P.O. Box 7600
Few names evoke the romance of flight like that of Fokker. Even fewer can lay claim to participating in so many colorful and pivotal moments in aviation history. Although N.V. Koninklijke Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek Fokker, Europe's oldest civil aircraft maker, went out of business in 1997, many Fokker planes are still operated by the world's regional airlines. In addition, a new company, Rekkof Restart NV, has been formed to resume production of Fokker 70 and 100 aircraft.
Fokker and the Birth of Air Warfare
Anthony H.G. Fokker was born in 1890 on a coffee plantation on the island of Java in the Dutch East Indies, presently the Republic of Indonesia. At the age of 20 he taught himself to fly on a small home-made monoplane which he had constructed in an abandoned zeppelin hanger in Baden-Baden, Germany. With newer, improved aircraft, he won a military competition in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad). Fokker was a poor student but had an unusual talent for aviation. He intermittently attended an engineering school in Frankfurt, and in 1912 was asked by the German government to teach military aviation.
Fokker failed to gain the interest of the Italian and British governments in his aircraft. The Germans, however, were more intrigued, purchasing a number of airplanes for their air corps. When World War I broke out, Fokker was involuntarily conferred German citizenship and given orders to continue building airplanes for the Kaiser. Nonetheless, Fokker still regarded himself as a patriotic citizen of neutral Holland.
When the French pilot Roland Garros was shot down on October 5, 1918, the Germans noticed that his airplane's propeller was fitted with steel deflectors. The deflectors allowed the pilot to operate his machine gun, oblivious to the obstruction of the propeller; bullets would ricochet off the blades rather than damage them. The propeller was taken to Berlin and shown to Fokker. Three days later Fokker returned from his factory at Schwerin with a device which synchronized the firing of a machine gun to the passing of the propeller blades. In effect, the airplane's engine operated the gun, firing bullets between the blades rather than at random. By the end of the war Fokker had produced more than 40 types of airplanes for the Germans, including the Triplane preferred by the infamous Red Baron.
Stateside Between the Wars
Fokker was later invited to the United States by the Army Air Corps. He shipped airplanes to the Air Corps and Navy until 1922, when he established a factory at Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey, just across the river from New York. The company was called the Atlantic Aircraft Corporation and its sales were handled by Hamilton Standard, which later became a division of United Aircraft.
In 1925 Anthony Fokker brought a new tri-motor (three-engine airplane) to the United States from his factory in the Netherlands and won the Ford Reliability Tour. Later named the "Josephine Ford," this airplane was used by Admiral Richard Byrd and Floyd Bennett on their flight to the North Pole. Another Fokker airplane, the Southern Cross, was used by the aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith for his historic trip across the Pacific and around the world.
The company changed its name to the Fokker Aircraft Corporation of America on December 3, 1927. In May 1929 Fokker was merged with Dayton-Wright, a subsidiary of General Motors. In the summer of 1930 Fokker was reorganized, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary renamed the General Aviation Corporation. However, in compliance with the provisions of the Air Mail Act of 1934, General Motors was forced to dissolve General Aviation.
Fokker left General Motors because of differences in opinion over company policy. He subsequently returned to Holland where he maintained his company, the Nederlandse Vliegtuigenfabriek, which produced a variety of military and civilian aircraft. KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) developed an air route to the Netherlands Indies for the Dutch government, using Fokker aircraft. In 1929 a U.S. Army Fokker C-2A established a duration record of 150 hours and 40 minutes. In that same year, however, Fokker lost both his second wife and his test pilot, Bertus Brase. These losses depressed him so much he admitted that he no longer enjoyed flying and preferred instead to spend time either on his yacht or driving.
In March 1931 a Fokker tri-motor crashed and killed the popular Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne. The accident was widely reported and resulted in a sudden loss in popularity of and confidence in Fokker airplanes. An investigation revealed that a rotten wooden joint in the wing assembly caused the wing to rip off during flight. Fokker favored building airplanes with wood, but his customers demanded that they be made of metal. When Douglas unveiled its all-metal DC-2, Fokker negotiated an arrangement to manufacture the airplane in Europe. He later won an agreement to build the DC-3 and Lockheed Electra, though neither one was ever built in Holland. As an agent for Douglas, Fokker sold almost 100 DC-2s and DC-3s in Europe.
World War II and Cold War Competition
On December 23, 1939, after a three week battle with pneumococcus meningitis, Anthony Fokker died. He was survived only by his mother. The company remained in business until the following May when it was confiscated by the invading armies of Nazi Germany. Friedrich Seekatz, who had been arrested by the Dutch authorities because of his German sympathies, was reinstated by the Germans and placed in charge of the factory, which was converted to repair German military aircraft operating from Dutch air bases. For this reason the factory was heavily bombed by the Royal Air Force.
