

Click on the picture to enlarge

On the way, engine failure twice forced de Waal to make emergency landings on German soil. On the first occasion he managed to restart the engine himself. The second time however was rather more exciting when two policemen came by to check up on things. In broken German, de Waal explained that he was Dutch and had become lost over German territory. Because the police were not normally faced with such situations, one of the officers departed to seek instructions from headquarters as to how to handle this problem. Not wanting to wait for his return, de Waal persuaded the remaining officer to swing the propeller for him. He convinced the worthy official that it was necessary for him to test run the engine. When to de Waal's relief the engine started, he took off immediately, leaving the dumbfounded officer stranded. This was not the end of de Waal's bad luck however. Landing near the Dutch Frisian town of Surhuisterveen, he broke his undercarriage. This time it was impossible to takeoff again, so he phoned Anthony Fokker who immediately jumped into his car and drove to Friesland.

First time.
Here, Fokker saw his F.II for the first time, unhappily not in the best of condition (see cross-section). The aircraft was dismantled and transported by train and boat to Amsterdam. The foregoing story was confirmed in 1973 by two eyewitnesses who were located after an appeal in a Dutch local newspaper by Mr C. Wydooge, an early employee of KLM. The eyewitnesses were able to say exactly in which field de Waal had made his final landing. They also remembered the sewing machine which de Waal had apparently intended for an old army friend in Surhuisterveen. But why did this extraordinary theft have to be undertaken in the first place? In October 1919 the Royal Airline Corporation of the Netherlands & Colonies - known today as KLM - was formed.

Under the inspiring leadership of its administrator, Albert Plesman, a former pilot with the Dutch military, the airline was to open the first regular air service between Amsterdam and London. Anthony Fokker saw in this company a potential customer for his first civil aircraft, the F.II. To catch Plesman's interest, he wanted to demonstrate the aircraft on the day of KLM's first regular flight. Not only would the founders of KLM be present at Schiphol with their business associates, but so would the Press. So the adventure of de Waal was well worthwhile. Demonstrating the F.II helped with an order for two aircraft which KLM placed two months later. And that was the start of a long and close co-operation between Fokker and the national Dutch airline.

KLM test.
It was not only the DVL which carefully inspected the F.II. A month later, following the demonstration to KLM at Schiphol, the aircraft was put through its paces at Soesterberg by the airline's pilot, W. G. R. Hinchliffe. He put his findings in a report in which he praised the performance achieved despite the aircraft's limited engine power. The F.II could take-off without payload in just 120 ft, and climb to 3,300 ft without effort.

Hinchliffe found the controls so light that it was like flying a scout. He ascribed the aircraft's good qualities to its monoplane wing and excellent lift characteristics. By contrast, virtual all other civil aircraft in those days were biplanes. Hinchliffe did however find some negative points. The engine was too small, resulting in a poor speed performance - and it overheated easily because of inadequate cooling. In addition, he thought that the cabin windows were too small, and felt it should be possible to open them. He found it unpleasant that because of incorrect aircraft streamlining, the pilot experienced a constant draft. Also, for such a light aircraft, Hinchliffe preferred a control stick to a steering wheel which was more appropriate to heavier machines.


Click on the picture to enlarge

Click on the picture to enlarge

Finally, Hinchliffe thought it better for the pilot to sit right inside the cockpit. This probably was a personal whim as he was blind in his left eye. In Hinchliffe's view, the advantages of the F.II more than outweighed its disavantages; there was scarcely a better aircraft in those days. And so on July 10, 1920, KLM officially ordered two F.IIs for an amount of 45,000 Dutch guilders. The machines were both handed over on August 25, 1920. On September 30 that year, Hinchliffe made KLM's first operational flight with the F.II to London airport Croydon. On board the aircraft were Albert Plesman, the aviation journalist of the moment Henri Hegener, and the Fokker mechanic S. Ellerman. Plesman was more than a little irritated that it had required five attempts before they succeeded in reaching London.