Leonardo Times Winter Edition

Page 44

A MAN WITH WOODEN WINGS Anthony Fokker and aircraft construction FOKKER HERITAGE TRUST


Dr. Marc Dierikx, Senior Researcher, Huygens Institute, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)

Figure 1 - Anthony Fokker with his 1st Morane Baby in the spring of 1914

Anthony Fokker, famous for his wooden wings, stumbled into aviation as a young stunt pilot in Germany, surviving a series of crashes before rising to fame. Industrial espionage, luck and deception propelled him to become a leading aircraft manufacturer, setting up business in the U.S. after the First World War.


n 24 December 1939, the New York Times brought the news that airplane designer Anthony Fokker had died at Murray Hill Hospital in New York, where he had been admitted on 1 December of that year. In the preceding days, the newspaper had monitored the deteriorating condition of the 49-year-old Dutch aviation multimillionaire and media personality. In fact, ever since his first arrival in the United States, in November 1920, the American press had followed his every move. Although Fokker was the proud holder of a Dutch passport and was (and still is) generally considered one of the founding fathers of modern industrial enterprise in the Netherlands, he spent the last fifteen years of his life living and working 44


in the United States, where he celebrated his success as one of the leading aviation engineers. Or so it seemed, for the Fokker story was not quite what it appeared to be at first glance [1]. When Anthony Fokker walked into New York osteopath Robert Cushing's practice on 1 December 1939, it was because he sought medical relief from the splitting headaches he suffered from as a result of chronic sinusitis, a pilot’s disease that he had contracted after many years of flying in open cockpits. At that time, his personal involvement in airplane construction already laid behind him. Of his companies and factories in Germany, the Netherlands and the United States, only

the one in Amsterdam remained. Fokker had as little to do with it as possible and preferred to spend his time on his luxury yacht QED: ‘Quod Erat Demonstrandum’. Indeed, the QED demonstrated that Fokker had distanced himself from the world of airplane construction. He regarded the 34m long and 7.5m wide yacht, for which he had written the specifications and had helped in the design, as his greatest engineering achievement. When launched in New York in June 1938, the ultramodern, elegant and streamlined ship caused more than a stir in American nautical circles. At a total cost of $300,000, Fokker spent more on the ship than he ever did on the development of any of the aircraft that gave wings to his name. What connected the QED to Fokker’s airplane designs was the use of plywood as one of the main construction materials. Plywood came to Fokker in 1916, introduced to Anthony by his Swedish acquaintance,

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