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Fokker F.VII/VIIb-3m


Flying to Batavia was in those days not a normal flight. It was full of danger, flights could be done only during daylight operation due to the absence of any navigation means. The only thing they did was flying along railroads, rivers, looking for churches, villages, cities, coastlines and so on. When the first commercial airplane; the Fokker F.II was delivered to Albert Plesmans's KLM it was for those days a Wonder of Techniques. In the first days flights within Europe where done but finally the decision was taking to start a regular line to the Indies, Batavia. With a distance of 14.000 kilometers over inhospitable areas it was dangerous and the pilots where more then adventurers and not well skilled trained pilots like in those days. With these things in mind the Comité Vliegtocht Nederlands Indië was founded in 1923.

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The first Fokker F.II, which was delivered by Anthony Fokker in 1924 had an average speed of 125 km/hour. Pilots Van de Hoop and Van Weerden Poelman where chosen to make this monster trip to Batavia. It was planned to do this in 22 days. On October 1st 1924 they departed from Amsterdam-Schiphol but soon they had already problems with the heating of the engine due to a broken heat exchanger. Unfortunately during the landing also the right hand landing gear broke. They stayed here for a little longer then a month before the engine was replaced and the landing gear strut repaired. On November 24th they finally reached there destination , the Tjilitan airport in Batavia. This was by the way not a passenger flight, it was just a test flight without passengers and only some mail for the Indies.

In the year 1927 the millionaire Van Lear Black heard of the KLM plans to fly from Amsterdam to Batavia. He told the airline that he would like to make the trip. As money was no problem to Van Lear Black, F.VIIa H-NADP was specially converted for the flight. Extra tanks for fuel and oil were installed and the cabin was brought up to a standard befitting a millionaire. All this was done in only 16 days. On 15 June 1927, H-NADP took-off from Schiphol for a successful hut not uneventful flight, in addition to some technical problems, there were monsoon rains, sandstorms and during the final part of the return journey, a particularly heavy thunderstorm. KLM however was very proud about this first intercontinental charter flight which was also the first out-and-return flight between Holland and the Netherlands East Indies.

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In January 1926, Koppen had visited Fokker to discuss his plan for a fast mail flight to the Netherlands East Indies. At that point in time, Koppen had neither an aircraft nor the necessary funding for the trip. However, one year later Fokker had made an F.VIIa-3m available at no cost, and funding was provided by the Comité Vliegtocht Nederland-Indië. KLM's boss, Albert Plesman also sympathized with Koppen's idea as he felt it was about time for a regular service to the Netherlands East Indies. It was already three years since the pioneering first flight of H-NACC. Koppen departed from Schiphol on 1 October 1927 with KLM pilot G. Frijns as copilot and S. Elleman of Fokker as flight engineer. Ten days later the 'Postduif' arrived in Batavia. The return trip to Schiphol took 12 days. Twenty two days for the out and return flight was not especially fast, but it provided a wealth of experience. The pilots collected information about the route and the available ground facilities, and Elleman had an excellent opportunity to check the behaviour of the aircraft and its engines under widely differing climatic conditions.

Two Fokker airplanes, that were most famous in Dutch Aviation were the "Pelikaan" and the "Snip". Both airplanes played a roll in historical flights and made the Dutch enthousiastic for aviation and KLM. The Pelican ( "Pelikaan") completed a fast christmas post flight to the Dutch East Indies in 1933, and a year later (1934) the Snip made the first KLM-flight to tje Dutch West-Indies over the southern part of the Atlantic Ocean. Both these airplanes were of the type Fokker XVIII. The KLM had only just received their last F. XII, when Fokker already delivered the first F. XVIII. In fact, KLM in that time intensively looked for possibilities to increase the quality of the service on her pioneer route to Indie.

In 1934 the Fokker era slowly breaks down. With the decision of Plesman to make the Douglas DC2 for the London-Melbourne race instead of the F.XX a fight between Fokker and KLM started with the result that more and more Douglas airplanes joined the fleet. In 1936 the Dc2 was more or less replaced by the flying legend, the Dakota DC3.

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First flight

On 11 April 1924, the F.VII, still without registration letters, made its first flight from Schiphol with the Fokker test pilot Herman Hess at the steering wheel. That was the start of a series of test flights performed at high tempo. KLM test pilot A. N. J. Thomassen à Thuessink van der Hoop (more commonly known as van der Hoop) joined the flights on a number of occasions preparatory to the flight he wanted to make to the Indies with the new Fokker aircraft which had meanwhile been chosen for this pioneering venture.

The Indies flight was to be made by van der Hoop together with Lieutenant H van Weerden Poelman of the Army Aviation Department , and KLM flight engineer P. A. van den Broeke.

After the introduction of a number of technical changes such as the fitting of a different stabilizer, the machine was handed over to KLM on 17 June and given the registration H-NACC. KLM started to build up experience with the F.VII on the airline's busy routes. On 1 September 1924, the aircraft was officially sold to the Netherlands-Indies Flying Expedition Committee. The name Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij (Royal Dutch Airlines) stayed on the aircraft in full, together with the KLM logo. For the Indies flight, H-NACC had to be drastically modified, and Fokker therefore started to work on the aircraft again with a will. The capacity of the fuel tank was enlarged from 66 to 224 gallons and because of the warm climate that the F.VII would be experiencing, a supplementary radiator was fitted under the engine. On top of the engine, an extra cooling water tank was installed and all bur two of the cabin windows were covered with fabric. As there were no passengers, the seats were removed - and to prevent the aircraft sinking in soft landing fields, larger wheels were fitted. A result of these numerous changes was that the machine was much lighter.

This was necessary to enable sufficient fuel to be loaded plus a selection of spare parts including a propeller, cylinders, pistons and magnets. In spite of all these precautions, much remained for improvisation en route. For example, navigation when flying over countries and areas that were hardly mapped. Here van der Hoop had to use survey maps which were far from complete and were to different scales. The map of Thailand even had the place-names printed in local characters.

The Amsterdam-Batavia flight.
On 1 October 1924, H-NACC was waved-off at the start of its historic flight from Schiphol. Two days later the flight was interrupted by an engine failure. The reserve radiator sprang a leak, allowing the cooling water to escape. Following this, there was an unfortunate emergency landing near the Bulgarian town of Philippopel. The undercarriage was crippled and the wing slightly damaged, all of which could luckily be repaired on the spot. More dramatic was the state of the engine which was so bad that a new power unit was needed - but the budget made no allowance for this.

The Dutch magazine 'Het leven' ('The Life'), a rather saucy magazine for those days - it even showed pictures of women in bathing costumes - came to the rescue. Via a collection raised by its readers, the magazine provided the money for a new power unit. The engine was installed on the spot under primitive conditions, enabling the flight to be resumed on 2 November after a month's delay. The courageous crew were saved from any further incidents, and on 24 November H-NACC arrived in Batavia where the crew were given an enthusiastic welcome. After a thorough inspection in Bandoeng, H-NACC made a number of flights over the Indies. After this, Rotterdamse Lloyd brought the by now famous F.VII back to Holland free of charge onboard the steamer 'Kertosono'.

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Those who thought that after this successful flight by H-NACC, there would be a regular service to the Indies, were wrong. To outsiders, the F.VII no doubt appeared very modern, but those more intimately concerned with the aircraft knew only too well that there was still much to be done. Air travel was really still in its infancy and much had yet to be created, designed and tested before a reliable air service over such long distances would be possible.