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Type F.VIIb-3m
Type of aircraft
Country The Netherlands
License build
Date first flight 1927
Fokker F.VIIb-3m

Amelia Earhart flew (as first) with this Fokker F.VIIb-3M called Friendship, a floatplane, over the ocean from America to England. Date 17/18 june 1928

Amelia Earhart flew (as first) with this Fokker F.VIIb-3M called Friendship, a floatplane, over the ocean from America to England. Date 17/18 june 1928

This is a unique second photo (just seconds later then the other) from the Friendship in the harbour of Southampton

The Friendship from Amelia Earhart, however with standard wheels instead of floats

H. Veenendaal, Iwan Smirnoff and I.A. Aler in front of the Fokker F.VIIb 3-m H-NAEN

Fokker F.VIIb-3M of Japan Air Transport Co. Regulars services of this company started in spring 1929

The first Fokker F7a-3M Trimotor in de the U.S.

Refeulling in the early days, all by hand

F.VIIb-3m in America

Fokker FVIIb-3M, click to enlarge

The pre-war bestseller

There is no doubt that the 'Southern Cross' was the most famous of Fokker aircraft.

The equally famous Australian aviation pioneer Charles E. Kingsford Smith used this machine around 1930 to make several historical flights. The flights by this and other F.VIIb-3ms, made the design Fokker's best selling pre-war airliner.

It has often been said that the F.VIIb-3m was a development of the F.VIIa-3m. However logical this may seem, it is not correct. The two variants were designed almost simultaneously, but the F.VIIb-3m was actually built at a later date.

In the November 1925 issue of the 'Fokker Bulletin' magazine, a trimotor version of the F.VII was offered with an enlarged wing.

This wing was the most important difference between the F.VIIa-3m and the F.VIIb-3m.

In this Polygoon movie, we follow all the fases in buiding a brand new Fokker F.VIIb-3M in 1932. The film ends with beautiful shots over the Netherlands, with a few aircrafts in factory testflights.

Copyright ©   Nederlands Instituut voor Beeld en Geluid

Fokker F.VIIb-3M of the LOT, C Arvo Karin

Confusion in types

When in 1925 the F.VIIa was converted to the F.VIIa-3m for the Ford Reliability Tour, the wing remained basically the same except of course for the provisions for the additional engines.

It was clear to the designer however that the fuselages of both the F.VIIa and F.VIIa-3m could carry far more load provided certain changes were made. Important among these were

more powerful engines - which were already under development - and an increased wing area.

The solution to this last requirement was simple. The portion of the wing that was situated above the fuselage was of constant chord (i.e. a constant distance between leading and trailing edges),


while the remainder of the wing tapered towards the tips.

By extending this constant chord section by 7 ft 10. 5 in, the span was increased to 71 ft 2 in, and wing area from 630 ft2 to 728 ft2.

While this made the wing larger, it did not make it stronger: this was done later.

The designation F.VIIb-3m was first used in 1928. Prior to that it was F.VII-3m for both the 'a' and 'b' versions.

This temporary identification has been a source of confusion ever since, not only in publications but even in the type designations as painted on the fuselages, e.g. F.VII3m, F.VII3M, F.VIIa3m, F.VIIb3m, F.VIIb-3m etc.

The Southern Cross

Barely six months later, Kingsford Smith took-off on another ambitious flight. Together with Harry Lyon, Charles Ulm and James Warner, he departed from San Francisco to make the first crossing of the Pacific Ocean from America to Australia. His aircraft had meanwhile been baptized 'Southern Cross'.

The risks involved in the flight were considerable. During 1927 alone, 19 people had lost their lives while attempting to fly the Atlantic Ocean. But Kingsford Smith was more successful. After two stops, in Honolulu, Hawaii and Suva, Fiji, the Southern Cross landed in Brisbane on June 9. And just like Lindbergh the year before, Kingsford Smith became famous overnight.

From Brisbane, the F.VIlb-3m flew to Sydney where a large crowd greeted the crew as heroes. Fokker of course also benefited from this publicity, the more so because the flight had been made by a standard airliner and not a purpose-built aircraft. In those days, the majority of record attempts - successful or otherwise - used specially-designed aircraft which had little or no further use or application.