By the end of the war the factory had been looted by the German army and almost completely destroyed by Allied bombings. However, Fokker's technical staff survived the war and within a year the factory was completely rebuilt. The company's new S-series designs entered production soon after the war, some of which were produced in the United States by Fairchild and in South America by the company's Brazilian subsidiary.
Fokker developed a 44-passenger turboprop airplane called the F-27 Friendship in 1956. Development costs and an initially weak market for the F-27 depressed profits, but after a slow recovery hundreds were sold to airlines all over the world. The Soviet aircraft company Antonov produced an aircraft called the An-24 which was strikingly similar to the F-27. This led many to believe that Antonov merely reverse-engineered an F-27 for its own purposes. Over 1,100 An-24s were built by Antonov during Fokker's production run of the F-27.
On March 21, 1960, Republic Aviation Corporation of Long Island, New York, acquired a sizeable minority interest in Fokker. The two companies concluded a number of cooperative agreements involving the production and sale of their airplanes. At this time Fokker also began production of Lockheed F-104 Starfighters in collaboration with German and Belgian companies. In association with the Dutch electronics company Philips, Fokker manufactured parts for the Hawk missile. During the 1960s Fokker also produced parts for Northrop's Canadian-built F-5 fighter.
In 1964 Fokker's airframe division developed a 60- to 85-passenger jetliner called the F-28 Fellowship, which was designed for short to medium range airline routes. The F-28 entered service in 1969. An agreement between Fokker and Fairchild-Hiller of America to build a shorter version of the F-28 called the F-228 resulted in a production run of over 100 of these airplanes.
Fokker's aerospace division was formed in 1967. Its expertise in thermal control, maneuvering, electronics, and structures gave the division important roles in the development of the ANS and IRAS scientific satellites and spacecraft with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Some of its later contributions were to the ESA Giotto Halley's Comet probe and the Ariane rocket program.
Emerging into the 1970s
In 1969 Fokker merged with the Vereinigte Flugtechnische Werke GmbH (VFW) of West Germany. The new company, which comprised the entire Dutch aircraft industry, was named VFW-Fokker B.V. Fokker continued to manufacture the F-27, F-28, and VFW614 (the first postwar German jet) in addition to various parts for other aircraft. VFW-Fokker was also chosen to manufacture a significant portion of General Dynamics' F-16 fighter jets sold to NATO.
After heavy financial losses the partnership with VFW was dissolved in 1980 and Fokker was once again brought under direct private ownership. Seventeen percent of the company's stock was acquired by the Dutch ABN-Bank, an additional 17 percent was acquired by VMF machining industries, 20 percent was acquired by the Northrop Corporation during the 1960's, and the remaining 46 percent was divided among a number of private investors.
During the 1970s the company developed improved designs of its F-27 and F-28. The market for small fuel efficient turboprops and jets was still quite lucrative, but now Fokker was facing stronger competition from other small airplane manufacturers such as de Havilland and British Aerospace in the United Kingdom.
Frans Swarttouw assumed leadership of Fokker in 1978 and undertook the mission of making the company more competitive with its larger rivals. He devoted a great deal of the company's financial resources to development of the F-50 and F-100. It was regarded by many as a risky gamble, but the company's commitment to technological superiority, product versatility, and reliable product support rewarded it with a solid market share.
The Fokker 50 propjet was the successor to the F-27 turboprop. The F-50 had many of the same dimensions as the Friendship with the exception of its engine nacelles and windows. The F-50 incorporated improved electronic systems and featured a new cabin layout and interior. It was also capable of carrying more passengers than its predecessor.
Finding a Niche in the 1980s
In the early 1980s, after the new jets from Boeing and McDonnell Douglas were announced, Fokker recognized a gap in the airliner market for jetliners capable of serving the world's many short-haul routes. To fill that gap Fokker began development of a new jetliner designated the F-100. Fitted with more efficient Rolls-Royce Tay engines and capable of carrying 100 passengers, Fokker's new plane had the lowest break-even load factor of any jet available. It had the potential to deliver a profit with only 30 percent of its seats filled. Impressive statistics such as these led a number of major airlines, including Swissair, KLM, ILFC, and USAir, to order the F-100. Because of its advanced electronic systems, the F-100 became known as one of the easiest commercial jets to pilot. Fokker built its F-100 in collaboration with Britain's Short Aircraft Company, Rolls-Royce, and Dowty Rotol; Germany's Messerschmitt Bolköw-Blohm; the U.S. companies German and Collins; and others.
The company manufactured airplane wings for Britain's Short 330 and 360 aircraft in addition to wing components for the Airbus consortium's A-300 and A-310. Fokker began preliminary work on a fuel-efficient prop-fan airplane designated the FXX, designed to challenge the Boeing 7J7 and McDonnell Douglas MD-91 prop-fan airplanes. Fokker also assembled missiles and worked on the European space program.
Original plans to coproduce a new, larger Fokker jet--the MDF-100--with McDonnell Douglas were canceled when the latter company decided to concentrate instead on building an improved version of its DC-9 called the MD-80. This 150-seat niche would subsequently be exploited by the Airbus A320 program.
