Next aircraft

Type of aircraft
The Netherlands
Date first flight
12 March 1925
number of passengers
Wingspan in metres
19.3 m
14.0 m
3.9 m
Empty weight
2150 kg
Takeoff weight
3600 kg
Max. speed
200 km/h
Cruise speed
170 km/h
Landing speed
75 km/h
Climb rate
4.0 m/s
4750 m
3xWright J-4 Whirlwind
195 hp each
Lufthansa, KLM, Pan American Airways, Western Air Express

Second return flight to Batavia


The first two out of three ordered F.VII.a's by the Dutch Army Air Force were delivered in March 1928.

The third machine however, which was the first of the three to be built, made a return flight to the Netherlands East Indies prior to being delivered to the L.V.A.. During this flight it carried the civil registration H-NAEA and was named 'Postduif' (Carrier Pigeon). Its pilot was Lieutenant G. Koppen.

The "Postduif" and his crew. Pilot Frijns, commander Koppen and flightengineer Elleman

The "Postduif"

Cabin of the "Postduif" with extra fuel and oiltanks. On the right an extra propeller is mounted

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.

Fokker F.VIIa-3m

This aircraft was the prototype of this series developed from the single-engined F.VII. The nickname Trimotor was introduced by the media in the USA. The first flight was made on September 4, 1925 from Schiphol airfield near Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and the aircraft was shipped to the USA on September 8

Cockpit of a F.VIIa-3m

The second H-NADP, which started life as a single-engined F.VIIa

In 1928, Fokker build a new F.VIIb-3M for the famous Van Lear Black, this was the G-AADZ, owned by a airlinecompany from mr Lear Black especially grounded for this purpose

This picture was taken on 27 September 1925, before the start of a succesful tour

Fokker F.VIIa-3M in the Ford Reliability Tour

Fokker F7a-3M America

The only F.VIIa-3m sold to England where it was fitted with an other wing

Fokker F.VIIa-3M USA

Fokker F.VIIa-3M Byrd expedition

Fokker F.VIIa-3M Byrd expedition


Pioneering in the States

In the United States of America in the early 'twenties, flying had the reputation of being a risky kind of fairground attraction.

This could be blamed on the barnstorming pilots, former military aviators, who toured the country alone or in small groups giving flying demonstrations.

In addition to more or less conventional aerobatics, they also performed such extravagancies as a man standing on the upper wing of a biplane in flight, or someone hanging from a trapeze suspended from the undercarriage. Some daredevils even stepped in midair from the wing of one aircraft onto the wing of another aircraft.

Unavoidably, accidents occurred and people were killed and this sort of show definitely did not contribute to the reputation of aircraft as a reliable means of transportation.

This was certainly one reason why America lagged behind Europe in the evolution of commercial aviation.

The pioneer car manufacturer Henry Ford decided to do something to change this. In his view, America was ready for commercial aviation.

He foresaw the development of airlines in America initially in the same way as in Europe but on a much larger scale.

This led to Ford together with his son Edsel announcing plans in July 1925 for what he called the Ford Reliability Tour.

This historic film is made in in april 1926 and shows Anthony Fokker demonstrating the three-engine Fokker F.VIIa-3m to (Military) officials

The Fokker F.VIIa 3m Postduif, completed a succesfull returnjourney to the Dutch East Indies, 1-18 october 1927

This was to be a contest for commercial airliners. The emphasis however was not on speed but on reliability. In this way, Ford hoped to restore the reputation of aviation in America.

This could take some time and Ford therefore proposed that the contest be an annual event.

Anthony Fokker was in the United States when the Tour was announced and he immediately sensed the great potential it offered for publicizing his aircraft. The traditional story is that when Fokker learned of the Tour, he had the brainwave of modifying his single-engined F.VIIa to a three-engined configuration to increase its reliability.

He cabled this idea to Platz who proceeded with what the boss had told him to do.