In this case it was different and the flight of Kingsford Smith and his crew had a marked effect on the sale of Fokker airliners. Kingsford Smith did not stop there to make headlines. On 8 and 9 August 1928,'Srnithy'as he was nicknamed by the press, flew non-stop over Australia from Melbourne to Perth.

On 10 and 11 September he became the first man to fly over the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, again in his Southern Cross. In the following year, on 25 June, Kingsford Smith took-off for England.

He reached London in the record time of 12 days and 18 hours. Then on 24 and 25 June 1930 with KLM Captain Evert van Dijk as copilot, he made the first flight from London to New York.

And from there he flew the Southern Cross to San Francisco. He thus became the first person to have flown around the world via Australia. (The first flight around the world via Alaska had been made by a Douglas World Cruiser in 1924).

Smithy seemed unstoppable, but in the early morning of 8 November 1935 his luck finally ran out. While flying a Lockheed Altair in an attempt to set a new England-Australia record, he disappeared over the Gulf of Bengal. No trace of him or his aircraft was ever found.


Schiphol, may 1930, just before the world famous worldtraveller Kingsford Smith departs from Schiphol airport. Right the KLM pilot Evert van Dijk and his wife

Anthony Fokker (middle above) with the crew and staff of the Southern Cross, under in the middle Charles Kingsford Smith and the Dutch pilot Evert van Dijk

The cabin and navigationroom of the Southern Cross. The extra fueltank is clearly visable

Some months earlier he had donated his 'old bus' as he used to call the Southern Cross, to the people of Australia. It flew again in 1945 for a film about the life of its owner who had been posthumously knighted as Sir Charles Kingsford Smith. After this, the Southern Cross never flew again but was exhibited in the Sir Charles Kingsford Smith Memorial in Brisbane - where it still is. Late in the 'seventies, plans were made to build a flying replica of this famous aircraft.

Australia has great pride in the Southern Cross which forms an important part of the country's aviation heritage and was considered as too precious and too old to take the air again. And so the costly and time-consuming project of building a replica was initiated.

Construction was completed in August 1987, and as well as the original non-flying Southern Cross, Australia then also had a flying replica. The Southern Cross was the first of some 140 to 160 F.VIIb-3m's to be built. None of the others ever became as famous as the 'old bus'.

The great majority of them started out by doing what they had been built to do: flying daily schedules for airlines.

This certainly was the fate of the second and third F.VIIb-3ms which were delivered to the newly-formed Pan American Airways airline. Starting on 28 October 1927, Pan Am linked Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba.

Artic expedition

Early in 1926 George Hubert Wilkins, an Australian-born American, started preparations for a flight to the North Pole under sponsorship from the 'Detroit News'. For this Detroit News Arctic Expedition, he ordered both a single-engine F.VIIa, named the 'Alaskan', and a trimotor F.VII.

During contract negotiations, Wilkins learned that a larger wing could be fitted. As Wilkins wanted to take as much fuel and cargo as possible, he ordered the larger wing version. He thus became the first customer for the F.VIIb-3m, although the aircraft had not yet been given that designation.

The F.VIlb-3m was built in Amsterdam, bulk stripped and shipped to the U.S.A. where it was reassembled at the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation, Fokker's American factory. Three Wright J-4 Whirlwind engines of 200 hp each were installed. To avoid any confusion about the sponsorship, 'Detroit News Arctic Expedition' was painted in large letters on the fuselage sides and the aircraft was named the 'Detroiter'.

Together with the F.VIIa 'Alaskan', the 'Detroiter' was transported by ship to Alaska. From this point onwards, things began to go wrong.
First someone was killed when he walked into the rotating propeller of the 'Detroiter',


then the 'Alaskan' made a bad landing and broke its wing.

Next incident was a bad weather landing by the 'Detroiter' resulting in a broken undercarriage.

