In which is shown how Fokker 'never became a hero', to use his own understatement.

Pemberton Billing's speach in the Commons; 1916

I do not intend to deal with the collosal blunders of the Royal Flying Corps, but I may refer briefly to the hundreds - nay, thousands - of machines which they have ordered and which have been referred to by our pilots at the front as "Fokker fodder".

Every one of our pilots at the front knows when he steps into them that if he gets back it will be more by luck and by his skill than by any mechanical assistance he will get from the people who provide him with the machines.

I do not want to touch a dramatic note this afternoon, but if I did I would suggest that quite a number of our gallant officers in the Royal Flying Corps have been rather murdered than killed.

Rumour around Fokker

Uncle Tony in America; 1927.

There is no mistaking a short peppery Hollander in the group, none other than the famous designer of our big tri-motored Fokker. He has been staring at me all through dinner, and at last he comes over and asks bluntly in an accent even thicker than my own: "I haf seen you some place before, no?" -"It was in 1923, at the air meet in Göteborg, Sweden, when I was there with the Norwegian Air Force."

I explain that I am here with Floyd Bennett on exhibition with the plane that he built (the Josephine Ford), and he grunts, pleased, and scribbles an address on the back of his card.

"Any time that you show up at the factory in Hasbrouck Heights, there is a job for you waiting."

Uncle Tony

Uncle Tony, everybody calls him, and he knows the lowliest grease monkey in his factory by his first name. He kneels in a pool of oil beside a mechanic working under an engine mount and argues heatedly: "Damn to hell, Joe, there's too much bend in that gas line - it won't feed right." - "But the intake valve's got to go somewhere." - "So we put it on the other side, see?

Isn't that simple now?" Tony Fokker wipes his greasy hands on the seat of his pants and scurries on to the next operation.

He is erratic, wildly impulsive, given to sudden inspirations; there is a story that he held up the first scheduled flight of a new air liner for weeks, while he installed a passenger toilet he had just invented, something unheard of at the time.

But Uncle Tony is a perfectionist, and his planes are the last word in design and aerodynamic erfficiency. He is short and chunky, with bright pink cheeks that he puffs out when he is harassed, an I think of a shaved Santa Claus, confronted by all the chimneys in the world at the same time.


His Dutch blue eyes pierce me like steel fragments, the first day I report at the plant. "What you like to be doing here, Bernt?"
"First it would suit me fine to get familiar with all your techniques, this steel-tube structure which is new to me yet, and your laminated wings, and see how your aircraft are assembled."

There are both single- and tri-motor planes under production, and the factory is working on a revolutionary new single-engine model specially adapted for the Arctic. It is called the Fokker Standard Universal, a sturdy high-wing job, and my fingers itch to handle its controls as I see it rolled out on the line. Bob Noorduyn, Fokker's assistant, asks me if I have ever flown a type like this, and I say, "No, we have nothing as advanced as this in Europe." Noorduyn sees my eagerness and grins. "Why don't you take it up and see what you can get out of it?" I can feel its great lifting power as I ease back on the stick, surging upward and banking in a steep climb. I have never felt better stability in the air. Its rugged build and large cargo space are destined to make it the pioneer bush plane of Canada. I turn in a detailed report on its performance.


Next morning I am on the assembly floor when I get a call to go to the front office at once. Nobody ever knocks, so I walk in. The desk is piled with charts, the floor is littered with samples of aircraft material and working models, and Tony Fokker whirls in his swivel chair red-faced, clutching my report in his fist. I wonder if my job at the factory is already over after ten days. His eyes squint suspiciously: "Just what was that work you did in the Norwegian Air Force?" - I was assistant to the chief test pilot at the Naval Aircraft Factory."

Uncle Tony's face is like a blast of fire from an overcharged engine. "Why in hell for damn didn't you say so?" he explodes. "What are you doing down there on the assembly floor? You're a test pilot now."

He is always explosive, always making instant decisions. His mind is faster than his tongue sometimes, and when he is too excited to fumble for the English word, he breaks into machine-gun German. I can speak the language, and so more and more he confides his problems to me. He is an intuitive trouble shooter, a self-taught pilot and a very good one. On one occasion we have some vibration in a twin-engine bomber we are testing, and our department has worked in vain for days to locate it,


Uncle Tony goes up with us on a test flight, and I see him wandering back through the cabin, fuming to himself.

Suddenly he kicks out one of the widows and pokes his head through the hole. "It's a strut in the tail assembly." He grunts, and that is all we need to fix the trouble.

Time never means anything to Tony Fokker. Many a night we work in the factory long after everybody else has left, or cruise over the weekend on his yacht, talking nothing but planes. Sometimes I think he never sleeps. Once I am awakened in my boarding house at two o'clock in the morning by a bombardment of small stones tossed against my bedroom window.

The landlady knocks at my door, frightened, and whispers: "There is some maniac outside. Shall I call the police?"

Uncle Tony is standing below on the lawn, waving excitedly. "Bernt, Bernt, come now," he yells. "We go to the factory." We work at the plant for three days without rest. A rush order has come in: a big gold stampede has started in northern Ontario, and planes are needed.


Bernt Balchen, Come north with me (1958)


Salon Aeronautique Paris 1921

On opening day the crowds gathered at the Fokker stand. The other manufacturers were livid. Of course it was not known that the civil airplane on show had been built in Germany and the glider was made out of a D-8.

The name of Fokker was enough to make them turn up in large numbers. A few of the exhibitors started some noise at my stand.

Signs with my name on it were torn off. The crowd got ready to start on the planes when the gendarme arrived. After that the stand was guarded constantly by sixteen policemen, and this of course caused still more attention for the Fokker aircraft.

Nungesser and several other French aces were ashamed of this and protested against the treatment I received. On the other hand, an other group with captain René Fonck (that had become a politician) at the head, stoked up the fire, wrote heated articles in the papers and demanded removal of the Fokker aeroplanes from the exhibition.

In this way there was more advertisement for my aircraft than for the whole of the French show. I must say I enjoyed the silly affair tremendously.

Fokker D.8

On the fourth day I met Commander White of the American delegation, who I knew well. He asked me to explain certain technical details, and while talking about the first hydraulic landing gear we stopped beneath the wing of a large crate.

To make something clear to him I pulled a pencil and paper out of my coat pocket and made a sketch of the system. Suddenly a roar went up behind us.

"There's Fokker! He's spying and he is copying our design!" It was Henry Potez, with three henchmen, and their hands itched to have a fling at me. I answered that I was not so prodiguous in imitation as the French, who had specialized in that for five years now.

One angry word begot another. We were on the brink of blows when one of the secret service agents intervened and another took my arm to guide me away from the scene. Some fifty people came after us, but I escaped through a side door and went for a ride.

Anton Fokker, the Flying Dutchman (1931)