The true story is somewhat different. Platz and his staff had worked on a three-engined F.VII-like design prior to Fokker's departure for America. Confirmation of this is provided by a drawing dated 20 June 1925. In fact there is yet another drawing of a month earlier also showing a three-engined design designated the F.X.

So the idea for an airliner with three engines was definitely not the product of a sudden brainwave by Fokker when he was informed of the Tour.


Anthony Fokker, who of course knew quite well what was going on in his own design department, felt rather reluctant about three-engined aircraft.

He therefore cabled to Holland for the single-engined F.VIIa, which had made its maiden flight some months earlier, to be shipped to America for the Ford Reliability Tour. As explained in the previous chapter, a landing mishap prevented participation by the F.VIIa. Someone had to convince Fokker of the advantages of a trimotor. During his stay in America, Fokker had several long discussions with his most important employee in the 'States, Bob Noorduyn.

Robert Bernard Cornelis Noorduyn had been born in Nijmegen, Holland in 1883 and later lived in Rotterdam where he started the Rotterdam Model Aero Club. His father was Dutch, his mother English and he was bilingual at an early age which stood him in good stead later on. After an apprenticeship in Germany, he worked in England for Sopwith, Armstrong Whitworth and British Aerial Transport, the latter being managed at that time by another and well-known Dutchman, Frederik (Frits for his friends) Koothoven.

In 1920, Noorduyn joined Fokker, not in Holland but in the United States where he was soon promoted to general manager of Fokker's sales office in New York. During his talks with Fokker, Noorduyn mentioned a three-engined airliner. Noorduyn had been thinking about this for some time already, but Fokker evinced little enthusiasm.

According to notes that Noorduyn made in 1933 about his career in aviation, Fokker told him bluntly "Bob, you are crazy!" "Nonsense" was Noorduyn's reply, "Nobody is crazy enough to fly over mountains in a single-engined aircraft.


lf the engine fails, you've had it. But when you have three engines and one fails, you can just go on flying". Whether this was before or after the F.VIIa mishap in Pennsylvania, is not known, but it certainly affected Fokker's opinion.

He cabled Platz that the second F.VIIa was to be converted to a three-engined aircraft and shipped to America to compete in the Ford Reliability Tour. So there was definitely no sudden touch of genius from Fokker: the idea of a trimotor, as it was called in America, had gradually evolved and not even primarily in Fokker's mind. In addition to the cable, Fokker also sent Platz a sketch which showed the outboard engines partly embedded in the wing leading edge with the engine top side being almost in line with the upper side of the wing.

The propeller was to be installed just in front of the wing. This layout had not been tried before and Platz expected considerable aerodynamic problems which he feared could not be straightened out in the two months time he had prior to delivery. He therefore decided to position the outboard engines well under the wing. This left the wing structurally pretty well unaffected except for the engine attachment points and in the view of Platz, would reduce the air turbulence over the wing which he expected in Fokker's proposal.

Townend rings and NACA cowlings that could have minimized this problem by inducing streamline airflow over the cylinders, had not yet been invented. An important advantage of the underwing engine installation was their accessibility for maintenance.
Power output of the chosen engines was such that two of them delivered almost as much horsepower as the one engine of the F.VIIa.


Shortly after construction of the first F.VIIa had begun, a second one was laid down. There was no customer for it at the time but everybody involved was confident that the design was sound and a customer would be forthcoming.

As it turned out, this second ship was never completed as an F.VIIa, but as an F.VIIa-3m, a three-engined F.VIIa. Modifying the aircraft to a three-engined version of the F.VIIa required six weeks and its first take-off from Schiphol was on 4 September 1925.

Fokker had returned from the United States, and was himself at the controls during this maiden flight. The machine carried no registration, Fokker had never flown a three-engined aircraft before, and on this first flight there were four passengers onboard.

Today, airworthiness authorities would regard this as three valid reasons to veto the flight, but in those days nobody cared. And Fokker did not care either. He really tested his new-born baby. Alternatively, he switched off one or other of the engines, and when this caused no problems, he switched off two power units and flew on just one engine. All continued to go well.