These setbacks, together with the resulting delays were sufficient to persuade Wilkins to cancel the expedition. His interest in the North Pole appeared undiminished however for in 1928 he flew a single-engined Lockheed Vega from Atlanta over the Pole to Spitsbergen. The broken wing of the 'Alaskan' was left behind in Atlanta, but the other remains of the two aircraft were shipped in large crates to Seattle.

There, while the 'Detroiter' was being repaired by Boeing, Wilkins met Charles Kingsford Smith and his friend and colleague Charles Ulm. This led to them buying the Fokker for $3,000. Kingsford Smith ordered the engines to be replaced by J-5 Whirlwinds of 220 hp, and also had the undercarriage reinforced and the tankage increased to 1,267 gallons. His intention was to better the endurance record for flight without refuelling.

This currently stood at 52 hours and 22 minutes. Several attempts were made by the 'Detroiter' but none was successful, 50 hours 4 minutes being the best achieved.


The fourth F.VIIb-3m, like its predecessors, also made the front pages. Richard E. Byrd, who had earlier flown to the North Pole in a Fokker, also wanted to fly to the South Pole. And he considered it quite natural that for the Byrd Antarctic Expedition, he would again fly a Fokker. He felt that the type had clearly proven its worth. But his main sponsor, Henry Ford, was not too pleased with Byrd's preference because Ford himself produced airplanes and his Ford Trimotor was an F.VIIb-3m look-alike.

Byrd could not cancel his order for the Fokker and so arranged to sell the aircraft to a wealthy American, Amy Guest. This lady baptized the aircraft 'Friendship' and intended to use it for a flight over the Atlantic from the U. S. to Europe. As she did not have a pilot's license herself, she hired a crew. When her family learned about her bold plan, it was quickly made clear that not all her relatives shared her enthusiasm. And just as Byrd had to give in to Ford, Amy Guest had to give in to her millionaire family. This she did only after stipulating that "an American girl of the right type" should take her place aboard the 'Friendship'.

It was Amelia Earhart, daughter of a leading railway official, who eagerly accepted the invitation. She had a pilot's license and had already gained a measure of reputation by flying in competitions and in 1922 had set a new world altitude record for women. She did not however have any experience in flying over long distances and she had never piloted a multi-engined aircraft.

This was no problem however as Amy Guest had already hired a crew: Wilmer Stulz as captain and Louis Edward Gordon as co-pilot and flight engineer. As a number of earlier attempts to fly the Atlantic had ended prematurely and fatally, the Guest family had the standard undercarriage replaced by a pair of floats. To help finding the aircraft in the event of an emergency landing, the fuselage had been painted orange and wing was a gold colour. Departure from Trespassy, New Foundland was on 17 June 1928.

The flight proved to be uneventful except for the latter part when visibility deteriorated. Amelia threw a sack overboard to a steamer passing below, requesting that the ship's position be laid out on its deck. Although weighted with an orange to help its trajectory, the sack missed the vessel and the aircraft had to continue without a position report.

After a short while however Stulz spotted fishing boats and soon a coastline came into to view. The Friendship landed in a bog and the crew was surprised to find that the nearest place was Port Burry near Llanelli in Wales.


While the intention had been to arrive in Ireland, the prime aim of the flight - to cross the Atlantic - had been successfully achieved. Most of the media interest focused on Amelia Earhart.

It was a fact that she was the first woman to fly the Atlantic, but she felt that she had been merely a passenger and that the crew had done the real work. Being the object of so much publicity rather conflicted with her modest nature, but clearly she had triggered something in the hearts of other women.

One year later Amelia Earhart participated in an aerial derby for lady fliers. This was a coast-to-coast flight across America, with the arrival of the winning aircraft being the opening event of the 1929 national air races. For nine days in a row, the ladies had to fly considerable distances. This proved to be an ordeal both technically and physically, and resulted in a number of fatal accidents. Protests followed and the papers questioned the value of such contests.

It was the end of a record boom in flying. Fokker was not among the protestors against competition flights: the many successes of his aircraft in pioneering flights had provided a considerable sales boost for him. The F.VIlb-3m was built in larger numbers than any other pre-Second World War Fokker airliner, no doubt largely as a result of the publicity provided by the headline-making flights of the aircraft.

