Fokker and Plesman
Wood versus Metal

The continuing strife between KLM-director Albert Plesman and aircraft builder Tony Fokker finally led to a clash where Plesman refused to have any more to do with Fokker. He decided to order an all-metal Douglas DC-2, which has given him the reputation of a very farsighted man. To add some hindsight to this reputation, he actually took the wrong decision and would have done better to work on with Fokker, if only by delegation.
It looks like Plesman was too much KLM personified, to himself and to the company, and so got away with it. Enough about that. Below, compare characteristics of contemporary models built by Fokker and Douglas - try to decide what you'd have bought.

Fokker F-XVIII
Last model in a very successful series starting with the F-VII. Had the traditional square metal-tube Fokker fuselage and wooden wing, for the first time indestructibly Bakelite glued. A very successful plane that broke many records and was kept in service until at least 1946.

It's listed here to set the standard of the day.


Fokker wing, square fuselage
13 passengers 7,550kg
3/252hp engines
fixed landing gear
long/span m 18.5/24.5
203 km/hr
range 1500km

Douglas DC-2
After having built one DC-1, Douglas started producing the DC-2 in series, soon followed up by the DC-3 which may look the same to us, but is a much larger and better aircraft.
After the race and two more trips, worried KLM personnel meets to discuss the technical deficiencies of the DC-2. Water condense problems on metal will not be solved before 1983. Engines break down because of uneven gas distribution between cylinders which ruins the pistons. Problems with fuel pressure. Bad adjustment of engine intake thermometers. Altimeter inaccurate. Rudder needs terrible force. Not enough freight capacity for the E-India route. Wash-basin in toilet not hygienic. Pantry too small. Brakes not working well. Cracks in the rudders, engine bulkhead and landing gear. When this is all fixed, the aircraft still is weak and oversensitive. There were also worries about the de-icing system (even if Ernie Gann tells in Fate is the Hunter that it had a much higher ice-carrying capacity than the DC-3.)


14 passengers 8,260kg
2/750hp engines
retractable landing gear
long/span m 18.9/25.9
285 km/hr
range 2000km
over $76K — ƒ125K
2010 value ~ $1,226,00
Fokker F-36
An effort by Fokker to build a more streamlined aircraft using his traditional building methods. KLM bought only one, Arend, which was very successful. Nicknamed the flying hotel, it offered the luxury of an ocean liner in a whisper-quiet cabin. As a rule, all Fokker aircraft had outstanding flying characteristics.
Parmentier, KLM's top flyer, showed himself to be a staunch Fokker supporter on the F-36: That's why it's such a great pity that the F-36 doesn't compete. What an impression it would have made when a modern flying sleeping-car, fully occupied, with stewards and a pantry on board, had arrived there.


Fokker wing, round fuselage
32 seats/16 beds 16,500kg
4/750hp engines
fixed landing gear
long/span m 23.6/33
280 km/hr
range 1550km
price ƒ285K — $174K.
2010 value ~$2,360,000
Douglas DC-4
The best propeller driven aircraft Douglas ever made, thinks Ernest K. Gann. Listed here to compare with the Arend. It took five years for the all-metal aircraft to catch up with Fokker, but then it still couldn't touch the sumptuous luxury of Arend.

Douglas DC-4

32 passengers 33,112kg
4/1450 hp engines
retractable tricycle gear
long/span m 28.6/35.8
365 km/hr
range 4023km

Fokker F-24 - Douglas DC-5
In 1939, the year he died, Fokker was ready for his first all-metal aircraft, the F24. It was a virtual twin of the Douglas DC-5, proving that Fokker was able to compete with the American aircraft builders. Although the F-24 was never built, twenty years later it was finally transformed to the F-27 Friendship, one of the most successful aircraft of all time. The original design must have been sound enough.

Fokker and KLM had built up a reputation of reliability together. After the Wall Street crash, Fokker was in serious trouble, and when he lost KLM as a client many other airlines followed KLM's example. In the USA there was a loss of confidence when an F-10a crashed on landing in a heavy thunderstorm and failure of the wing construction was blamed, a problem solved with the F-XVIII.
That Fokker even survived all this is a real tribute to his, often underestimated, acumen as a businessman and as a captain of industry. That he must have had a point is also proven by Howard Hughes' gigantic so-called Spruce Goose, only finished after WWII.
Finally, don't overlook Fokker did have experience with metal aircraft construction. First, he had a 1917 joint venture with Junkers. And in 1929 he and Hall Aluminum Aircraft Corporation built one single Fokker-Hall H.51, a.k.a. Fokker Model 11; as nobody ever even tried to sell the aircraft, probably just to get experience for two all metal military designs.
He knew what was going on, what was coming, how to deal with it — and probably liked it.

But another real problem between Fokker and KLM was that Fokker foresaw future passengers traveling in ocean liner comfort, while KLM was already well on its way to the cattle-shuttle service it wholeheartedly became later. Fokker's designs were just too big and luxurious for KLM. While the four-engine F-36 Arend used only 15% more fuel than the DC-2 while carrying more than twice as many passengers, KLM preferred to execute twice as many flights with the Douglas. This really doesn't seem to make any sense at all, but Plesman just had the power to say he didn't want any when he had the whim.

Fokker not only acquired the licenses from Douglas, but as well from Lockheed for all Europe. In four years he sold 120 of their aircraft in Europe. The irony here is that Fokker thus helped the American aircraft industry to conquer the European market, sounding the death-knell for his own construction methods — making millions of dollars in the process.

Anthony Fokker

My life has been paced by the airplane. Hurtling through space on what now seems to be a predestined course, I had no idea what that course was. Most of the time I merely hung on.

Anthony Fokker, Flying Dutchman.

It's good to know Fokker, although his health was deteriorating, kept his spirits up
and designed a $200K yacht Q.E.D. that was built in the USA the year before he died.

It burned out the same year
so he set about designing a new one

Tony Fokker
Albert Plesman
F-36 Arend
the Melbourne race
The Great Races


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