On the following Monday, 7 September, the aircraft was demonstrated to KLM officials and the press. immediately after take-off, an outboard engine was switched off and a turn was made away from the dead power unit. Fokker was very satisfied. Following the demonstration, at three o'clock in the afternoon, Fokker ordered the aircraft to be disassembled.

The next morning at 7.30, a flat-bottomed boat with the F.VIIa-3m on its deck, departed from Schiphol via the nearby canal. At 10 o'clock in the evening the aircraft was loaded aboard the steamer 'Veendam', for transportation to New York.

Despite all the hurry, Fokker had managed to have his name painted in large letters on the wing and fuselage so that there could be no doubt as to who the manufacturer was.


Fokker also boarded the 'Veendam' and after its arrival at New York, he flew the aircraft himself to Detroit. Arrival at this starting point of the Tour was on 26 September, two days before the official start. Fokker had carefully studied the regulations governing the competition and had drawn up a clever plan. The courses to be flown were:

28 September:
Detroit - Fort Wayne - Chicago

29 September:
Chicago - lowa City - Omaha

30 September:
Omaha - St. Joseph - Kansas City

1 October:
Kansas City - St. Louis

2 October:
St. Louis - Indianapolis - Columbus

3 October:
Columbus - Cleveland - Detroit

As stated earlier, reliability rather than speed was paramount. When a stretch was flown within a specified but reasonable time, calculated on the basis of available engine power and load, it was possible for a 'perfect score' to be obtained. In the end there was no real winner because several competitors had 'perfect scores' throughout.

Fokker had anticipated this however. He realized that any reasonably good aircraft could do the required trips with ease. So he decided that he would be the first to arrive at the final destination each day, and he managed to do just that for the first three days. On arrival of the F.VIIa-3m, the waiting journalists stormed Fokker and his plane, wrote their stories and phoned them through to their editors. Interest in the runners-up was notably less if not non-existent.

Unfortunately this winning streak was not maintained into the fourth day. This time, Fokker was not the first to arrive, much to the surprise of the press. However, this did not stop them giving Fokker more coverage than all the other competitors combined. Fokker's publicity lead was such that the others could no longer catch up. Some papers went so far as to rename the contest the Fokker Publicity Tour.

US Army

Fokker realized that he had to strike while the iron was hot. immediately after the Tour he made the aircraft available to the US Army who soon ordered three considerably modified F.VIIa-3ms under the military designation C-2. This type is described later in the section on American Fokkers.

The success of the F.VIIa-3m also influenced Henry Ford, the promoter of the contest. Although he was already well-established as a car manufacturer, Ford also wanted to produce aircraft. Here, the Tour covered an ulterior motive in that it gave Ford an excellent opportunity to study the latest developments in airliner design. If possible, he wanted to improve on these. In the years that followed, he built no less than 198 Ford Trimotor aircraft which almost certainly were Fokker inspired.
Ford's son Edsel bought the F.VIIa-3m and made it available to Lt. Cdr. Richard E. Byrd who was planning a flight over the North Pole. Edsel wanted the name of his youngest daughter painted in rather large letters on the fuselage. Fokker however had stipulated in the sales contract that his name, prominently painted on the aircraft's wing and fuselage, be left untouched.


Not to be outdone, Byrd wanted the words 'BYRD ARCTIC EXPEDITION' painted on the machine. Overall, this resulted in a record amount of stencilling, but there was little doubt about the Dutch origin of the aircraft.

Fokker F.VIIa-3M Byrd expedition

The F.VIIa-3m was not piloted by Byrd but by Floyd Bennett. Byrd was the leader of the expedition and it was his name that went in the history books as the first man to fly over the North Pole.

This event took place on 9 June 1926 when the aircraft took-off from Spitsbergen, flew to the North Pole and returned to Spitsbergen 15,5 hours later. Afterwards there were rumours that Byrd never flew to the Pole but simply circled around for some hours just north of Spitsbergen.