Not the least of the many good features of the F.VIlb-3m was its interchangeable engine mounting. Almost any engine of sufficient power could be installed and - it appears - was installed. Some of these engines were considerably more powerful than the 200 hp Wright J-4 Whirlwind that powered the first F.VIlb-3m. The more powerful engines together with the larger wing allowed for a higher take-off weight than that of the F.VIIa-3m. Initially the wing for the F.VIlb-3m was made larger but not stronger.

New more stringent regulations however stipulated an increase in strength also, a requirement that Fokker solved quite simply. Hitherto, during assembly, the ribs had been slid over the spars. With the strengthened wings, the spars were made deeper.

The ribs were then fitted ahead of, between and behind the front and rear spars. in this way, by not fitting the ribs over the spars, the wing profile remained unaltered. This modified method of construction involved only a modest increase in manhours but provided approximately a 17% increase in maximum take-off weight, from 9,920 lb to 11,570 lb.


When in 1927 and 1928 there was a rush of orders for the F.VIlb-3m, the capacity of the Amsterdam factory was insufficient to cope with the demand. There were already plenty of orders in hand for the F.VIIa, F.VIIa-3m, F.VIII and the military C.V, C.VI and C.VIIw. Fokker therefore decided to sell manufacturing licenses to other aircraft companies.

First was Poland when in October 1928, Plage & Laskiewicz started a series of twenty F.VIIb-3m's modified as bombers. The Poles acquired the drawings for the commercial airliner and then engineered the necessary changes to convert the type to a bomber role. Following completion of these aircraft, a further eleven were built for airline use.

The majority of these entered service with the Polish airline LOT.

In the same year, Avro in England approached Fokker for license rights. Until then, British airliners had been mainly biplanes because "the good old biplane with all its struts and bracings and things which together cause what is scientifically called parasitic drag, is superior to the monoplane, whether of the braced type which is so popular in the U.S. or of the pure cantilever type, such as has been produced by Mr. Anthony Fokker."

The worldwide success of Fokker aircraft hardly supported this statement which had been made by U.K. aviation expert William Farren during a lecture on 31 January 1929. Not everyone was so convinced of the advantages of the biplane. Some, including Avro, favored the monoplane.


So license rights to the F.VIIb3m were acquired and Avro built fourteen F.VIIb-3m's. These were designated the Avro 618 Ten, or Avro Ten for short. Some seven of these license-built aircraft were sold to Australia.

The first disappeared without trace on 21 March 1931 in bad weather somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. It was discovered again in 1958 by an employee of a construction firm that was building a hydroelectric plant in the barren Snowy Mountains. While exploring the local area, the employee had found the wrecked aircraft, including its identity plate. This solved what had been a mystery for over a quarter of a century. Third license builder was Avia of Prague, Czechoslovakia who built eight F.VIIb-3m's for CLS and five for CSA.

France also bought five from Avia, one of them later returning to Czechoslovakia when it was bought by the shoe manufacturer Thomas Bata who used it as his private transport. Czechoslovakia also developed its own bomber version of the F.VIIb3m but, as far as can be determined, only one of these was built. Top scorer among the license-builders was SABCA in Belgium who produced 29 F.VIlb-3m's between 1929 and 1932. One entered military service, the other 28 being bought by Sabena which operated the largest fleet of the type in the world.

Three F.VIIb-3m's were built in Italy by Officine Ferroviarie Meridionale in Naples, and Loring in Spain also built three for the Aviaçion Militar.

Busy years

Production of the type at the Fokker works in Amsterdam ended in 1932. Complete production records no longer exist, but it is known that at least 63 were built there. KLM had 14 and used them for many years on just about all the airline's routes. KLM considered the type a success both technically and financially with operating costs per seat mile only a quarter of those of the F.III.


KNILM, the initials under which KLM operated in the Netherlands East Indies, had six.

In the course of many years of service, KLM and KNILM's aircraft rarely hit the headlines. Adventure was out: airline flying had become a daily routine. No F.VIIb-3m's survived the Second World War except one, the very first and by far the most famous - the Southern Cross.