The Fokker 50 and 100 proved much more expensive to develop than planned. The project had been funded by a revolving credit account established to rebuild the Dutch aviation industry after World War II. The $500 million loan was expected to be paid off in the mid-1990s. While competitors Airbus and DASA both had access to state capital, they did not have to pay interest on their loans.
In 1987 Fokker lost $87 million, forcing the company to borrow another $96 million from the government and increase its outstanding shares from 5.3 million to 33.3 million. It raised another $144 million from selling bonds in Germany and Holland. The Dutch government then owned 33 percent of the company.
However, in spite of the company's poor financial returns, its Fokker 50 turboprops and Fokker 100 jets were storming the small airliner market. Both competition among air carriers for newer planes and more extensive route networks increased demand for regional aircraft. There was a three-year wait for Fokker 100s and one year for Fokker 50s--a backlog worth $6 billion. In 1989 Financial World noted the company landed the largest export order in Dutch history--$3 billion worth of planes for American Airlines. However, the massive demand strained Fokker's relatively small facilities. Ironically, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines canceled their own order around the same time.
Swarttouw stepped down as chairman in June 1989 for health reasons. Martin Kuilman was tapped as his interim replacement, followed by Eric Jan Nederkoorn. Nederkoorn invited other companies to buy the company to fit in with the global restructuring. He dismissed Japanese suitors, however, due to their inexperience in the aerospace industry.
Falling in the 1990s
Fokker announced profits of 83 million guilders ($44 million U.S.) in 1990. Still it planned to cut 1,000 workers from its workforce of 13,000. Although the manufacturer considered having Lockheed assemble its planes in the United States, Fokker eventually decided opening a second production line would be less efficient. At the same time, it planned expanded versions of its two popular aircraft, to be known as the Fokker 80 and the Fokker 130. A smaller version of its Fokker 100 jet was conceptualized.
Meanwhile, the Deutsche Aerospace (DASA) consortium was preparing to compete with Fokker head-on from scratch in this market, a mindset analysts viewed as uneconomical. The project would require a $2.5 billion investment while stretching the Fokker 100 would require a fraction of the effort. Oddly, DASA's Messerschmitt-Boelkow-Blohm was at this time a partner in the Fokker 100.
In the early 1990s, a war in the Persian Gulf and a global recession caused an industrywide crisis that hit Fokker hard. Sales fell to $1.92 billion in 1993 from $2.13 billion the previous year.
DASA took over a 51 percent stake in Fokker in 1993 since the Dutch government no longer wanted to subsidize the company. After Nederkoorn resigned in February 1993, Daimler-Benz executive Ben J.A. van Schaik was designated his successor. In spite of its massive backlog before the crisis, Fokker was left with dozens of unsold aircraft which it unloaded at bargain prices.
As Fokker entered its 75th anniversary, it contemplated alliances with British Aerospace and other airframe makers while DASA pitched the concept of a 120-seat FA-X twinjet collaboration to Chinese and Korean agencies. Further restructuring followed, including a $350 million loan from DASA, and the sale of aerospace technology to Rabobank for $234 million. Fokker planned to cut its workforce further to 8,500. By this time, the new Fokker 70 aircraft had received about a dozen orders. Still, the company lost $305 million in 1994. The low value of the U.S. dollar compounded Fokker's difficulties.
After failing to agree with the Dutch government on financing, DASA withdrew support for its struggling affiliate altogether on January 22, 1996. DASA had offered $620 million in additional funding but wanted $800 million from the government. Fokker immediately approached British Airways, in the market for 100 regional craft, for business which ultimately never came.
On March 15, Fokker applied for protection from creditors. The company continued to manufacture planes and had a backlog of about 75 aircraft, though growing competition in its sector depressed prices. DASA reaffirmed its commitment to service Fokker aircraft. Stork NV subsequently acquired the rights to the maintenance business, which operated under the name Fokker Aviation.
Serious suitors included Bombardier, whose Short Brothers subsidiary was a major Fokker supplier. Samsung and Yakovlev also attempted to save the manufacturer. However, Fokker ceased producing planes in May 1997.
In 1998, Dutch entrepreneur and regional airline executive Jaap Rosen Jacobsen founded Rekkof Restart NV in order to resume production of Fokker 70 and 100 aircraft. Rekkof ("Fokker" in reverse) acquired tooling from Fokker trustees and began negotiating with former suppliers. The new company hoped to employ 500, a shadow of the former workforce. However, it expected lean assembly techniques to bring production to comparable levels.
Rekkof was backed by Swiss investors. Advantages to the restart included the absence of development costs and a jump on potential competitors in the market. However, the volatile economic climate of the late 1990s postponed production. The Dutch civil aviation authority approved Stork-owned Fokker Services to build the first 40 aircraft, after which it would share the license with Rekkof.
Principal Subsidiaries: Fokker Aircraft B.V.; Fokker Administration B.V.