Apart from polar bears, there were of course no witnesses, but there is little doubt that Byrd had done what he claimed.

In later years Byrd proved on several occasions to have plenty of courage for this sort of adventure.


The three-engined Fokker apparently also soon gained a reputation for itself in England. It is true that the F.VIIa-3m never visited the United Kingdom, but the Fokker publicity machine was well oiled. And so it was not long before the British Air Ministry ordered an F.VIIa-3m.

One reason for the purchase was to enable the thick cantilever Fokker wing to be thoroughly investigated. British civil aviation at that time was in a state of transition, switching from biplanes to monoplanes.

Up to that moment, the majority of British airliners had been biplanes, hut it was clear that future designs would have to be monoplanes - as were already in production at Fokker in Holland and Junkers in Germany.


Early British monoplanes had not proved to be as efficient as had been hoped however. It was decided therefore to study the successful Fokker wing.

The Air Ministry aircraft was delivered on 4 May 1926 by Grasé. On arriving at Martlesham Heath airfield, he gave an exuberant demonstration, including three loops, to prove that the wing was as strong as advertised. According to "The Aeroplane" aviation weekly, those who watched the display were "somewhat amazed". Eventually the Fokker wing was replaced by one designed by H. J. Stieger. Its external shape was identical to that of the original, but the inner structure was very different. Publications of that period claimed the new wing to be 38% stronger, but not much was subsequently heard about it.


From the third F.VIIa-3m onwards, all fuselages were 80 cm (31,5 in) longer, resulting in an overall fuselage length of 14.60 m (47 ft 11 in). This was the only major change to the original design: all others were minor, such as a slightly larger rudder.

All F.VIIa-3m's were built in the Netherlands, but not all were completed in Holland. Aircraft that were sold to American customers were assembled in the States at the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation. This provided some relief to the Fokker factory in Amsterdam which had a heavy order-book from the military. The wings for the single-engined F.VIIa were similar to those for the F.VIIa-3m.

The F.VIIa wing also had attachment points for installation of outboard engines. This made it easy to convert a single-engined F.VIIa to an F.VIIa-3m, a conversion that was actually performed several times. As far as can be discovered from remaining Fokker records, only 18 original F.VIIa-3ms were built.

Three went to the Dutch Army Air Force (L.V.A.) as 801, 802 and 803 and had bomb racks along the underside of the fuselage which, fortunately, were never put to use. The L.V.A. aircraft were mainly used as transports and flying classrooms to train observers and aerial photographers. Previously this task had been performed using much smaller two-seater biplanes.

In addition to bomb racks, the military F.VIIa-3ms also had a hatch in the cabin floor for photography, and two landing lights in the wing leading edge.


The first two Army Air Force aircraft were delivered in March 1928. The third machine however, which was the first of the three to be built, made a return flight to the Netherlands East Indies prior to being delivered to the L.V.A.. During this flight it carried the civil registration H-NAEA and was named 'Postduif' (Carrier Pigeon).

After completion of the trip, H-NAEA joined the other two L.V.A. F.VIIa-3ms as 803. Together the three F.VIIa-3ms served the military until May 1940 when the German invasion abruptly terminated their career.

The F.VIIa-3m was less successful in terms of its sales than its publicity. Fokker expected some quick orders from America which however did not materialize. The main reason was the accommodation for only eight passengers, a figure which soon proved to be inadequate.

Ford was more successful with the Ford 4-AT Fokker look-alike and the later, rather similar 5-AT which had seating for 12 to 15 passengers. It is perhaps significant that Ford, like Junkers, used metal construction, i.e. corrugated sheet, for the wing and fuselage. Fokker meanwhile continued with plywood-covered wings and fabric-covered steel tube fuselages.

He decided, at least for the time being, to go on building aircraft his way - a correct decision as shown by he enormously successful sales, outside of America, of the F.VIIb-3m trimotor.